The Lost Frontier (1997-2005) is the first work encountered in Nine Lives. The bas-relief diorama presents what could be both an antediluvian and post-apocalyptic vision of a drive up the Hollywood Freeway to the San Fernando Valley, as seen in the distance. In the lower foreground, the back of the artist is depicted, while at the center a gun-toting Mickey Mouse in drag guards Cahuenga Pass. As dramatically lit as any tableau vivant at Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters, this artwork is cordoned off at the back of a darkened vestibule like a pre-Second Vatican Council tabernacle.
Yesterday: Part 1 of 6: Past Hammer Biennials
This and other works by Foulkes are featured prominently on the catalog cover, street banners, print ads, and in the Hammer’s storefront window facing Wilshire Boulevard. Commenting on Helter Skelter, Peter Kosenko and Peter Plagens similarly label Foulkes’s Pop (1985-90) as the “theme piece” and “lone adult soliloquy” of the exhibition*. For Nine Lives, Subotnick identifies Foulkes as the supreme iconoclast, the “hero liberating us from the tyranny of big corporations” (aka Walt Disney Corporation)**.
By mythologizing the artist as hero (an old-fashioned cliché of Modernism), Subotnick subverts the possibility of Foulkes articulating a critical position in relation to the corporate world. Further, by using the scenographic and illusionistic tropes of Hollywood, Foulkes undermines his own critical position. He can run Mickey Mouse through the ringer time and again, but the corporate mouse pops back good as new, ready for his next drubbing.
Disney animator Ward Kimball (Foulkes' father-in-law) gave the artist the page from the Mickey Mouse Club handbook that appears in Made in Hollywood (1983) and also inspired the Llyn Foulkes’ Rubber Band via Kimball’s Firehouse Five Plus Two. Both of these musical groups are in turn influenced by the cartoony musical arrangements of Spike Jones***.
*Peter Kosenko and Peter Plagens, cited by Howard Singerman, “Howard Singerman on Pop Noir,” Artforum 43 (October 2004), p. 126.
***Llyn Foulkes and Paul J. Karlstrom, Oral history interview with Llyn Foulkes, 1997 June. 25-1998 Dec.2, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/oralhistory/foulke97.htm.
Tomorrow: Kaari Upson