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The American West is a site of contradiction. Tumbleweeds blow across the same arid desert landscapes that have served as backdrops for Hollywood blockbusters. It is home to some of the country’s most pristine natural spaces and ground zero for our love affair with the automobile. New-age spiritualism coexists with superficial cosmetic obsession. In his first solo show at Gavlak, Like a Rock, Vincent Szarek explores the West’s complicated identity with a wry humor and impeccable craftsmanship.
Szarek applies the slick, commercial aesthetic of “finish fetish” to well-worn Western tropes. The artist began working on cars as a young teen, and his experience with industrial materials like urethane is evident. (He even had a stint working in Jeff Koons’s studio.) Here and there, cacti sprout up from the gallery floor. Instead of the usual dusty green however, these cacti are cast in glossy black and white urethane with gold-plated needles, transforming a prosaic plant into a luxury good. Geometric rock formations inspired by Road Runner cartoons are fabricated from cardboard and imitation gold leaf, an homage to Hollywood fakery. To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock: In the movies, the only thing that matters is how it looks.
Nearby, a tower of aluminum cans covered in white urethane ambles skyward, recalling both Brancusi’s Endless Column and endless nights spent drinking beer under the open sky. The show’s standout is a Texas Longhorn skull coated in urethane and gold leaf. Szarek’s update on this rugged symbol of American freedom makes the familiar object remarkable.
Part of the appeal of these works is that they keep us constantly questioning what is real and what is fabricated, what is taken from life and what is merely life-like. The value of authenticity is challenged, as we are coerced into believing that fake can be just as good as the real thing.
Vincent Szarek: Like a Rock runs from September 11–October 24, 2015 at Gavlak Gallery (1034 N Highland Avenue, Los Angeles 90038)