Installation shot from Zoe Crosher’s “LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds” (2015).
Zoe Crosher’s new body of work LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds at LAX Art (on view through October 24) offers an uncannily beautiful approach to L.A.-specific detritus with a DuChampian appeal toward the question: What is contemporary art? Here’s the gist: Crosher goes around to various sites in Los Angeles, picking up palm fronds that have fallen to the ground, and then takes them back to her studio, where she casts them in bronze, and titles them based on the cross streets where she originally discovered them.
Somewhere between the idea that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and the Duchamp-ian notion that any object placed into an art gallery can be elevated to the status of art, Crosher creates a dialogue about both the art object as commodity fetishism while ultimately playing into the commodity that she has actually created. Oddly enough, these palm fronds also look like objects that one might find at Crate + Barrel or some other store that sells decorative objects, which only furthers the very meta consumer nature of this artwork. These are all relevant critiques of the art market and American consumerism, and they’re also part of an ongoing theme in Crosher’s work about the landscape of Southern California and its purported ‘value,’ both as a land mass and as a place of fantasy and desire as created by Hollywood.
But the main thing about Crosher’s body of work at LAX, and perhaps the point that she’s trying to make in actually creating these pieces, is that the work itself is uninteresting to interact with, and actually quite conservative as actual works of art. The palm fronds are arranged in two large galleries like tombstones in a graveyard; elsewhere on a perfectly clean white pedestal, we see a variety of other small palm tree plant parts arranged like archaeological artifacts in a lab, anesthetized for delicate eyes.
There are a lot of shows in Los Angeles that either implicate the landscape, or make some sort of cultural commentary on this place’s actual plant-life. Take for instance Jenny Yurshansky’s stunningly brilliant dissection of the layered meanings behind the term “invasive species” as it refers to plants, but also to conservative approaches to immigrant reform, border cultures and multiculturalism, all of which she explores in “Blacklisted: A Planted Allegory” at Pitzer College. Petra Cortright appropriates the iconic palm trees, as found on the Internet, that may or may not actually be native to SoCal but have come to signify a mediated version of Los Angeles as many have come to know it on a surface-level through films like Steve Martin’s L.A. Story. Crosher’s SoCal palms are somewhere in the mix of this manufactured palm tree forest, but with a very different set of intentions.
In her work, Crosher has been known to collect found images, as in the brilliant “Michelle duBois Project“, which came to her as if in a dream. For this series, she happened upon a treasure trove of self-portraits, which would now undoubtedly be referred to as selfies, of an all-American Oklahoma girl and sometimes escort named Michelle duBois. This woman basically takes amazing self-portraits of herself as various female archetypes, from Mae West to sexy nurse and femme fatale. Each image is imbued with an unmistakable quest to welcome the viewer to look and enjoy, without ever promising more than visual pleasure for one’s eyes. Crosher’s “Michelle duBois Project” smartly considers questions of showing other peoples’ works, if the images are only considered “art” because of their appearance in the gallery, and the continued fascination of femme gender performance in advertising and media.
Her current body of palms also uncovers the found object and, through its recontexualization into the gallery, considers what it could mean now that it’s no longer dead but not necessarily alive.