Los Angeles-based artist Ry Rocklen likes trophies, but not necessarily winning them. For the last two years, the 35-year-old artist has been scouring vintage shops in L.A. looking for discarded trophies and sourcing trophy parts to make sculptures like Second to None (2011). In early 2013, Rocklen expanded on this, making the trophy sculptures functional—as tables, chairs, loveseats—in a line he calls “Trophy Modern”. For this year’s Absolut Art Bureau-commissioned Art Bar (for which artists Los Carpinteros, Adrian Wong, and Mickalene Thomas have participated in the past) in Miami Beach, Rocklen invites fair-goers to be the emblem of their very own trophy in an installation titled Night Court. In a conversation with Rocklen, who is preparing for the Bar’s installation, he tells us his favorite sport, what he’s most nervous about leading up to the install, and the winning programming (no pun intended) that revelers can expect at Night Court.
Artsy: Why trophies?
Ry Rocklen: Well there’s a kind of really primal attachment to trophies in general, probably partly because they’re shiny and golden, and because of what they symbolize, which is achievements and triumphs and success. As a kid, I was always drawn to the trophy display cabinets at school, and I was always wanting to see more.
Artsy: Can you explain briefly the concept, and where you sourced the materials that you’re using?
RR: I often frequent thrift shops, and I went to a thrift store in L.A. and found this big collection of trophies. I thought it was an amazing collection for a number of reasons: first, they were visually stunning; and, second, there’s such a pathos to seeing a bunch of trophies that were abandoned or given away where they are kind of caught in limbo as objects that were earned by blood, sweat, and tears, and then kind of just thrown away. There’s a funny place where they were so personal to someone and they can’t ever really have that relationship again to the next owner.
So I bought all those trophies and ended up making a sculpture with them called Second to None. It was a kind of monument to the abandoned trophy. It was a work that was meant to maintain that pathos of the “lost trophy”; that somehow all these lost trophies came together to make this one last oeuvre. And in making that sculpture, I realized that I could make just about anything out of trophy parts; I had been ordering all these parts from different trophy suppliers in the United States in order to complete the sculpture itself. So I realized that you can buy trophy parts like you would two-by-four [lumber] at Home Depot, and in that realization I thought it would be perfect to do furniture. It would be functional and you would have this relationship of the human sitting on the trophy, becoming the figure that often adorns the trophy but is now actually a human being. So I made this set of furniture in January, which was the first iteration of Trophy Modern.
Trophy Modern is now the furniture company that’s been born out of that project. All the furniture that I’ve made thus far and all the furniture that I’m making for Night Court in Art Basel in Miami Beach is going to be Trophy Modern furniture.
Artsy: How does your commission relate to the city of Miami and/or the Art Basel in Miami Beach fair?
RR: When Absolut saw the furniture that I did in January, they were attracted to it and so they asked me to do something for Art Basel [in Miami Beach]. I was immediately compelled to expand the Trophy Modern catalog of furnishings [for this commission]. I mean, it makes sense in the context of Miami and the art fair in general; it’s a bit cheeky but it’s also just fun: there’s the slight cynicism and criticality to [the art] world, but then there’s also a kind of celebration and a kind of optimism in a way in Trophy Modern and in this experience that one can have at Night Court.
Artsy: Does Night Court favor any sport in particular or will it be representative of many types of sport?
RR: The Night Court installation is going to be a basketball scene—there are a lot of basketball-related trophy parts that are used in the furnishings of Night Court. I chose basketball because, one, it was my favorite sport (and that’s the main thing) and two, because I thought it would be nice to paint basketball court lines onto the carpeting of the deck [of the bar], so the basketball court lines will help organize how the whole experience is laid out.
Artsy: Did you experience any previous Absolut Art Bars—like Los Carpinteros’ last year in Miami, Adrian Wong’s in Hong Kong, or Mickalene Thomas’ in Basel—and if so did any of those inspire or influence your own concept at all?
RR: I did. I saw Los Carpinteros’ bar and it was really amazing, and what Adrian and Mickalene did looked incredible. But I was on my own trip in the sense that I knew when I was first approached that it was going to be done with my Trophy Modern furnishings. So all the decisions—the installation decisions—are based on what that Trophy Modern furniture dictates, which is sports and award-winning.
Artsy: What are you most nervous about leading up to the opening?
RR: The bigger things. There’s one big thing that’s less in my control, which is how we’re going to get those lines onto the carpet. I want to get a firm that does [this type of] basketball court painting, but I haven’t found someone to do that yet. So that’s a concern. And also just making sure everything gets done and is loaded onto the truck. It’s a whole semi truck worth of furnishings, so the scale of it is something I haven’t quite dealt with before. It’s exciting; I would say more than being nervous, there’s an excitement. [Laughs].
Artsy: How long do you think it will take you to install?
RR: It will take hopefully just a few days. There’s all this logistical stuff that I’m not particularly involved with, which is setting up a big tent to cover the whole thing, and then a massive deck, and then the lighting, and then the speakers, etc. And then it will take probably just a couple days to place all the furniture and get it set. There’s a little bit of assembly on the bar itself, because we can’t ship the bar completed; it’s just too big. But all the other furnishings, like couches, the ping-pong tables, the chess sets, and the club chairs, will all be assembled.
Artsy: I know that typically the artist will help create the menu and cocktails and programming for bands and DJs. Can you share these details?
RR: Absolutely. The food is going to be along the lines of what you’d get at a coliseum—hot dogs and nachos and things like that. We’re going to have a ticket booth, and the security will be wearing referee outfits. And a big part of this has been putting together an extensive list of performers to perform at Night Court. This is a list that includes a lot of friends of mine who I think are incredibly talented—obviously living in Los Angeles, there are just so many great talents here. We’re going to have the band Bouquet play; a band called Night Jewel; and a band called Glasser. A performer [named] Dynasty Handbag will also be performing; and entertainment by Bodies International, which is this amazing, kind of insane, ’80s-weird-inspired kind of workout performance.
Visit Ry Rocklen’s Night Court December 4–7, 12pm to 2am, located on the Oceanfront between 21st and 22nd Streets; and discover more Miami happenings in Artsy’s coverage of Art Basel in Miami Beach Week 2013.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory