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Adam Parker Smith, “Leisure Rules,” (2012) (via Ever Gold Gallery)

BERKELEY, California — Adam Parker Smith‘s Forever 21 opened last Friday at Ever Gold Gallery in downtown San Francisco. Parker’s mixed media sculptures are light-hearted youthful fun with a serious aurora around them. Deceptively sophomoric, the lewdness and pop-culture-simplicity of the work grows on you the more you look. Smith’s attention focuses on the aesthetics and craft objects often ignored in the galleries and museums of ‘high art.’

“Untitled (Kanye Shutter Shades),” (2012) (all photographs by the author unless otherwise noted)

Although Kanye West was certainly not the first musician to sport Shutter Shades, his music video for, “Stronger,” (2007) helped to make these sunglasses shockingly popular. Parker’s own take on the weird, often not UV-blocking shades could be written off as only a one-liner, but I wouldn’t. As musicians and visual artists increasingly mix, what was once merely a gimmick, can quickly become a cultural staple. Just as I examined in an earlier post, pop artists and musicians are finally realizing they can work together.

“Leisure Rules,” (2012) (detail)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, an iconic and hilarious coming of age movie that most of my generation holds quite dear, was the subject of one of my favorite works of the show. Many of us were molded by these characters and stories more than any museum or artworks, so it makes sense to find them now featured in galleries. Ferris Bueller in”Leisure Rules” looks like he is steaming up his own frame, and at first I thought there was actual water inside the frames. Actually, this faux-steamy movie poster is meticulously crafted from a frosting spray to recreate steam, and uses droplets of resin as condensation.

“Bottom 3,” and “Bottom 4,” (2012)

The Bottom series are highly suggestively folded and tied foam atop formica rolls held together by bungee cords. Are these DIY BDSM sex toys? Is this how prison inmates have sex? Thinking and researching what these objects could be I just fell into an awkward internet black-hole of DIY sex toys trying to find if these foam sex dolls were part of some larger sex community that I was unaware of. Turns out people have mastered many techniques with various names like Foo Foo or Fifi, which unlike the Bottom pieces, often involve lubricant and latex gloves with a tightly bound soft object. Coupled with another of his works on display, the suggestive “Untitled (Watermelon),” the two Bottom pieces speak to how unstoppable young men’s sex drives can be, resorting to DIY crafts to satiate their urges if need be.

“Untitled (Watermelon),” (2012)

While the press release says “Untitled (Watermelon),” is highly suggestive sexually, which it is, at first I saw it as a vodka watermelon. In high school and college the partiers seemed to constantly be trying new ways of enjoying their drinks as they tired of the red plastic SOLO cups. One especially ingenius method was to cut a hole in a large watermelon, stick a bottle of vodka in it upside down, and wait for it to empty into the watermelon. The remaining watermelon was more a vodkamelon. During my DIY sex toy search I also found men using various melons as toys, so whether Smith meant for it to be mostly sexualized, or also representative of youthful drinking habits, they remain related. Both speak to the creativity and ingenuity of under-stimulated hormonal men.

“Proposal,” (2012)

Although there were two other pieces that read as very sincere, “Proposal” was the most endearing piece for me in the show. Comprised of hundreds if not thousands of friendship bracelets sewn together, this proposal is the opposite of an impulse Vegas wedding. Building years and years of sustained friendship into a marriage is beautifully romantic, and akin to the notion of marriage many of us had when we were younger, while making bracelets for our crushes.

Forever 21 works to bring youthful and often deemed immature craftwork and aesthetics into a serious conversation about how we grow up. Our friendships and our aesthetic choices as children can linger on and show through into adulthood, and why shouldn’t they? Kanye’s sunglasses and sex toys aren’t outside of the ‘appropriate’ contemporary art discourse, if there ever was one. Smith provides us with a fresh and open conversation about culture influences and what can be taken seriously.

Adam Parker Smith’s Forever 21 continues at Ever Gold Gallery (441 O’Farrell Street, Tenderloin, San Francisco) until December 15.

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Ben Valentine

Ben Valentine is an independent writer living in Cambodia. Ben has written and spoken on art and culture for SXSW, Salon, SFAQ, the Los Angeles Review of Books, YBCA, ACLU, de Young Museum, and the Museum...