Misako & Rosen Gallery, Kita-Otsuka (near Ikebukuro)
Closes May 31
Los Angeles-based artist Stephen G. Rhodes’ debut exhibition at Misako & Rosen gallery ( 6276-1453; www.misakoandrosen.com), “There is No Bear Bear Ladder,” is a challenging, multireferential suite of new works. The centerpiece is a messy installation incorporating an A-frame ladder resting precariously on a pile of green-coated plywood panels from which a video is projected onto the darkened gallery’s far wall. The video documents the artist dressed in a ragged bear costume as he performs a series of manic exercises with these props: picking up the ladder, swinging it, banging it into things with a loud clang.
Shot in a studio with homemade green screens — used in Hollywood to integrate live actors into animated backdrops — the footage has been layered into excerpts from “Song of the South,” a 1946 Disney film about a slave whose stories of the wily Br’er Rabbit provide guidance to a young white boy. Rhodes employs deliberate clumsiness to tear away at the fictional integrity of the film. Pulling at or knocking over green screen panels in his studio, he appears to be assaulting the film’s architecture, like a madman clawing his way out of an asylum.
This hallucinogenic fit evokes Jack Nicholson’s performance in the 1980 film “The Shining,” from which Rhodes’ video soundtrack samples ballroom music. Two mixed-media works on plywood further illuminate this relationship, reproducing stills from an almost subliminal scene — lasting only a few seconds — in which a man in a bear suit gives a butler a blowjob.
In these and other works, the phrase “There is no bear bear” — a riff on poet Gertrude Stein’s famous line, “there is no there there” — appears repeatedly, scrawled in a childish hand.
A formalistic tour-de-force, the exhibition is open to varying interpretations, but provides a promising glimpse of a young artist with plenty of room for further development.