Ry Rocklen’s Charming Audio Tour Guides Visitors Through His LES Show

It's a novel way to navigate the gallery.

Ry Rocklen, River King Sonwosret III, Egypt, 1857 B.C., 2015. Photo: courtesy of the artist and Feuer/Mesler, New York.

“I’m not super ironic in my work,” Los Angeles artist Ry Rocklen told me in 2013. “There’s a sincerity.”

The artist’s earnest enjoyment of the antiquities in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art comes across in an unusual exhibition now at Feuer/Mesler Gallery, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. All the ceramic sculptures in the show are inspired by ancient artworks and artifacts in the Met’s galleries. In a novel twist, the artist himself guides you through the gallery by way of an audio tour visitors listen to via an iPad provided at the front desk. (You can listen online here.)

Rocklen gives a pretty good performance as a tour guide, and gallery co-owner Joel Mesler told me that the audio was unscripted and recorded shortly before the show opened. Once or twice the artist stumbles on a word, which makes the whole enterprise only more endearing. Rocklen first gained notice for sculptures incorporating found objects, often abject ones like used mattresses and broken umbrellas. His work has appeared in the 2008 Whitney Biennial and the 2012 Hammer Museum biennial “Made in LA,” and the artist has had solo shows at galleries including LA’s Thomas Solomon Gallery and Mesler’s previous New York venture, Untitled.

When I interviewed him in Miami, he had created a much more shiny installation involving custom-designed furniture incorporating parts from sports trophies, which, as he saw them, had a little abjection of their own.

Numerous artists have found inspiration in the museum in the past; in 1999, the Museum of Modern Art got meta with the show “The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect,” in which artists from Marcel Duchamp to Janet Cardiff riffed on various aspects of art institutions. Cardiff, in fact, created an audio tour, focusing on offbeat aspects of the museum and its building.

Rocklen follows in Cardiff’s footsteps at the gallery. Here are a few of the works in the show, along with notes from the guided tour.

Ry Rocklen, <i>Cleopatra's Needle is Calling, Heliopolis, 1450 B.C.</i>, 2015.<br>Photo: courtesy of the artist and Feuer/Mesler, New York.

Ry Rocklen, Cleopatra’s Needle is Calling, Heliopolis, 1450 B.C., 2015.
Photo: courtesy of the artist and Feuer/Mesler, New York.

This work depicts the obelisk that sits in Central Park, behind the museum. To get the texture he wanted for the sculpture’s back side, Rocklen cast it using wood from an old telephone pole, which he found at a store near LA. The worker who helped him bring the segment of pole to his car likened their carrying the piece of wood to Christ’s bearing the cross.

Because one of Egyptian pharaoh King Senusret III’s projects was to widen an important canal, Rocklen used stuff he found on the floor of the LA River in the back side of the king’s face in this piece. The ancient king’s costly public project, for Rocklen, linked up to LA’s gargantuan—and expensive—sports stadiums.

Ry Rocklen, <i>Handywoman, Iran, 7th-6th Century B.C.</i>, 2015.<br>Photo: courtesy of the artist and Feuer/Mesler, New York.

Ry Rocklen, Handywoman, Iran, 7th-6th Century B.C., 2015.
Photo: courtesy of the artist and Feuer/Mesler, New York.

Since the artist’s hand was so evident in the piece above, says Rocklen, he knew right away that he wanted to cover the figure’s backside in fingers. He already had a mold of his hand ready. “I wanted a little variety,” he says, “and thought it would be lovely to interlock fingers with my sweetheart, Caroline, in this artwork, so I made a mold of her hands as well.”

Artists often help us see art and museums more clearly and deeply, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art itself recently invited numerous artists to talk on video about how the museum’s collections inspire them. In this show, Rocklen shows that he has found yet more riches in the treasury.

Ry Rocklen’s work is on view at Feuer/Mesler from January 9 – February 14, 2016.

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