Alexander de Cadenet: Money in the Eyes
FAB Gallery, Santa Monica
May 4 - June 3, 2017
By Shana Nys Dambrot
The thing everyone always forgets about the King Midas myth and the so-called Midas Touch, is that when it describes how everything he touches turns to gold, that includes things like food, and loved ones. He can never again kiss his beloved daughter, not drink nor eat of anything, nor in any way participate in his own glowing wealth, save by looking at it. He is doomed to always long for that which he already possesses. It’s tragic, and he did it to himself. This evocative illustration of the dead heart at the core of unthinking avarice, the illustration of how the initial appeal of beauty might give way to release its darker meaning over time, animates Money in the Eyes, an esoteric and archetypal series of new and recent sculptures by UK/LA artist Alexander de Cadenet.
Though cast in bronze or silver and plated in gold, using a machine-assisted and time-tested art historical process, each work is unique, not part of an edition. This is because the use of the precious high-art metals is not about reproducibility, but rather about the trappings of bespoke luxury and perceived value. Made on a 1:1 scale, each is the more or less the size of a familiar hamburger sandwich, complete with a smattering of sesame seeds and the jaunty tilt of a fancy garnish. The allegorical meat of the things, so to speak, make for convincing, even tasty-looking recipes, rustically assembled and at a familiar, consumable scale. Not food, but rather the Midas-touched and equally inedible accoutrements of wealth and status -- classic cars and Lear Jets, plus Rolex watches, rare coins, and Barbie dolls, tellingly each the size of the toys via which these desires are instilled from childhood.
Besides Midas’ real fate,nother thing people always forget, is that the biblical quote “money is the root of all evil” actually reads “love of money is the root of all evil…” Money isn’t the problem, desire for worldly goods at the expense of one’s soul is the problem. But when it comes to de Cadenet’s exceptionally lush, louche, seductive, satirical, gorgeous, and gold-plated “Life Burger” and related sculptures, the problem and its solution are one and the same. Paradox, after all, is one thing art is especially good at; and as critic, photographer, and philosopher Edward Lucie Smith has written, “The ‘Life Burger’ sculptures combine two opposing functions: they offer a sharp critique of the society we live in, and yet simultaneously they are luxury objects in their own right.” In other words, while overtly vulgar and gluttonous, in the end it’s also fine to want them. De Cadenet often describes his own personal and artistic journey as finding a way to live in both worlds, spirit and material, simultaneously.
The four burgers approach their particular situations of modern life from adjacent perspectives. We may as well start with the Trump Burger. It’s not just a political critique, it’s a look at the phenomenon of Trumpism as an especially American tragedy. Atop the stack of empty calorie treats, the man stands astride atop a wild bison and he is holding the reins, as if he is on a spiritual quest of his own, though it’s not clear if he’s tamed the beast or is about to get bucked. Replace religion with an emptier trajectory of worshipful capitalism, and witness Buddha Burger and the story of the hungry ghost, whose stomach is huge and whose mouth is tiny so that it can never ever eat enough to be satisfied. Jester Burger reminds us all that, as the the jester is the artist himself, so the role of satire, comedy, and the voice of truth to power without fear is an indispensable part of any honest government, even in the Middle Ages. The pair of human skulls with coins in the eye sockets, one stoic, one laughing, called Money in the Eyes (I and II) posit not blindness but rather money as a lens through which we see the world. Speaking of which, de Cadenet will be showing “Life Burgers” at St. Stephen’s Walbrook later this year, inside a Christopher Wren church in the heart of London’s financial district. Perhaps its denizens will believe that buying them will earn them some kind of cultural immunity, make up for their privilege and participation. And why not? Perhaps it will. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Whitehot Magazine, KCET’s Artbound, Flaunt, Fabrik, Art and Cake, Artillery, Palm Springs Life, Riot Material, West Hollywood Lifestyle, Jenkem, and Porter & Sail. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and exhibition catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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