‘JACK’S BATH’ Gouache on canvas over board, 59 by 46.5 inches, by Danny Jauregui, 2010.
“Absent the Center” is a collection from two of Danny Jauregui’s most recent series of works investigating social space, There Goes the Neighborhood (2009) and Stage Set For a Riot (or, Whatever Happened to Mt. Vesuvius?) (2006). Though both are deeply rooted in a cultural and historical context specific to Los Angeles, the collection’s narrative and political resonance loses very little traction in the Bowdoin Museum of Art in Brunswick.
While working mostly in grayscale, Jauregui’s visual art offers colorful commentary on some critical subject matter. He offers no reservations citing specific historical inspiration for his work in the exhibition brochure, and themes of identity, marginalization, and contested public space recur throughout. While this sort of insistence of intent can sometimes detract from a gallery experience, Jauregui’s subjective vision is helpful, and the otherwise opaque architectural renderings are aided by his elucidations.
With a material palette of ash, graphite, and gouache, “Absent the Center” is bleak and achromatic. In an untitled series from Stage Set For a Riot, thick graphite parallel lines in two-point perspective compose exteriors of enormous unmarked buildings. Windowless, doorless, and seemingly impenetrable, the structures appear to be at once monumentally dystopian yet ultimately hollow, Orwellian, and impotent.
In the There Goes The Neighborhood series, Jauregui unfolds an alternative history of gay bathhouse interiors as though they might look today. After the sexual and cultural revolutions of the ’60s, bathhouses became popular among gay men as a (relatively) safe zone for open expression and experimentation, particularly in the liberal, bohemian neighborhood of Silver Lake near downtown Los Angeles. As the AIDS epidemic erupted, major cities shut down the majority of bathhouses, dismantling much of the community and safety they once afforded. Consistent with the practice of exploring themes hidden in the imposing architecture of Stage Set, Jauregui casts the bathhouses as sites of radical thought and social restructuring. Seen within the same show, the two series appear as uneasy cousins, displaying structures bound by their respective banishment from the power they once claimed.
Still using black and white tones, Jauregui renders the bathhouses in gridded, two-point perspective interiors with gradations of varying decay. In “Mac’s Bath” (a five-foot-by-three-foot gouache on canvas over board), Jauregui adds chemicals to the gouache pigment, simulating the fractal mold of mildew overrunning the wall where the tiles once were. In “Jack’s Bath” (five-by-eight feet, gouache on canvas), intact black tiles frame the contours of the room while a burgeoning white void swells from the center of each wall. In “Hyperion Health” (same dimensions and materials), chemical pigment forms in the low corner of the room, eroding the textured pattern. It’s a building better suited for a catacomb than a bathhouse.
Three 3D installation pieces augment the exhibition. To create “Architecture of Anxiety,” Jauregui set fire to a small wooden cage that miners once used to transport canaries, which succumb to toxic gases before humans do. Another charred installation, similarly distressed by transport and exhibition, spells BETTER LATE THAN NEVER in burned wood.
Finally, “Palm Frond With Its Throat Cut,” an altered found-object installation (and nod to Giacometti), offers another perspective on the contentious landscape of Southern California. The palm tree, a longtime iconic symbol of greater Los Angeles despite being native almost anywhere but LA, serves as particularly ripe subject for an artist with such a keen and scrutable thematic sensibility.
Nicholas Schroeder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“ABSENT THE CENTER: WORK BY DANNY JAUREGUI” at Bowdoin Museum of Art, in Brunswick | through June 6 | 207.725.3275