Robert Lazzarini

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Through April 5
by Charissa Terranova

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      Robert Lazzarini
      Payphone
      2002
      Anodized aluminum, stainless steel, Plexiglass and silk-screened graphics
      Courtesy of the artist and Fort Worth Modern

      View Gallery

      Though artist Robert Lazzarini staunchly claims that his distorted guns, brass knuckles and blown-out safe are not a commentary on American culture, they might as well be, especially because the mesmerizing replicas of .38-caliber Smith & Wessons are being shown in Texas. This smart and acute FOCUS exhibition is rich with suggestion and allusions, but the theme of mass shootings seems particularly timely as Texas legislators prepare to approve a law allowing students to carry concealed firearms on university campuses. Lazzarini admits his work is illustrative of the omnipresence of violence in American culture. Though his work is about dumb, everyday objects, his work is neither dumb nor everyday, and he is not a propagandist.

      This is sculpture that works as painting historically did. It plays with perception, offering up a unique strain of trompe l’oeil in three-dimensional form. In keeping with the game of fooled eyes, Lazzarini plays with truth, reality and the convention of verisimilitude in art. He meticulously crafts sundry common objects to scale and out of their original material. He sends the specs of the original object through software, skews it in quasi-anamorphic fashion, and then creates a mold.

      An eerie example that is at once both real and something other, Safe is a work in two pieces: the putty-colored body of a safe and its blown-off door laying on the floor. From color to scratch marks, the details of the safe suggest a real-life burgled safety deposit box. However, long, focused looking brings dizziness from the off-kilter proportions. Walk one gallery over in Lazzarini’s show and a series of five distorted guns mounted on the wall in a row are even more vexing. The walls of the straightforward gallery architecture have been canted, heightening the tight-knit effect of distortion and, more poignantly, the perceptual vertigo and nausea of the viewer.

      There is a profound force of resistance at the core of Lazzarini’s work. Viewers begin to realize that these objects are not simply anamorphically distorted like the skull in Hans Holbein the Younger’s painting The Ambassadors (1533) or the 18th-century architect Jean-Jacques Lequeu’s twisted column. As with usual cases of anamorphic rendering, there is no manner of correcting the distorted perspective in Lazzarini’s work. One cannot rectify their perception by simply moving to the right spot in the gallery or by straining one’s neck. His objects are beautiful, created with finesse and intended for delectation. They invite scrutiny. Yet theirs is a beauty that resists close inspection, for upon approach the head spins with dyskinesia fueled by an unsettled stomach.

      More than an admonition of “look but don't touch,” these objects tell of a beauty that is critical of the act of looking. They are difficult in a way that brings to mind Theodor Adorno’s negative dialectic: they resist simple consumption in order to set in relief the complexities of the very problematic of production, consumption, and the subject-object relationship that is the kernel of art viewing. Lazzarini deploys distortion in the making of what are usually easily recognizable objects in order to impede simple and direct visual acts. In turn, this causes the viewer to think twice, thrice and more about the politics of constructed visionand the sometimes-lethal objects that are at its generative base.

      Charissa N. Terranova is Assistant Professor of Aesthetic Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas. A freelance curator and scholarly critic, she has recently completed a book-length manuscript entitled Automotive Prosthetic: The Car, Technological Mediation, and the Conceptual Turn in Art, 1951-Present.

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