As in previous installations, "Sound Garden" combines seductive conflicted images that have become Simmons' signature visual code of societal and private concerns. Much of the material references racial matters while simultaneously embodying more universal personal desires. The central component of "Sound Garden" is a platform of wood squares that recreates a section of the Celtics' Boston floor as well as a high finish dance floor and is the approximate size of a boxing ring. The parquet floor is framed by a wide planter of white pansies. Suspended above, in the manner of a score board of public address system, are four outsized black speakers. The speakers emit a three-phase, four-track, audio component of verbal instructions for dance routines and/or basketball drills, the dribbling of a basketball on a gym floor, tap dancing and the swiping of an eraser on a blackboard. The erasing progressively interrupts the other sounds ultimately leaving an abstract sound and word poem with only a thin residue of the full content.
As in past works, Simmons employs cliched models of African American male success, i.e., basketball player, entertainer and boxer, that allude not only to social conditions by to the notions of athletic heroics, celebrity, wealth and glamour that is the fantasy of a wide range of young men. The erasure sound in "Sound Garden," a literal and symbolic obliteration, is drawn from Simmons' blackboard drawings that are partially erased and obscured images depicting racial stereotypes from early cartoons and comics. Flower gardens have appeared often in Simmons installation pieces and refer to formal, privileged, suburban or funereal associations as well as the private pleasure and luxury of gardening itself.
Simmons worked on the five paintings included in the exhibition while the installation was being fabricated outside his studio. Just as the installations have become increasingly complex, the paintings have the capacity to expand upon his previous chalkboard drawings. The elusive surface of the white or khaki paintings is pristine, colorless and matte. The essentially line images, charcoal, screened or painted, exist in a hierarchy of prominence with heavily drawn charcoal shoe prints, dotted directional lines and arrows swiped in the manner of an erasure that mars the background and partially obscures the more romantic and cartoonish screened on images of stars, stairs and tasseled pillows. The paintings' titles are metaphorically descriptive as in "Supastar" with it's sweeping charcoal lines and footprints far apart on a star studded field; or "Swish" with elaborate directional lines and "foot work," and a rectangle that reproduces a basketball hoop target.
Simmons' work has been seen recently in the exhibition "Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art," at the Whitney Museum and will open this month at the Hammer Galleries of U.C.L.A. in Los Angeles. His work was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial and the subject of a one-person project at the Whitney Downtown. Simmons is currently preparing a project for the Lannan Foundation in Los Angeles that will open in the Fall of 1995. One-person exhibitions include a 1994 Directions show of blackboard and wall drawings at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C., an installation at the Philip Morris branch of the Whitney Museum, and gallery shows that include Galerie Philippe Rizzo in Paris, Jason Rubell in Miami Beach, Roy Boyd in Santa Monica, White Columns and Simon Watson in New York. This is Gary Simmons' second show at Metro Pictures.
Gary Simmons lives and works in New York City. He was born in New York and received a B.A. from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. He also studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the California Institute of the Arts.