“Transformations” and “Esterio Segura,” Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, CA, by James Scarborough
Danielle Eubank’s Arctic Circle Expedition, Part Two, by James Scarborough

Bruce Richards: “Future/Past” at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, by James Scarborough

The Dream of Kings

The Dream of Kings
2007
Bruce Richards
Oil on linen
41" x 19 ½"
Photo: courtesy Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

If “Bruce Richards: Future/Past” is any judge, then this longtime LA artist and UC Irvine grad, who moved to New York in 2002, would have been a great history teacher. He’s knowledgeable and analytical, light-hearted and not a little ironic. He doesn’t rant and rave. He may be sober to the point of understatement but his insights are keen. He diagnoses the way things have changed, the way they’re re-interpreted, re-cast, or swept under the rug. His subject can be history. It can be art. Neither escapes his cheeky, grin-and-bear-it gaze. He charts how our present evolved from our past, and makes us curious as to how it will continue to evolve into our future. He doesn’t make value judgments. He doesn’t need to. With Swiftian wit and murderous aplomb, he describes social inequities taken for granted. In Fruited Plain and New Day, for instance, he juxtaposes two nickels. One, since discontinued, shows an Indian. The other, still current, shows Thomas Jefferson. Hovering above an implied purple mountain majesty, they face off: The Indian, defiant, looks toward the future. Jefferson, stalwart, looks blindly toward the past.

In Curb Appeal (Plymouth Rock) and Saints and Strangers (both 2014), a rock hovers above a bird’s eye view of a coast. To suggest that one race’s commemoration is another race’s despair, Richards inscribes the rock with the not-so-historic-for-Native-Americans date of 1620. He charts historic rises and falls. The Dream of Kings (2007) shows a house of cards balanced on a skull. It suggests that a king may wield supreme power but a) he is but mortal, and b) his reign is just a house of cards that could topple at the first crosswind. He maps our propensity to honor war dead without necessarily weighing their sacrifice. War Memorial (2009) depicts a sober V-for-Victory sign. Those staid memorials, though, might as well be pocked with bullet holes.

His riffs on art especially rivet. Darwinian Theory (2007), the most tongue-in-cheek piece in the show, traces art’s course from magic to buffoonery. Richards situates a fertility goddess above a Jeff Koons balloon dog. We should be privileged to have his “I’m just saying” tutelage. We could rage and despair over the world in which we live, but that would be fruitless. Recession (2012) shows a glass that sprays its milk as it flies through the air. It’s implication? There’s no use crying over spilled milk.