Forbidden Fruit

West Barn

September 4-October 10, 2021

The Ranch is pleased to present Forbidden Fruit, a group exhibition centered on the parodic paintings of historical scenes and imagined narrative scenes by Peter Saul, M. Louise Stanley, and Robert Williams. The show is the first exploration of the artists’ personal connections and shared artistic convictions. Raised on the counter-cultural visual scenes of the 1960s like Zap Comix and the radical political climate of the time, each developed a distinct style characterized by guttural humor and biting wit to consider pressing issues from war and capital punishment to environmental catastrophe and romantic malaise. Through their incisive commentary, the cohort simultaneously overturns tired art historical tropes and ironizes bourgeois etiquette. Exhibited alongside these works, a presentation of single contributions by Luis Jiménez, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Tony Matelli, and Cosima von Bonin constellates the trajectories of these unifying themes through alternate histories and media.

Forbidden Fruit hinges on perverse renditions of sacred subjects––undoing figures and traditions heralded by modernist art history and consumerist culture alike. Demystifying the mythical are two anchors of the exhibition: Snake Oil (2007), Stanley’s coy depiction of a postlapsarian Eve unceremoniously locked out of the Garden on a lowbrow bender that rivals Eden with its own offerings (a plastic tourist visor, a gossip rag, a discarded Budweiser can, and the tools of her own destruction––a stack of apples and three vials of snake oil) and Saul’s bastardization of the Crucifixion, Jesus in an Electric Chair (2004). His is no ordinary deposition scene: Christ doubles as a contemporary victim of the death penalty and similarly vaunts his own vices: a lit cigarette is his last rite. Completing a full biblical arc from the Genesis to the final moments of the Christ cycle, both works signal the artists' entanglement of play and provocation. A former student of Saul’s in the Bay Area during the 1960s, Stanley finds in art historical tropes a breeding ground for cultural critique. Likewise, the third figure in the triad, Robert Williams, the essential underground artist and comic raconteur whom Saul often cites as his only peer, offers charged psychedelic scenes of social and emotional upheaval with a precision that verges on the maniacal. In The Fraught Proposal (2014), an alien invasion hijacks a suburban proposal––allowing a mental menagerie of sci-fi and comic asides to displace bourgeois aspirations. Taken together, the artists represent a forceful contestation of “tasteful” painting that bullishly defiles class etiquette and decorum while also addressing serious modern conundrums like government-sanctioned murder, wealth inequality, and derelict mores.

The single contributions to Forbidden Fruit find in these strategies additional affordances, intensely distorting the figure to both seduce and debase. Von Bonin takes bawdy pop emblems into three-dimensional space in AU PAIRS (2018) with chaotically stacked piles of soft, quilted rockets ready for launch on a light pink wooden table. Here, militaristic order is overtaken by pleasure and whimsy. In Anxiety Attack at the Front Door (2021), Chase offers a voluptuous form––tenderly splayed, contorted, punctured, bedazzled––to heighten the erotic charge of the body, ultimately evoking an acute domestic intimacy. Sensuous surfaces and entwined bodies also mark Jiménez’s contribution, in which a shiny VW Beetle sits atop a blonde pin-up girl suggesting copulation between machine and woman. Titled American Dream (1969-1986), the sculpture is an audacious send-up of masculine car culture and “finish fetish” through the vernacular imagery of Jiménez's Mexican- American community. Alternately, in its abjection, Matelli’s Meat Head (2008), a cast bronze and aluminum bust composed of processed meat, plumbs a deep art historical lineage back to the Renaissance portraiture of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, whose paintings similarly antagonized his ruling class subjects through characteristic symbols. Literalizing the American slang “meat head” usually applied to an athletic but unacademic male, Matelli produces a symbolic portrait with a pessimistic message: the body is always marred by its own expiration date.

Artist Biographies:

Peter Saul (b. 1934, San Francisco, CA)

Peter Saul received a BFA from the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis in 1956. In 2020, he was the subject of the retrospective exhibition Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. He has been the subject of other retrospective exhibitions at Les Abattoirs, Toulouse (2019); Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2017); Deichtorhallen Hamburg (2017); Orange County Museum of Art, Santa Ana, CA (2008); Pennsylvania Academy of Arts, Philadelphia (2008); Musée de l’Abbaye Sainte-Croix, Les Sables d’Olonne, France (1999); Musée de l’Hôtel Bertrand, Châteauroux, France (1999); Aspen Art Museum (1989); Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (1989); Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria, Austin (1989); Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans (1989); Swen Parson Gallery, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb (1980); and Madison Art Center, Madison, WI (1980). His work has been included in important group exhibitions including Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC (2019); Les années Pop, 1956–1968, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2001); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1995); Hand-Painted Pop: American Art in Transition, 1955– 1962, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1992); Funk, University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley (1967); and the Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (1967). He lives in New York.

M. Louise Stanley (b. 1942, Charleston, WV)

Recognized for her amusing reinterpretations of celebrated scenes from Western art history and Greek mythology, M. Louise Stanley’s satirical paintings confront issues of gender inequality, corporate greed, social injustice, and immorality. The artist was recently the subject of a career retrospective M. Louise Stanley: No Regrets at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, Marin, CA (2021). She holds a BA from La Verne College, a BFA and MFA from California College of Arts and Crafts (presently California College of the Arts). She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fleishhacker Foundation, Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, Pollock-Krasner Foundation in 2014, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2015. She has lectured, taught and exhibited nationally and now teaches at Berkeley City College.

Robert Williams (b. 1943, Albuquerque, NM)

A seminal painter of the counterculture arts scene in the United States, Robert Williams embraces the figurative graphics outside of the academy from comic books and surfer art to hot rod illustration and movie posters. His alternative scenes subvert melodramatic domestic moments with intrusions of the psychedelic and science fiction, bringing forth both new dimensions and the lower rungs of visual culture. Williams was an instrumental figure in the artists who produced Zap Comix alongside Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, and Gilbert Shelton. In 1994, he founded Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine dedicated to the underground art scenes in Los Angeles and beyond. He was recently the subject of a solo exhibition, Robert Williams: The Father of the Exponential Imagination, at Bellevue Arts Museum (2019-2020). He currently lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife Suzanne, also an artist.

Luis Jiménez (1940, El Paso, TX – 2006, Hondo, NM)

The son of a sign painter, Luis Jiménez studied art and architecture at the University of Texas and apprenticed with muralists in Mexico City. A pioneer of fiberglass sculpture, Jiménez used the popular culture commodity to manifest public works that dealt with his Mexican- American identity––ranging from an interest in car culture and cowboys to the logics of border crossing. His work has been shown at museums throughout the United States and is represented in the permanent collections of the Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; among others. His public commissions can be found in Albuquerque, Cleveland, New York, El Paso, Denver, and Pittsburgh, among other cities.

Jonathan Lyndon Chase (b. 1989, Philadelphia, PA)

Jonathan Lyndon Chase is a Philadelphia-based visual artist whose vivid, gestural portraits comprised of painting, collage, and drawing reflect the complexities of Black and queer identity. Chase’s paintings include domestic materials—bedsheets, clothing, and grooming products—to reveal an undercurrent of intimacy and tenderness. Their work often blurs the lines between public and private, also illustrating how private spaces allow us to decompress. In 2019, Chase was invited as an Artist-in-Residence at Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, PA to conceptualize and produce an original yardage design in the screenprinting studios. The artist has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Fabric Workshop Museum, Philadelphia, PA; Company Gallery, New York, NY; Kohn Gallery, New York, NY; among others. They have received numerous awards and honors, including Pew Fellowship in the Arts, The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, and The Judith McGregor Caldwell Purchase Prize, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Tony Matelli (b. 1971, Chicago, IL)

Occasionally it’s necessary to take a hard look in the mirror and reckon with the crisp, odd reflection. This can be funny, startling, utterly bizarre, or if we’re lucky, all three. In his uncanny sculptures and paintings, Tony Matelli routinely traffics in all three. Think of the confusion, wonder, and shock caused by his 2014 sculpture of an underwear-clad man in mid-slumbering stroll, Sleepwalker, installed first by the Davis Museum at Wellesley College and then to great fanfare on The High Line, New York, NY. Tony Matelli has presented solo exhibitions internationally, including at the 8th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Russia; The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT; Davis Museum, Wellesley College; ARoS Aarhus Kunst Museum, Aarhus, Denmark; Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, Spain. His work is in collections including: AkzoNobel Art Foundation, Netherlands; ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Ishøj, Denmark; Bergen Art Museum, Bergen, Norway; Bonnier Collection, Stockholm, Sweden; CCA Andratx, Mallorca, Spain; CURIOUSLY STRONG Altoids Collection, (New Museum) New York, NY; The Cultural Foundation Ekaterina, Moscow, Russia; Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI; Fundación La Caixa, Madrid, Spain; FRAC Bordeaux, France; Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA; Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Montreal, Canada; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany; Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand; Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK; State National Centre of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Russia.

Cosima von Bonin (b. 1962, Mombasa, Kenya)

Cosima von Bonin is a conceptual sculpture and installation artist, who lives and works in Cologne. Von Bonin uses fabric, wood, film, music, and found objects, to create scenes referencing craft and pop culture. She takes on themes of social relations, identity, and appropriation, while still incorporating humor. Von Bonin’s first major U.S. survey, Roger and Out, opened in 2007 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Other institutional one-person exhibitions have taken place at House of Gaga, Los Angeles, CA (2020); Marianne Boesky Gallery, Aspen, CO (2019); CCS Bard, Hudson, NY (2018); Oakville Galleries, Ontario, Canada (2017); Sculpture Center, New York, NY (2016); Glasgow International, Glasgow, Scotland (2016); MUMOK, Vienna, Austria (2014); Artipelag, Gustavsberg, Sweden (2013); Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, MO (2011); Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2011); Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva (2011); Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany (2004); Kunstverein Hamburg, Germany (2001); Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany (2000); and Kunsthalle St. Gallen, Switzerland (1999). Her work is included in many notable collections worldwide, including the Tate Britain, London, UK; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Museum für Neue Kunst in ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; De La Cruz Collection, Miami, FL; the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany.

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