16 December 2017 – 13 May 2018
Kunsthalle Zürich, Zürich
«Rob Pruitt makes art easy» as the New York fashion photographer Cris Moor once put it. Exactly this is the challenge of Rob Pruitt’s art as it explores the fertile and shallow grounds both separating and unifying “art” and “easy”. What may seem easy, is in reality a risky and virtuous balancing act with one foot potentially stuck in the mud. Pruitt masters it to perfection, his is a performance in style, and ultimately an exercise in comedy and tragedy. It has produced a large and multiform body of work, which is light, enchanting – and always “something else” too. It started in the early 1990s in collaboration with fellow artist Jack Early for what became the infamous duo Pruitt & Early. They dissected the culture of “white teenage boys and male privilege” creating a portrait of the enemy. What now looks like a prescient analysis, became a sensation and led to a show at Leo Castelli. The show shifted the subject to African American culture and became a scandal. The artists’ career imploded and so did their personal relationship as a couple. They parted ways and found work outside the art world, mostly odd jobs. Towards the end of the decade, Pruitt went solo to further explore the territory where pop touches you. It has brought him respect and admiration, and sometimes criticism. Truth is, we fall in love with the images he convenes and the way he exposes their powers, while, at the same time, keeping them on hold. This is where we, the visitors, sneak it, or rather get drawn in; it is the space where the “something else” comes into play mastered by the artist’s light-handed joggling of desperation and wit as well as salesmanship and generosity.
Rob Pruitt, The Suicide Paintings, 2013
All this appears to be a perfect fit for Kunsthalle Zürich, and it is. First of all, Rob Pruitt: The Church is a classic one-person exhibition with works spanning from 1999 to 2017. It introduces the American artist’s multifaceted practice including painting, sculpture, drawing, furniture, performative events, zines, everyday objects, political statements, and souvenirs. It includes The Congregation (2010), a group of found chairs unified with silver tape. The Congregation is part of a larger project of painting and sculpture referring to the Amish period of youthful abandon called “Rumspringa,“ and pays homage to the very human schism between the individual and the group. At the entrance of the exhibition, People Feeders (2010) welcome you. They are both sculptures and vessels for exchange, or as the French would call them: “vases communicantes.” One sculpture offers candies and pins with Pruitt’s edicts on art making; the other is a collection plate for rotating charities. Added to this are abstract Suicide Paintings forming chapel-like spaces. Suicide is human and controversial; all societies and religions have strong views on it – and it has become an important weapon. A thirty-five meter long, digitally printed, gossamar curtain displays hundreds of images of religion, faith, and spiritual gatherings as they circulate throughout the World Wide Web. This is a mosaic about religiosity as if you google-searched spirituality. Contrasting this panorama of images are Pruitt’s Studio Calendars (2017) and Studio Lunch Tables (2014-16). As the titles imply, they come out of Rob Pruitt’s studio and reflect a collective accumulation of doodling and drawing by the artist, his assistants, visitors, friends and fellow artists. While the curtain explores the circulation of religious imagery, Studio Calendar and Studio Lunch Tables display the personal, human and sometimes off handed humor that one expects from an artist’s journal. A lightning system was improvised for the installation at Kunsthalle Zürich, as all walls and the entire ceiling have been removed for The Church.