Author: Jack Radley

Image: Installation view of Cameron Spratley's exhibition "730" at M. LeBlanc

Harnessing the Helter Skelter: An Interview with Cameron Spratley

Cameron Spratley’s abrasive artworks wield mechanisms of prejudice against themselves. Famous and invented protagonists populate his canvases, enmeshed in morbid tags, raunchy ads, and biting lyrics. From Michael Jackson to Dale Earnhardt Sr., Spratley selects celebrity subjects engulfed in tragedy and controversy not to lament, but rather to evoke monocultural moments. His work compresses time like the walls of subway stations, with layered declarations of shared simulacra and common turf. Spratley tags, tattoos, sprays, stains, and fissures the surface of his work in a disruptive mark-making that renders ephemeral techniques with permanence.  While at first they may come off as irreverent, Spratley’s artworks are effigies to the anxiety, vitality, and complexity of being young and Black in the United States. As objects, his paintings serve as vessels for distress in a moment when a nation plagued with systemic racism confronts complicity and reckons for justice. Spratley’s work is challenging. He asks viewers to untangle visuals and text, like “NO AIRBAGS / WE DIE LIKE MEN” and “LIFE SENTENCE”, a forced investment that requires deliberate deciphering …

Rachel Youn in their studio. They sit in front of untitled works comprised of massagers, artificial plants, and speaker cabinets. Photo by Krista Valdez.

Massagers Meet Mosh Pits: An Interview with Rachel Youn

At first glance, Rachel Youn’s studio looks more like a garage sale than an atelier. Forty artificial plants cavort around the room, sprouting from machines, which, upon closer inspection, divulge their former lives as foot massagers—the kind you see on TV ads that tell you it’s time to go to bed. In this dancehall greenhouse dream, vintage speakers pose as plinths under the auspices of disco lights.  At one end of Youn’s studio jostles Adulators, a kinetic combine of a creamsicle-colored Shiatsu foot massager and two scuffling artificial olive branches. Youn does not conceal the mechanics of their sculptures: the leaves’ movements are logical, clearly stemming from the vibrating foot massager at their base. Nonetheless, the work entrances, as the two branches hypnotically wrestle on a loop; despite endless encounters, a loser is never pinned. Youn harbors the poetics of these olive branches—symbols of peace—to evoke infinite uncertainty, in which the viewer ultimately finds solace. In other works, like the motion-activated Devotee—a composite chi swing and artificial fan palm that scrubs the floor in subtle, …

Image: Kahlil Robert Irving, MOBILE STRUCTURE; RELIEF & Memorial: (Monument Prototype for a Mass); 2019. Sculptural Installation. Photo by Shabez Jamal.

From Punk Clubs to Panaderías: Counterpublic, An Embedded Triennial

In an era hypersaturated with recurring exhibitions – from Shanghai to Sharjah, Havana to Venice – a new St. Louis triennial urges artgoers to forgo the touristic water taxis for their own two feet. Organized by The Luminary, a St. Louis-based nonprofit platform for art and activism, Counterpublic reinvigorates global precedents with a model that approaches the city on the scale of a neighborhood. Its inaugural iteration takes place in the 12-block radius of Cherokee Street, a neighborhood of family-operated businesses and art spaces that serves as the Latinx center of St. Louis. Any of the 30+ site-responsive installations and performances greet equal parts neighbors carrying grocery bags and cognoscenti clutching the newspapers that serve as maps to make the pilgrimage. Artworks are ingrained in punk clubs and panaderías, indicated subtly by small yellow signs. The exhibition evolves at various levels of sunlight and sobriety – it features a John Riepenhoff-created beer at Earthworks brewery –as Counterpublic’s hours are set by the shops themselves. On the street, none of the artwork is particularly protected; this …