A ramshackle wooden structure containing an operational monster drill, extension leads, cut cardboard, golden pizzas, basketball hoop and an effigy of the artist on the roof, ‘Garage Renovation New York (CHERRY Makita)’ (1993) introduces motifs that would recur throughout Rhoades’ work until his untimely death in 2006. American consumer, pop and car culture collide in cacophonous excess in the sprawling, disordered installations painstakingly recreated for BALTIC’s formidable spaces.
The most farcical element has to be PeaRoeFoam, an unholy alliance of glue, peas, fish eggs and polystyrene, and a building material Rhoades ostensibly invented to be able to create walls within severe institutional spaces. True to its disobedient beginnings, PeaRoeFoam proved a nightmare for conservators, constantly degrading and moulding. ‘The Grand Machine / THEAREOLA’ (2002) depicts a bizarre production line for the grim substance. Marilyn Chambers, outed porn star, is the unfortunate scapegoat - or divine idol - of PeaRoeFoam: her image decorates the packaging and adorns the pulpit at the heart of the installation. There’s a preponderance of glossy compact discs, now dusty and scratched and the wailing of recorded karaoke - Sweet Child of Mine and Tainted Love feature - becomes hymn-like, an irreverent worship to Rhoades’ creation. In a video of a live PeaRoeFoam demonstration, Rhoades rules the arena of a plastic paddling pool and directs volunteers to mix the materials, performing the zealous preacher or virtuoso salesman.
Centrepiece in scale and scope, ‘Creation Myth’ (1998) makes an irreverent, humorous, momentous mess of the artist’s body, mind and processes. Pornographic images saturate the brain area: flushed, fleshy, magenta-cast photocopies are pasted on wood and stacked on every available surface. A toy ‘train of thought’ travels in a loop through absurd tangles of cables, with the profane clutter of life and bureaucracy exposed to bucket lights in primary colours, television screens, game consoles and the eternal return of a projected spinning polystyrene skull. ‘The Prick’ gouges slits in the actual gallery wall, while ‘The Anus’ excretes turds of shredded paper and short-lived smoke rings. White t-shirts – that potent shifting social signifier – recur, they drape in odd places, wait in line at an ironing board, beg to be straightened out.
‘Sutter’s Mill’ (2000) seems clinical in comparison. Named after the birth site of the Californian Gold Rush, the structure is all poles, angles and sharp points. In the mill’s centre runs a river of coloured clothing, sandwiched or trapped. Scratches in the polished scaffolding disclose its prior use as part of iconic work ‘Perfect World’ (1999), an immense installation that scaled 15,000 square feet. Rhoades never really finished a work, but continued to adapt, reuse and abuse his materials: ‘Iwan’s Rack’ (2003-4) was originally a gigantic storage solution until he decided that it would do as an artwork. Marilyn reappears on a shelf, gazing down beatifically.
The curatorial strategy of ‘Four Roads’ attempts to lead a perplexed viewer through the chaos, but defined paths is not Rhoades’ strength - the way is obstructed by detritus, clamour and crunching underfoot, scatterings of PeaRoeFoam. The dream of the road invades nonetheless. Interviewed by Hans-Ulrich Obrist while driving the highway at night, Rhoades described the car as his in-between space, a space for thinking between studio, house and store. In a “thing invented to go forward … the radio is incredibly important”, not only as a constant rhythm but because it’s how “information is fed in”. In ‘Fucking Picabia Cars / Picabia Car with Ejection Seat’ (1997/2000) that momentum is stalled and the soundtrack is tinny, plaintive: the plywood ‘car’ is upturned, wheels askew.
This is a car crash of an exhibition; a precise chaos; a fertile catastrophe that befits its absent artist. It reeks of virility and feels like impotence, directed by that familiar character, knowingly embodied: a straight white male, bored, with gas in the tank, Americana on the radio, and nowhere to go.