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Los Angeles

Riverside Art Museum

Exhibition Detail
Michael Kalish: Rust and Renaissance
3425 Mission Inn Avenue
Riverside, CA 92501


December 5th, 2009 - February 27th, 2010
Opening: 
December 5th, 2009 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
 
, Michael KalishMichael Kalish
© Courtesy of the Artist and Riverside Art Museum
, Michael KalishMichael Kalish
© Courtesy of the Artist and Riverside Art Museum
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> QUICK FACTS
WEBSITE:  
http://www.riversideartmuseum.org
NEIGHBORHOOD:  
inland empire
PHONE:  
951-684-7111
OPEN HOURS:  
Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Sunday, 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
TAGS:  
vehicles, installation, sculpture
> DESCRIPTION

It goes without saying that cars are an extension of their drivers. It was Marshall McLuhan who said, "The car has become the carapace, the protective and aggressive shell, of urban and suburban man."  Cars and trucks are heavy - physically, psychologically heavy. Vehicles are so ingrained in our culture that most of us can’t imagine society unyoked from these beasts of burden, sometimes blessed tools for our accelerated lives and other times our oppressors that strap us in so that we can queue up. In and around Southern California, we take these hulks for granted as daily drivers, fast and true. Or we fetishize them, primping every curve of these graceful yet deadly speed demons.

We see them, yet we take them for granted as a solid mass. Rarely do we really see the parts that make up the whole. We take in the whole car as a tool or an extension of our body, but we ignore the individual parts and construction, the steel, fiberglass, plastic – the parts of the whole. For Michael Kalish, these parts are his palette. Art exists in many forms, from paint on canvas to installations of light. Kalish’s work starts – is born – in the salvage yards of Southern California. Sculpture happens in many different ways. For Kalish, there are very deliberate materials that excite him: old, stained, rusted, oxidized, classic American vehicles. The vehicles at these salvage yards have seen countless lives pass through them. Most have damage: scratches, bent fenders, broken parts or are downright mangled. The destruction wreaked on many of these vehicles is total. Yet it is in this destruction that Kalish finds beauty. His skill is to transform these sources into vibrant roses, both lifelike and larger than life. To run your hands over Kalish’s roses, an act encouraged by the artist, is similar to the act of petting a shark at the petting zoo. You relatively certain it won’t strike you, but there is a thrill in knowing that this same creature exists in related form outside this protected space. The structure of the roses is a conscious choice, carefully constructed by the artist. So deliberate are Kalish’s forms that one forgets that these forms weren’t simply found twisted into ready-to-use shape. His sculpture mimics nature, its fluidity, shape, and gesture. “There are no right angles in nature,” says Kalish. And so, his rosebuds have no right angles. Gentle, seemingly-weightless bands of curved car hoods and body panels gracefully mimic their real-world counterparts. The seemingly unlikely pairing of defunct technology with the ever-present forms of nature comes together in a perfect union. It goes without saying that cars are an extension of their drivers.

It was Marshall McLuhan who said, “The car has become the carapace, the protective and aggressive shell, of urban and suburban man.” Cars and trucks are heavy – physically, psychologically heavy. Vehicles are so ingrained in our culture that most of us can’t imagine society unyoked from these beasts of burden, sometimes blessed tools for our accelerated lives and other times our oppressors that strap us in so that we can queue up. In and around Southern California, we take these hulks for granted as daily drivers, fast and true. Or we fetishize them, primping every curve of these graceful yet deadly speed demons. We see them, yet we take them for granted as a solid mass.

Rarely do we really see the parts that make up the whole.  We take in the whole car as a tool or an extension of our body, but we ignore the individual parts and construction, the steel, fiberglass, plastic – the parts of the whole. For Michael Kalish, these parts are his palette. Art exists in many forms, from paint on canvas to installations of light. Kalish’s work starts – is born – in the salvage yards of Southern California.  Sculpture happens in many different ways. For Kalish, there are very deliberate materials that excite him: old, stained, rusted, oxidized, classic American vehicles. The vehicles at these salvage yards have seen countless lives pass through them. Most have damage: scratches, bent fenders, broken parts or are downright mangled. The destruction wreaked on many of these vehicles is total. Yet it is in this destruction that Kalish finds beauty. His skill is to transform these sources into vibrant roses, both lifelike and larger than life. To run your hands over Kalish’s roses, an act encouraged by the artist, is similar to the act of petting a shark at the petting zoo. You’re relatively certain it won’t strike you, but there is a thrill in knowing that this same creature exists in related form outside this protected space. The structure of the roses is a conscious choice, carefully constructed by the artist.  So deliberate are Kalish’s forms that one forgets that these forms weren’t simply found twisted into ready-to-use shape.  His sculpture mimics nature, its fluidity, shape, and gesture.  “There are no right angles in nature,” says Kalish. And so, his rosebuds have no right angles. Gentle, seemingly-weightless bands of curved car hoods and body panels gracefully mimic their real-world counterparts. The seemingly unlikely pairing of defunct technology with the ever-present forms of nature comes together in a perfect union.

Born in 1973, Kalish found his chosen medium through an obsession with license plates. His initial fascination with a South Dakota license plate stuck with him as he collected thousands of license plates and experimented with myriad graphic works of pop icons for over a decade. These works played with Americana themes, in a format with roots that descend from Warhol and other pop artists. Presidents, celebrities, famous musicians and beauties were all rendered in a stylistic graphic portrait fused from cut license plates arranged in a tableau.  From here, Kalish’s work progressed up several inches on the car, and he started using vintage truck tailgates. Kalish references the work of John Chamberlain as a major influence.  Both artists use automobile parts, but Chamberlain’s work uses these pieces exclusively in abstract form, as a sculptural approach to an abstract expressionist style. In contrast, Kalish’s work here is representational, but the details and the form are pure emotion. It is an “Aha moment” the artist strives to achieve, when the roses come perfectly together, rising out of the maelstrom of twisted, rusted steel. It should come as no surprise that Kalish is fond of the artist Deborah Butterfield, sculptor of horses in wood, found metal scrap or casted bronze. These works appear life-size or in smaller scale. Like Butterfield’s pieces, Kalish’s roses betray a quiet dignity; but in his works, potential energy and motion are replaced with the grandeur of larger-than-life roses, petals and bouquets.

Where Butterfield and Chamberlain’s materials disappear into the body of their works, Kalish’s materials betray their origins: Ford, Chevy and other hammered-metal names are part of the skin of these flower buds. Gorgeous oxidization creates a fine patina, the colors imitating the discolorations and deteriorations of natural phenomena. Kalish revels in the abundant cuts, indentations, scrapes of his palette.There is a loud joyousness to Kalish’s work. Ultimately it isthe metamorphosis of hard into soft that marks his oeuvre.From cluttered, battered, dilapidated forms sprout new and inspired blooms.

—Lee Tusman, Adult Education Curator


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