An LA Artist Taps into the 1980s to Visit the Subject of Death

In “A Cold War,” Jamison Carter’s new exhibition at Klowden Mann, there are numerous eye-catching works among the fluorescent-hued sunburst, Rorschach-like abstractions, and cement sculptures that seem to teeter on the edge of collapse. But it’s safe to say that Carter’s rainbow-striped coffin steals the show.

  • Installation view of “A Cold War.” Image courtesy Klowden Mann.

    Installation view of “A Cold War.” Image courtesy Klowden Mann.

Titled O Superman (2015), the life-size coffin, hand-painted with bright stripes, references Laurie Anderson’s legendary 1981 song of the same name. For her piece, Anderson, an experimental performance artist and musician, took inspiration from the 1885 opera Le Cid by Jules Massenet, and the first lines of her half-sung, half-spoken song, “O Superman / O Judge / O Mom and Dad” echoes the first lines of Massenet’s aria. Carter, in turn, took inspiration from Anderson, naming the wooden coffin O Superman and another featured piece, O Judge (2015), a papier mâché sculpture that looks something like a charred carcass or a busted rubber tire on the side of the highway.

So what’s the connection between the French opera, the 1981 art-pop crossover hit song, and Carter’s provocative sculptures? The Le Cid aria is a prayer for help, while Anderson’s work is an exploration of interpersonal communication and a critique of human dependence on technology. Carter’s coffin, meanwhile, touches on all of these themes. O Superman is his expression of the idea that death is the ultimate equalizer—the sole force that grounds us, motivates us, challenges us, terrifies us. And it’s no coincidence that the coffin, at six-feet-three-inches tall, is the perfect size to fit the artist himself. It stands upright and lacks a lid though, suggesting Carter is playing with the compelling nature of death and our endless intrigue around its bounds. 

“A Cold War” includes a handful of other freestanding sculptural works made predominantly of wood and hydrocal, including unlit and Mono Hum (both 2015); the former looks, dangerously, as if it’s about to topple over onto the gallery floor, while the latter, an almost absurdly top-heavy structure, features a boulder-like object balanced on a dainty and towering frame. Carter clearly likes to manipulate material and form, both here and in his wall-mounted sculptures, like the vibrantly painted sunburst Sol and the lunar-inspired Waning (both 2015). A quartet of monoprints, reminiscent of Rorschach inkblots, round out the exhibition. Although prints, they are not in fact ink, or even paint on paper: 67P/C-G view 3 (2015), like the other three, was made partly with cement and dirt, taking the familiar, enigmatic motifs out of their expected constraints. That’s Jamison Carter for you—ambitious, bright, experimental, referential, attention-grabbing, and ultimately uncategorizable.

—Bridget Gleeson


A Cold War” is on view at Klowden Mann, Los Angeles, Sep. 12 – Oct. 24, 2015.

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