Published November 22, 2011 in LA Weekly
On Saturday night, in the all-white, otherwise empty space of OHWOW gallery, Bert Rodriguez, a conceptual prankster widely known for his boyish charm and big heart, did a collaborative piece with his mother in which they cooked and served a traditional Cuban meal of rice, beans, picadilllo (a tomato-based, ground-beef stew) and plantains to appreciative gallery goers.
This was a reprisal of a performance first done in Paris in 2008, when Rodriguez, invited to mount an exhibition at the end of a residency program, decided to give his Cuban immigrant parents, who rarely traveled outside Miami, a working vacation. With his father, a carpenter by profession, he constructed a freestanding wall that extended across the exhibition space, titling the piece A Wall I Built With My Father. Rodriguez has poignantly claimed that in the process of building the wall, barriers that had arisen between himself and his father regarding his choice of artist rather than doctor or lawyer as profession, broke down.
With his mother, a longtime school lunch lady with whom he shares obvious affection, he scoured Parisian shops for rice cookers and ingredients before initiating A Meal I Make With My Mother.
A few days before the cooking performance at OHWOW, making sh*t up, a film on Rodriguez by Miami-based Wet Heat Project, directed by Bill Bilowit, had its L.A. debut at the West Hollywood Library under the aegis of the Los Angeles Art Association. A feature length film shot in an informal style appropriate to the off-the-cuff, experimental nature of Rodriguez’s work, it features interviews with performance artists Vito Acconci and Marina Abramovic, New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz and others who offer advice and counsel to the enterprising and irreverent Rodriguez.
Filmed over the course of the past three years, the movie spans Rodriguez’s career, beginning with such ongoing works as Buy, Replace, Return begun in the late ’90s, which stemmed from Rodriguez noticing that picture frames sold at Target stores featured photographs of blond, blue-eyed Americans. He had photographs taken of his swarthy Latino self in several guises, such as young business executive, biker dude and pin-up. He then purchased frames from stores, inserted his images, brought them back, and took photographs of the displays on the store’s shelves.
Another work, What a Tree Feels Like, involved a landscaping company planting him neck-deep in the ground for a day outside Miami’s Bass Art Museum. In Clearance Sale, presented at ArtLA in 2008, Rodriguez set up a booth in which he sold works made since the beginning of his career for an average price of $15 (cash only), ostensibly in anticipation of the rise in the market value of his work through his inclusion in the upcoming Whitney Biennial.
At the Whitney Biennial, one of his pieces consisted of elevator doors inscribed with the words “The End” written in elaborate script. Inside the elevator, museum visitors were treated to a musical medley made up of endings from a multitude of Hollywood films.
Making sh*t up is soon to be reedited, as the filmmakers have decided to follow Rodriguez as he apartment hunts and moves to L.A. this January, giving him and the film an appropriate “Hollywood ending.”
A final note on sh*t and the dessert course for A Meal I Make With My Mother: In the center of the back gallery of OHWOW were two pristine toilets positioned back-to-back, each equipped with a large spoon. One was filled with chocolate pudding, while the other held his mother’s recipe for rice pudding. Extending the tradition born with Duchamp’s famous readymade “Fountain” of 1917, in which a store-bought urinal was placed on a pedestal, the piece was at once disgusting, disarming, and delicious.