Strauss Bourque-LaFrance: No Aloha

7 September – 19 October 2014, Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York

By David Everitt Howe

No Aloha, 2014 (installation view). Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York

It’s striking how much Strauss Bourque- LaFrance’s work has changed in the past four years, since his first major two-person exhibition at Bodega, Like Flex / Like Flex (2010). The work in that show featured a lot of imperfectly handmade, blobby clay and plaster objects perched atop, among other things, fake cardboard cigarettes. Another installation featured fake marble high-heels, and fake orchids (next to a bag of plastic googly-eyes). While a fondness for synthetic things remains, Bourque-LaFrance has gone all-out-Koons for his first exhibition at Rachel Uffner Gallery: there’s very little of anything handmade in sight; almost everything has been fabricated, most notably the geometric fireplace mantels that march across the striking, wall-to-wall black-and-whitestriped carpet (yes, wall-to-wall). They don’t look anything like mantels, though, unless your picture of a fireplace derives from a casino, circa 1983. Instead, they resemble gloriously tacky Stonehenge structures, almost as if fashioned from the depths of suburban tracthome interiors; they’re like minimalist totems, as learned from Las Vegas.

All red-and-white stripes, the mantel Split Vision: Pattern (all works 2014) is nothing but flat, shiny surface, like a circus tent turned altar. Another, Split Vision: Marble features uninterrupted, richly veined marble. Though of course, just as with the other mantels, it’s made of lacquered MDF and laminate, that cheap flooring and counter surface made almost entirely of plastic.

If minimalists had a penchant for purity of form and material, Bourque- LaFrance flips that logic on its head. What is laminate really made of, anyway? Dashed dreams? Budget restrictions? 

If minimalists had a penchant for purity of form and material – Carl Andre’s copper plates were just that, copper plates – Bourque-LaFrance flips that logic on its head. What is laminate really made of, anyway? Dashed dreams? Budget restrictions? Nobody really knows, except that it’s cheap. Ironically, the only thing here made of anything remotely fancy or expensive is the bronze cast of a TV remote, Showpiece, resting on Bourque-LaFrance’s marble mantel. It’s a cheeky gag: what should be expensive is cheap, and what should be cheap is expensive. What’s nice, if anything, about No Aloha is its play with relative value.

Less interesting are Bourque-LaFrance’s ‘vacation paintings’, framed sheets of plastic mesh with spraypainted abstract shapes and forms. There’s enough abstract painting in this world to go around, even if this variety is made of mesh and, in its larger examples, such as The Difference Between Happy and Ness, is goofy and imperfect (note the sheets curling at the bottom). I’d rather linger at the artist’s sushi bar, Sushi for Scene Six, propped on top of Split Vision: Martini. The sushi, with its geometric, Pop inflections, would look at home in Beetlejuice (1988), served by the Deetz family at dinner before it ate their faces off. This Tim Burton feeling isn’t arbitrary; his film is referenced by the exhibition’s press release when describing how mantels like Split Vision: Martini can be seen as entrances to alternate realities. The work has no empty cavity, but rather a black surface where a gaping hole would be, framed by two skinny martini glasses.

While I really wish Rachel Uffner Gallery harboured a portal to the other side, I only found a checklist and the press release, which contained a refreshing reference to the Memphis Group, that quintessentially 1980s Italian design and architecture group. The Memphis influence shines through and through here, and saves the show from being another redundant redux of spare, overly elegant abstraction. While it has some of that, No Aloha is a little wacky and a little weird – just enough to keep things interesting. 

This article was first published in the December 2014 issue.