e didn’t chose it — the gallery did — but Soliloquy turns out to be a pretty apt title for the exhibit of Anthony Bondi’s artwork on view at Las Vegas’s Core Contemporary Gallery through May 31. Not merely because it’s a one-person show, but because, as a theater term, the title sets you up to appreciate the work’s overt staginess. And because the nature of a soliloquy — it’s gonna be spoken whether anyone’s onstage to listen — captures something about its deep insularity, too.
Visitors familiar with Bondi’s status as an OG figure in the Las Vegas arts scene might be surprised to find the show relatively light on the 1990s collage work that launched him. His snipped, glued, and color-copied remixed snatches of archetypal Vegas — say, a piece of touristy architecture juxtaposed by an atomic testing cloud — into bright pomo quips about the city’s unstable reality during the megaresort boom. There are a couple of those works on hand to serve a kind of prologue function, but Soliloquy is largely about what Bondi did next.
Having also spent years constructing whimsical, experiential sculptures for Burning Man, by the early 2000s Bondi found himself with a backyard full of playa leftovers — lots of sun-blanched plastic, patinaed by passing time. So he did what a collagist does: dismantle, reuse, and recontextualize until new meanings emerge. “Why not do the same thing with three-dimensional objects?” he asks.
That ancient history recap is necessary because it informs the contents of Soliloquy in nearly every way. Bondi reassembled bits of those Burning Man sculptures into elaborate stage sets in his pool, then photographed them, often with a nude model, sometimes not. The exhibit comprises those photos and several excerpts from the sculpture themselves. Most date to the late 2000s and early 2010s.
In “Crete 1600 BCE” and “Knossos 1600 BCE” (both from 2007), a languid model poses amid a busy swirl of plastic reptiles and fabrics. The photos’ gleeful artifice, lush visual excess, and ooh-la-la vibe connect immediately to Las Vegas’s tradition of showgirl productions. But the toy lizards complicate any too-easy reading, while the model’s posture, “pre-Raphaelite” in Bondi’s eyes, hints at but doesn’t belabor a deeper awareness of art history. A similar aesthetic mashup is at work in “Breck Wall’s Bottoms Up at 2pm Daily” (2011), in which the toy figures have been replaced by strings of whiffle balls and cheap plastic fan-like items. That high-low dynamic is a very Vegas touch.
The wit latent in much of Soliloquy surfaces overtly in “Monet Water Lilies” (2008), a floating array of colorful mesh shower sponges that pranks the Impressionist icon. But if you keeping looking, it oscillates into abstraction and back — a conceptual motion you didn’t quite expect from a mere spoof. Same with “Snakes with Sky” (2008). If you wait out the lowbrow farce of a composition made entirely of toy reptiles, its thick black snakeforms and repeated white lizard shapes quickly assume an almost ab-ex quality. “Swirl of Snakes and Inner Tube” (2008), the most kinetic image in the show, offers exactly what the title promises — plus a centrifugal, quasi-Pollocky swoosh.
Crucial point here: A lot of these effects were wholly unplanned. Bondi spent as much as a year working and reworking each set, arranging their elements according to no particular logic. But once the model stepped in, he gave her very little direction; it was up to her to engage with the setting. She’s the one who went pre-Raphaelite. “I had no idea that was going to work,” he says. And while these pieces are photographs, this isn’t photography. “I wouldn’t know an F stop from a Y stop,” he jokes. The lighting is basic, ambient. It’s tempting to credit Photoshop for some of the work’s visual extravagance — what kind of person would actually build that stuff in his pool? — but Bondi says there is none.
One other thing he was collaging: time. The pieces engage with multiple time signatures at once — the spontaneity of the moment the shutter snaps + the much longer period spent building the sets + the years weathered into the items as they sat around his yard. In Bondi’s collage theology, every time shift further mutates the original meaning of elements he’s already adapted from their original function.
Probably for these reasons, the works in Soliloquy seem Tupperware-sealed into their own headspace. Whatever events were roiling the real word at the time — recession, war, Obama — didn’t echo around Bondi’s pool; not even the slightest tinnitus of politics, social change, or cultural turmoil disrupts these pieces. You can decide for yourself whether that’s a good thing.
Core Contemporary gallerist Nancy Good has arranged Soliloquy into distinct tableaux, with pieces of Bondi’s sets framing clusters of imagery. (There’s even a hard plastic tube on the floor, its inside hung thickly with ball chains; you are advised to crawl through it. The effect is wild.)
Sometimes, even the master collagist can be surprised, as Bondi was when he saw how Good had arranged the show, from the few early collages to the photographs to the 3D elements. Their commonalities — which, however much it may have existed in his head, he hadn’t actually seen in one place — snapped into clear view. “That,” he says, “is everything in mind I had to do.”
Photos courtesy of Nancy Good and Core Contemporary