Gaud meets grit in Scott Hove’s ornamental sculptures

Sarah Adler/Staff

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The doors wouldn’t open for another 20 minutes, but a swarm of gallery goers clad in black had already gathered outside. Without them, it would have been easy to miss the Hashimoto Contemporary gallery altogether. Nestled between an independent coffee shop and an apartment building on Sutter Street, Hashimoto Contemporary’s gallery space may be inconspicuous, but its current exhibition is anything but.

The exhibition, Scott Hove’s “Master of Rapacity,” is a solo show that boasts 11 mounted sculptural works, two freestanding sculptures and one mechanical installation.

Hove, a mixed-media artist and sculptor based in Oakland, explained his inspiration for the exhibition in a press release: “America is currently undergoing a very decisive and quiet transition to corporate oligarchy, the government becoming more and more acquiescent to corporate policy. Corporate policy is by nature rapacious … I wondered what kind of art might be in an oligarch’s house … and then I made those pieces … This imaginary oligarch is the Master of Rapacity.”

Indeed, rapacity is the pulse of the exhibition. Adorned assault rifles — one on each side of the door — are mounted on tables at the gallery’s threshold. Positioned so they point at the heads of those entering the gallery, the rifles offer a stern, if not menacing, greeting. In the center of the room rests “The Slayer,” a customized children’s carnival ride. “The Slayer” is a mechanical lion, much like a freestanding horse from a merry-go-round, painted a searing shade of cobalt and wearing a black spiked leather saddle and bridle that look far more Folsom Street Fair than county carnival. At one point, a brave attendee inserted a few coins into “The Slayer,” which whirred to life, a riderless novelty bucking aimlessly to the tune of “Brown Eyed Girl” as it played in the background.

While “The Slayer” occupies much of the gallery space, the standout pieces are, without a doubt, Hove’s wall-mounted sculptures. Hung just above eye level and mounted on taxidermy plaques, the works — which are sculpted from acrylic and decorated with elaborate piping — look good enough to eat. Truly, the sculptures would be nearly indistinguishable from ornate cakes if not for their adornments, which include fake fruit, gemstones, spikes, animal horns and knives. Five sculptures have model animal jaws, complete with teeth and tongues, embedded at their centers. One wishes the terrorist organization Boko Haram a “Happy Graduation” in acrylic icing-piped calligraphy, while another resembles an open-faced gingerbread house that contains a pair of sky-high lucite heels and a small disco ball. Several pieces contain knives, and all are a study in contrast, with geometric forms and macabre imagery intricately and luxuriously adorned in shades of pink and gold.

Ultimately, Hove’s juxtaposition of style, content and form is masterful. The visual tension that underlies “Master of Rapacity” is fairly straightforward, but this simplicity does not diminish its impact. On the contrary, Hove has managed to chisel out a sweet spot of aesthetic subversion that is at once arresting and instinctive. Most subversive — or perhaps merely shameless — is the fact that these works, which are intended as a challenge to corporatization, are available for purchase. This contradiction extends far beyond Hove’s work, of course, as the commodification and commercialization of art is nothing new. In this case, however, the collection’s market value is delivered with a wink and a nudge. It seems that Hove is suggesting that we too can buy our way to becoming Masters of Rapacity — or maybe just owners of “The Slayer,” which is on sale for the low price of $45,000.