LOS ANGELES — Step inside the inventor’s office and see how Pippa Garner could change the world. The “Hurl-A-Burger,” a small catapult made to launch food over border walls, would promote cultural exchange from a safe distance. “Luv-Cuffs” would replace couple’s therapy, binding lovers together for 24 hours and automatically releasing them when they’ve hashed out their differences. The shower in a can, with its adjustable gooseneck nozzle, would keep you hygienic while on the go.

These wholesome products featured in Pippa Garner: Immaculate Misconceptions, now on view at Joan, fit neatly into Garner’s reputation as an eccentric pop culture figure who appeared on the talk show circuit in the early 1980s. Appearing on programs like The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, audiences didn’t realize Garner was a performance artist donning the persona of a genius with the naive impression that the world could become a better place through shopping. 

“Shower in a Can” in Pippa Garner: Immaculate Misconceptions

Garner’s artworks take the format of impractical inventions, most unrealized, that double as a commentary of popular culture. Product sketches bring levity to universally understood threats of sexism, like the “how to make it with women” kit; the Lincoln Logs-inspired building tools shaped like nude women; and the “Doggie Bag,” a purse that looks like an enormous dog that growls at the push of a button. 

In contrast to this work, however, Garner’s provocative concepts also have a spotlight at Joan. Garner, a transgender woman, created numerous hypothetical products that queered traditional expressions of gender and sex. Enclosed in three vitrines are ephemera that chart Garner’s exploration of her own identity through invention. There are drawings of undergarments that would give the wearer an hourglass figure, and a concept for the “Breast Enlarger,” a monitor worn on a flat chest that displays a much larger bosom. Atop the vitrines is a prototype for the “Genderometer” (1985–2021), a simple box with a knob that twists from masculine to feminine and can stop at any point in between.

Pippa Garner, “Genderometer” (1985–2021), installation view

Other prototypes in the exhibition primarily experiment with household necessities, like “Breathing Bed” (2021), with its mattress that subtly rises and falls, and “Electrolux Having a Smoke” (1985–2021), an antique vacuum that enjoys a cigarette, standing in for the housewife who might light up after cleaning to reward herself for a job well done. 

The art world has only recently embraced Garner as an artist rather than a blip in the zeitgeist, but Immaculate Misconceptions shows that she’s been producing work her entire life. There’s hundreds of inventions to absorb, and one wonders what the world would be like had Garner been given unlimited resources. In this exhibition, we get to see the real Garner, shed of her quirky reputation, taken seriously as a performer and conceptual artist. 

Pippa Garner, “Electrolux Having a Smoke” (1985–2021), installation view

Pippa Garner: Immaculate Misconceptions continues at Joan (1206 Maple Ave #715, Downtown, Los Angeles) through December 18. The exhibition is curated by Summer Guthery.

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Renée Reizman

Renée Reizman lives in Los Angeles, where she is a research-based interdisciplinary artist and writer who examines cultural aesthetics and their relationship between urbanization, law, and technology....