Murmansk is a Soviet light cruiser: 17,000 tons of corroding warship, sold for scrap and then stranded off the coast of Norway. Murmansk is a Russian port city: the largest on the arctic coast, presided over by a 116-foot-tall concrete soldier. Murmansk is also a fruit dish, held aloft by six tubular legs crimped like a scissor-lift: cold, implacable, silver.
These words from a catalog essay by Joanna Fiduccia convey the varying registers of scale and substance found in Justin Beal’s LA><ART exhibition, Listeria. Like the famous Eames’ documentary the Powers of Ten, Beal’s work moves methodically between macrocosm to microcosm. His streamlined forms include orders of magnitude that may not indicate what they seem to at first sight.
Named for a pioneer of sterile surgery, Listeria is a strain of bacteria that contaminates fruits like the melons seen in Justin Beal’s new video, Murmansk. The exhibition includes a range of references to the Italian design collective Memphis, which modeled graphics from industrial patterns and medical photomicrographs. Works in the exhibition are situated between these two-dimensional surface treatments and the strategies of post-modern architecture and design that situate the body within formal structures. These constraints in Beal’s words locate, “a space where material is used deviously, structure is concealed, function follows form and humor and poor taste win out over the gravitas commonly associated with modernist design.”
To this end, Beal’s art perceived the external world where function distorts form and vice versa. A splatter upon a mirror may reference the painterly act of making art history or it may concern discovering the body in its infinitude beneath a microscope. Organic material is never just that in the work: it is an agent of decay yet to lose shape, in tension with the strident geometry and unpolluted ideals that guide architecture and design. Added to these constraints that any sculptor must sort through is Beal’s sense of humor, which uncovers something existential in the titular and the anodyne.
Justin Beal lives and works in Los Angeles. He received a BA in Architecture from Yale and an MFA from the University of Southern California. Beal also attended the Whitney Independent Studio Program. He has held recent solo exhibitions at Bortolami, New York and ACME, Los Angeles. Beal was featured in the 2008 California Biennial held at the Orange County Museum of Art. His work has been included in group exhibitions at Esther Schipper in Berlin and The Modern Institute in Glasgow, as well as Casey Kaplan Gallery, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery and Sculpture Center in New York. Beal lives and works in Los Angeles and New York.