Taylor Pilote grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and toiled as a kid in his dad’s auto body shop. Customizing cars and airbrushing motorcycles just felt like fun. Thanks to growing up as a “shop rat” then, today the 27-year-old sculptor and recent graduate of USF’s MFA program can make things out of metal and fiberglass that turn other sculptors green with envy.
With one foot in the hyper-masculine, blue-collar world of things that vroom — where 5 o’clock is time to pop the top on a cold one — and one in the conceptually-driven world of contemporary art, Pilote (pronounced pill-ott) makes work that evolves from and makes sense in both. Through March 8, Tempus Projects’ white-walled garage-like space showcases his latest output in There goes the neighborhood … Recent works by Taylor Pilote — a half-dozen sculptures and a video inspired by the trappings of a certain genre of manliness: cars, construction, chicken wings and cheap American beer.
The emerging artist, who for my money is one of the most talented under 30 in Tampa Bay, was already on Tempus’ lineup for a solo show later this spring when a February exhibition was cancelled. So Pilote kicked his studio practice into overdrive, making three new sculptures in less than a month. Those pieces — a trio of classic car façades reimagined as draped “skins” that hang on a long wall in the gallery — steal the show.
His other sculptures are fun — and well-thought-out enough to be more than merely that. Two separate pieces take the form of infinity mirror cabinets that enclose rows of beer cans and create an illusion of never-ending brew. The pine panels of one, titled “Breastaurant’s Best (There’s no place like home),” invoke the randy man-barn aesthetic of Hooters. By sidling up to its glass top, viewers can peer down into an abyss of Miller High Life cans or contemplate a bronzed chicken wing nestled in chunky blue cheese dip (also bronzed) that looks just enough like puke to be slightly stomach-churning.
The second presents an eye-level vista of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans receding into nothing. The art joke here is a decent one — there’s something admirably rebellious about transmuting cheap hipster juice swill into an object of ethereal beauty — or better if you happen to know the sculpture by Josiah McElheny, a well-known contemporary artist, that Pilote is paying irreverent homage to with his working class version.
Beyond building objects, Pilote describes his process as continually asking the question, “Why not this rather than that?” where “this” is typically an artifactual or aesthetic nod to lower-working-class guy culture substituted for, or breathed into, the comparatively sterile and pretentious “that” of high culture.
It’s a good question, and one Pilote poses more studiously and meticulously through his newest sculptures, draped car hides that seem to ask: Why minimalist and post-minimalist form and not love for the clean sheen of the American automobile? (By the way, Pilote is Canadian. In addition to Buffalo, he grew up in Windsor, Ontario, across the Detroit River from Motor City.) The three works are based on classic cars: a 1957 Ford, a 1959 Cadillac, and a 1955 Chevy, cars he says define the moment when Americans stopped wanting “a car” and started wanting “that car.” His enshrinement of them in hand-burnished fiberglass form winks every which way at artistic forerunners — John Chamberlain’s crunched car sculptures, Robert Morris’s draped felt (the iconic minimalist precedent), Jeff Koons’ stainless steel sculptures of toys — without seeming derivative.
Instead of the debatable irony of the earlier sculptures (for the record, Pilote actually likes Miller High Life), these newer pieces offer a robust ambiguity and knock-your-socks-off sensuality. The thick, dripping folds of the teal Ford (they started as fabric shapes before Pilote infused them with fiberglass) and the pointy red taillights peeking out of the pink Caddy skin, which suggest a pair of psychotically perky titties, evince fan love of the most naïve variety. They also reveal savvy reflection on contemporary art’s love of shiny objects and artworks that occupy an indeterminate space between commercial consumer culture and the critique and perversion of commercial consumer culture.
With an excellent exhibition at its home base, Tempus Projects is also getting into the mix at this weekend’s Gasparilla Festival of the Arts. Seven contemporary artists invited by curator Kurt Piazza on behalf of Tempus and Hampton Arts Management will exhibit their work inside PODs in Curtis Hixon Park’s Kiley Gardens during the fair to spotlight contemporary art. The themed exhibition, Piracy Redux: The Myth of the Buccaneer Reexamined, takes specific aim at the idea of the pirate and its complex cultural history.
Digital artist Santiago Echeverry remixes hundreds of mug shots of Tampa Bay residents and the vintage Bucs pirate logo into a dizzying animation evocative of drunken revelry during the annual Gasparilla parade — not to be confused with the arts festival, which funded the PODs program to reach new audiences. Other participants include Gigi Lage, Hildebrando Belizzio, Diran Lyons, Danny Olda, Carolina Sardi and Mario Schambon. None of the artwork on view at “Piracy Redux” will be on sale; instead the exhibition aims to add a critical edge to the generally crowd-pleasing fare of Gasparilla. “Contemporary artists can really drill down into the concept and perhaps offer something challenging,” Piazza says.