D O W N S H I F T, an exhibition featuring the work of Gary LaPointe Jr. at Roman Susan, offers an examination of multiple concepts by zeroing in on one specific object: a deconstructed crossover truck bed toolbox. The toolbox explodes from the center of the space, and its landing debris serves as the base of the surrounding sculptures. Though each piece in the gallery takes its own form and propounds its own conceptual explorations, they are reliant on the toolbox as their life source. LaPointe unpacks complex systems of power, labor, and the American dream by exploring the materiality of the toolbox.
LaPointe challenges concepts of gender dynamics and class throughout his practice, and D O W N S H I F T is no exception. By studying material, truly considering that material down to the nuts and bolts, and then applying that material as a vessel to hold these complex concepts, LaPointe creates his own sculptural language. The materials often used in the works–such as cement, aluminum, found objects,– notably carry a dominating, masculine presence. Yet LaPointe patiently and respectively massages that material until a more tender and soft side can emerge. Using the toolbox as an example: on its own, the toolbox offers a commanding, impenetrable presence. Positioned in the gallery, gutted and dismantled, LaPointe invites the viewer to consider what the toolbox as an object can represent outside of its materiality.
The sculptural objects throughout the gallery are positioned in a blossom, stemming from one central piece that serves as this exhibition’s anchor: ( crossover toolbox ), made from altered Craftsman aluminum crossover truck bed toolbox, keys, and general hardware. The object in its original form is familiar, recognizable, and easy to imagine nestled into the back of a pickup truck, serving as a container for tools. The visual of the toolbox in its full form compels the viewer to consider the implications of the object and what it represents: manual skilled labor, construction, and (traditional) masculinity. Combining this with a truck furthers this mental image of abundant freedom racing towards the American dream. LaPointe chose an object that offers ample opportunity for the viewer to ground themselves in the work in their own way, depending on the unique perspectives they’ve brought with them. Objectural connotations aside, the resulting sculpture standing at the center of this exhibition becomes a stripped, skeletal, malnourished version of itself. Only the frame of the toolbox remains, and the rest of the material branches out into the other works dispersed around the gallery.
( western smoke ) sits upon a step on the gallery floor positioned near the window. Made of various found objects including an interlocking hitch ball, nickel-plated steel O-rings, an empty lighter, a graphite treated spent firework cylinder, and a tree branch, the surreal sculpture serves as a suspended moment. These materials are familiar; each comes with its own previous use and carries their own associations. LaPointe has studiously combined them in a way that built a sculptural pause in time. The white lighter sits at the top, eye level with the viewer, pleading to be ignited. Traveling down towards the base of the sculpture, the firework cylinder asserts itself as the taunting explosive potential, should one give in to the urge of ignition. Considering these objects as found brings an eerie, complicated tone to the work, like a gravestone of a fourth of July party. It’s easy to imagine the smell of burning fireworks, enchanting in the moment, only to leave behind a trail of debris in its patriotic wake.
Hanging on the gallery wall is the piece, ( flowering dogwood ). Made of graphite, colored pencil on found photograph, truck mud splatter decal on Hahenmuhle paper, repurposed aluminum, and encompassed in a graphite treated wooden frame, this piece offers a quiet, meditative moment for the viewer. The found photograph depicts a smattering of white flowers popping forth from a dark background of layered branches. The collocation of this matte image sharing space with the harsh shine of the aluminum frame and sporadic truck mud splatter allows the flowers to serve as a surprising, delicate component to the exhibition. Resulting in this use of materials is a playful quality that stands out against the surrounding works. This results in an opportunity for the viewer to be reminded of the physicality of each material present in the gallery; their weightedness, their usefulness, their textural qualities.
Suspended from the ceiling hangs ( wind chime ). Made from repurposed aluminum and a found cut steel chain link, this sculpture presents a perplexing experience: though recognizably a wind chime, it doesn’t seem to dance with the breeze, and though floating gently just above the viewer’s head, it is steeped with a looming heaviness. Each dangling shape is cut with precision and intense consideration. From far away, the sculpture reads as a classic wind chime, but close up, the sharp shapes and surrealist anomalous details emerge. ( wind chime ) is a perfect example of LaPointe’s exceptional ability to create prompts out of sculptures.
Spending time with each piece provides a moment to unpack the systems that construct our world – like class, sexuality, labor, and history – orchestrated by these familiar materials that saturate our lives. The diamond plate aluminum touches on class and labor by their association with construction. The lighter and pillow cases poke at sexuality and hidden moments of intimacy, like lighting another’s cigarette or sharing a bed. The wind chime piece stirs up visions of the American suburbia. The disassembled crossover truck bed toolbox that each piece was born from reverberates in the viewer’s mind; this familiar object now represents a collection of these systems of power, and reminds the viewer to continue dismantling them well beyond the constraints of the gallery walls.
D O W N S H I F T was on view at Roman Susan from May 14, 2022 through June 5, 2022.
Ally Fouts is an artist, designer, and writer living in Chicago. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art, Media, and Design from DePaul University. More information surrounding her artistic practice can be found on her website.