Photo Feature: Jennie Ottinger & Megan Reed, “Rabble-Rousers” at Johansson Projects

by admin on June 12, 2017

Artwork can insert itself in various contemporary issues, whether it is offering a contrary voice among political discourse, or it prods at social norms and (in)propriety. In Rabble-Rousers at Johansson Projects, Megan Reed and Jennie Ottinger’s work examine the multiple layers of the contemporary visual world around us, from the attractive array of colors meant to entice consumption to the more performative actions that make viewers want to join in step to be a part of that exclusive group.  Reed’s multicolored, highly-textured, abstract sculptures and Ottinger’s paintings that depict disconcerting, emotional crowds of overly competitive cheerleaders take a deep look at the alluring, thin veneer of popular culture and into the more convoluted, and at times deeply disturbing, world behind this deceptively attractive surface.

Megan Reed’s dynamic use of color as well as the obvious hand-crafted quality in her sculptures, with tactile surfaces and organic compositions, are she says an “ongoing response to the mass produced, the surface-slickness of both consumer packaging and, even more, the digital mirage through which most of us interact (and view art).” Her sculptures provoke both the reading of itself as well as the viewer’s preconceived visual vocabulary to read it. In a like manner, Ottinger’s mass of faces emerging from white gallery walls and in the paintings themselves, where crowds of people look on from the bleachers, reverse the typical direction of gaze and poke at the limits of the work, making subject of the viewer. It seems what is on view in the galleries is as much the ways of looking as what is depicted.

Ottinger’s subjects are snapshots of eager, anxious all American cheerleaders at the height of performance — yet that zeal so often depicted in popular culture, Ottinger’ paintings show us, is not always filled with healthy enthusiasm and team spirit. While many of her figures depict a satisfied accomplishment of either a giant pyramid with finesse of an athlete split at the base, that veneer of perfection is dulled with other climactic finishes on view of dueling cheerleaders, with teammates cheering them on with maniacal visages and pumped fists. Similarly, Reed’s sculptures, like much of three-dimensional art, anticipates a kind of performance between viewer and object, like the viewer’s perambulation around the work in a thoughtful inspection from all available points of view. Reed uses it to her advantage: “I’m fighting for interaction with the viewer by challenging notions of what painting or sculpture are—pushing this into a kind of performance, or dance, aware of its participants and engaging them in unexpected ways … leaning against walls,  teetering on stands, placed outside or in abandoned storefronts…” Reed’s sculptures continually attempt to thwart typical readings with chronic rearrangement of space, place, and terms of form. This constant shake-up, unlike much of life’s visual cues that relies upon stasis to lure and entice, will be in constant reassessment and discourage a resignation to the pervasiveness of images and what they aim to bid of us.


Jennie Ottinger & Megan Reed, Rabble-Rousers will be on view at Johansson Projects, 2300 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland through July 22, 2017.