The initial visceral impact of "Ryan Humphrey: Fast Forward" is considerable: You walk into the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, and the main gallery has seemingly been transformed into a small-scale skate park for in-line skaters, skateboarders, and BMX bikers.
At either end of the space, BMX bicycles have been upended and mounted to the walls, seven at the north end, 15 on the big curving wall at the south end. An enormous rug wraps around the walls, and on it are hung ten paintings, some of skate-park ramps, some with words stenciled on them, others that come across as studies in pattern and texture. Along the east wall sit three stools, each with a bike wheel mounted on it.
In one corner sits a racing bike that looks as if it were abandoned before it was finished, with the words "LOST AND INCOMPLETE" perched in front of it. High on the wall nearby is a crudely painted shelf holding seven trophies of various sizes.
What's going on here?
An exhibition brochure helpfully puts it all into perspective: "Ryan Humphrey's works acknowledge several figures, movements, and iconic objects in art history, including Marcel Duchamp's readymades, Andy Warhol's factory-produced paintings and sculptures, and Richard Prince's car hood paintings. Humphrey also pays homage to key musical influences that made up the soundtrack of his youth and continue to inspire him today: rock-star guitarist Eddie Van Halen and pioneer rap artists from the 1980s and 1990s such as Public Enemy and Run-D.M.C.
"The result is an evocative aesthetic that taps into a boyhood nostalgia and juxtaposes high and low culture in a customized, multisensory mix of sound, color, and design."
Those bike wheels on stools, for instance, reference Duchamp's 1913 Bicycle Wheel, regarded as one of the first kinetic sculptures. That ready-made rug? Another Duchamp quote, featuring a design that is part Todd Oldham, part Van Halen's Frankenstrat guitar.
All that's missing, it seems, is a couple of actual BMX bikers careening through the gallery. And that too was covered at a special event the day after the show opened, when Humphrey, a freestyle biker himself, and BMX pioneer John "Dizz" Hicks put this makeshift space to the test. The event is chronicled in a video that plays on a loop in a little alcove at the south end of the gallery.
Without that performance component, however, this massive installation feels oddly empty, once you get past that initial shock factor of seeing the space so radically transformed. It's not so much a case of the emperor having no clothes at all as it is a matter of the clothes not quite fitting. After surveying the scene thoroughly, I had an overwhelming reaction of "And...?" I kept waiting for the punch line to the joke to materialize.
And yet, a day or two after seeing "Fast Forward," it stuck in my mind the way seemingly more substantial shows sometimes do not. Perhaps Humphrey really has internalized Duchamp's grand throwaway gestures. Maybe the show is meant to be little more than an elaborate put-on of the sort the French prankster embraced.
I had a little less trouble plugging into the two small shows in the center's middle galleries. "Michael O'Brien: Impact Zone" is a suite of a dozen and a half C-prints by a veteran surfer of 35 years who just happens to take a camera with him on his globetrotting adventures. There aren't a lot of subtle shadings to O'Brien's work, but he has a knack for making you feel like you're right there, in the center of the action.
Better still is "Ed Templeton: The Seconds Pass." Templeton's bio pegs him as a "skateboarding legend," but like O'Brien he's also a photographer. Here his images run together like the frames of a filmstrip stretching down each side of the long, narrow space.
Taken individually, the mostly black-and-white images don't amount to much: shots of signs, vehicles, people going about their daily lives. The locales appear to be interchangeable. But Templeton's words from the show's intro establish a mood, a continuity, that's irresistible. "There is a scribble of asphalt and meandering ribbons of concrete tangled all over North America in a contiguous line of material that connects each of us to whomever else is also in contact," he writes.
He makes reference to the classic image of a Native American with his ear to the ground in an old Western before going on: "Someone in Burnt Church, Tennessee, is standing on gravel that is connected by touch to my street, just like someone is in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I can be in New York City in three days from my home in the suburban sprawl of Orange County, California, without ever touching the earth."
Templeton pays tribute to the interconnectedness that arises from urbanization. In his view, we're linked in our anonymity, bound together by the artificial into something like an organic whole. Staring at his snapshots, I felt nostalgia for places I've never been and people I'll never meet. In other words, the Art and Culture Center has done it again.