“John Boskovich: Psycho Salon” at O-Town House in L.A.’s Westlake neighborhood is two exhibitions in one.
The first is a survey of more than 50 works that Boskovich (1956-2006) made between 1987 and 1997. It includes sculptures, photographs (silver prints and Polaroids), paintings that look like bumper-stickers, assemblages that function as lamps and a menorah, made of welded steel and military flashlights.
The second is a collection of objects from Boskovich’s home, which looks like it might have been decorated by Oscar Wilde, if he were born in the 1950s and did all his shopping at IKEA and the Rose Bowl flea market. Included are a custom carpet, a handcrafted fireplace screen, a Navajo rug (into which a quote from Allen Ginsberg has been woven), a modernist clock, a statue of Shiva (painted pink), three Hare Krishna figures (each doing double duty as a lamp) and dozens of mass-produced honey dispensers, each made of plastic and shaped like a lovable little bear.
Together, the two halves of the exhibition paint a portrait of the artist as a sharped-eyed loner, a sensitive soul on intimate terms with the pain of being a misfit yet adamant in his refusal to believe that not fitting into society made him special, in any way, shape or form. (That romantic fantasy, born in the Industrial Revolution, still clings to artists today, despite the best efforts of Warhol and Pop Conceptualists like Boskovich.) A harrowing sense of isolation — and utter ordinariness — pulses throughout “Psycho Salon,” catching visitors in an undertow of despair, if not impending doom.
That sense of shared isolation goes back to Thoreau (1817-1862), when he wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It can be felt in Boskovich’s works made for public exhibition. Most are photographs, often nearly abstract close-ups of men’s bodies, with captions printed beneath them. Others include found images that he has repurposed, sometimes inscribing his phone number or Social Security number on them.
Boskovich’s “Rude Awakening” series features lines from 12-step recovery programs. Other works include quotes by Jean Genet, Camille Paglia, Giorgio de Chirico and T.S. Eliot. Proper names are nowhere to be found in the quotes, replaced by such pronouns as “I” and “you.” The passages that Boskovich has selected are addressed to everyone. The suffering and psychological torment they refer to belong not to him and him alone, but to all of us. His art wants nothing more than to engage in meaningful conversations with people in an expansive social circle.
Boskovich’s embrace of all-inclusive anonymity is embodied by lamps made of leather bondage masks. Translucent plexiglass boxes, made to match the volume his body occupied, drive the ghostly point home.
There’s a message-in-a-bottle quality to these works that Boskovich made for public display. In contrast, the objects he made for his home have a time-capsule quality to them. Yet they are just as cool — and socially oriented.
Standouts include a trio of papier-mâché statues he transformed into lamps and customized with quotes from Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” You get the sense that Boskovich addressed his self in the same way he’d address anyone else — as someone he’d like to get to know better.
Everything he touched started with his self. But it doesn’t end there.
Addressing a larger, more expansive audience, Boskovich’s public and private works beseech all of us to look outward and engage others. That’s even more important today than it was when Boskovich made his self-reflective yet engaging works.
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