Studio Visit: Rob Pruitt, Super Sized



Many in the art world will tell you that this is still not the time for a grand gesture. Evidently artist Rob Pruitt and his gallerist Gavin Brown did not get that message. This fall, our favorite bad-boy neo-pop artist continues to create his particular batch of flamboyant visual mayhem-but this time he’s doing so on a massive scale. Not only is his solo show, “Pattern and Degradation,” inaugurating Brown’s recently expanded gallery space, which now stretches an entire West Village block on Leroy Street, but it’s even spilling over into Michele Maccarone’s neighboring gallery. For this production—and it is a production, containing more than one hundred works of sculpture, paintings, chairs covered in silver tape, T-shirt prototypes, and even wallpaper—Pruitt has clearly been locked all summer in his Brooklyn studio in the shadows of Home Depot, on the second floor of a marble tile factory.

The work here channels familiar territory—specifically the artists’ paintings of pandas, covered with glitter, which reappear in various expected and unexpected guises, including one large canvas that alternates in a checkerboard scheme between pandas and a 1970s-era Woody Allen. This show also mines Pruitt’s fascination with the latest technology and its oddball consequences of social connectivity. For the wallpapers that will fill the Maccarone space, one pattern consists of all of the artist’s emails printed out un-redacted; another reveals the profile pages of all his Facebook friends. According to Pruitt, the show was inspired by the Amish rite of passage, Rumspringa, for which teenagers leave their closed communities to forge out on their own in the illicit outer world before, presumably, returning home. It doesn’t take much mental foraging to realize a connection between the Amish youth and their society-endorsed exposure to the sins and vices of life and the  role of an artist, who also stands in a position of hedonistic explorer and exuberant child as a proxy for the rest of the world.

Does Rob Pruitt feel like he’s been forced to take on the role of clown, puppeteer, outlaw, or any number of preferred versions of provocateur and creative genius that his audience wants to see him as being? A series of manically bright silkscreen painting renders Pruitt’s face in various “exquisite corpse” composites. Dissected into four horizontal segments, Pruitt’s features switch and shuffle like police identikits trying to pin down the portrait of an assailant.

Whoever the real Rob Pruitt is, at any rate, he projects having a good time. Much of the show is concerned less with the objects on the walls than the point of view of the spectator. The various thrift-store chairs bound in a Warholian-silver plumbing tape create a ghostly viewing section in the gallery. And bales of crushed cardboard boxes are anthropomorphically fitted with six legs and six shoes—ranging from Champion brand sneakers to leather slips-ons—and suited with large googly eyes, either serving as stand-ins for the art viewing, consumption-minded public or acting like little Pruitt minions. They’re adorably disturbing and look like the evil discarded grandchildren of the McDonald’s Fry Guys.

Maybe this is the perfect time for daring gestures. It seems from this super-sized fall show that Pruitt is planning on extending his own personal rumspringa indefinitely—although it’s probably a good thing to keep him in the city. He’s already lived in the country and some may remember what he did to that Victorian mansion upstate.