Those who heard the most recent State of the Union address may recall tales of plucky small-business owners demonstrating an American proclivity for self-reinvention. Had President Obama looked for the same theme in the arts, he might have mentioned Jack Early, who was having his first solo show in Manhattan in 18 years. To be exact, Early’s show was part reinvention, part reintroduction: a number of the works pointedly explored the images and sensibility of his partnership with Rob Pruitt (as Pruitt-Early), which unhappily disbanded after the pair’s 1992 exhibition “Red, Black, Green, Red, White, Blue” was denounced by critics for being racially insensitive. Largely in response to this event, Early has refashioned himself as a surprisingly adroit pop songsmith, making use of a medium suited to healing old wounds, even those inflicted by a hard-hearted art world.
The room-size environment Ear Candy Machine provided the weight of the exhibition and offered viewers a reconfiguration of Early’s 2009 installation at Southfirst Gallery in Brooklyn. The windows at Daniel Reich were covered and the walls were painted black, with the exception of a Day-Glo rainbow that darted toward a transparent pyramid, which hung from the ceiling and contained a stage spotlight. The allusion was clearly to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, although here the prismatic phenomenon depicted on the album cover was inverted, the rainbow impossibly de-dispersing into a beam of light. The beam was directed at a lacquered white Victrola cabinet topped with a turntable, from which a spinning LP played eight of Early’s songs (1994 to 2010) through an acoustic horn. As the rotating album (also white) gleamed brightly under the spotlight, the protagonists of Early’s aural “candy” pieces sang about lost love, disillusionment in the face of stardom, and the idea that home is where you make it. In total, the room felt optimally tuned to a particular psychic pitch, one reflecting an interior view on mending a broken heart, if not illuminating the dark side of the moon.
A mix of dark and light continued in an untitled Combine-like painting (2011) shown in the rear gallery. At one end of a curved rainbow, a seemingly displeased Paul McCartney looks out upon a field of opaque black holes. Charles Manson and members of his “family” variously emerge from or disappear into them. Between the originator and the executioner of “Helter Skelter,” Early affixed a small cabinet to the painting’s surface containing a “fuck off” goblin—middle finger extended—culled from the Pruitt-Early oeuvre. Standing nearby was a pair of 72-inch-tall painted wood cutouts of Dr. Spock and Captain Kirk, a Pruitt-Early work from 1992. Its presence in the show suggested that the artist was casting his past partner as either a mind-melding Vulcan or a pompous cornball captain. Wisely, he left any such appointment to the viewer’s imagination.
Photo: Jack Early: Untitled, 2011, mixed mediums; at Daniel Reich.