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Miami Art Basel 2013: Ry Rocklen on the Modern Meaning of Trophies

Conversations with leading cultural figures

Night Court, Ry Rocklen, 2013
Night Court, Ry Rocklen, 2013 Photography by Barbara Anastacio

Los Angeles artist Ry Rocklen talks about his continued fascination with trophies

"I think I fetishised trophies as a child, but I was never much of an athlete. I only won one trophy when I was a kid, for my basketball team, but for effort. But I didn’t score a single basket that entire year so I was somewhat devastated. I think my Trophy Modern series has been a way of me playing out a childhood fantasy. But there are also other aspects that are quite key. For instance, I love the system that I’ve appropriated to do. There are so many things that can be made in the Trophy Modern style and I’m just figuring out how to accomplish that within this very rigid system – everything is set at a 90 degree angle, every board is either a rectangle, square or triangle.

Trophies are easy for kids to obtain these days. They get them for anything – even if it's just for participating. I feel like it no longer symbolises tradition; the trophy in a way has become degraded, it's no longer as valuable as it once was. It's been cheapened. My favourite piece in the Night Court installation is probably the chess set and the bleachers – iconic American pieces. Miami is a great place to showcase the trophies, it's fitting – Miami is all about showy, conspicuous wealth. America is bursting with trophies."

"The trophy in a way has become degraded, it's no longer as valuable as it once was"

Trophies are fascinating objects. They're not the most attractive things, often garish and brash. Yet gathered in abundance, and arranged to recreate iconic American objects (a ping pong table, a chess board, bleachers), they garner added aesthetic appeal. Perhaps it’s the satisfying uniformity of gold-painted insignia, holographic columns, faux-marble laminates and fancy gold studs?

Night Court, Ry Rocklen, 2013
Night Court, Ry Rocklen, 2013 Photography by Barbara Anastacio
This is exactly what artist Ry Rocklen did for his piece Night Court for the 2013 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, in collaboration with Absolut. Over the past decade, Rocklen's practice has seen him use found objects in clever, humorous and unexpected ways. Rocklen's fascination with trophies first happened in 2011, when he came across a shelf strewn with discarded trophies in a thrift store. His sculpture Second to None (2011) is a hybrid of his found trophies. Earlier this year, Rocklen debuted a line of furniture, entitled Trophy Modern, made almost entirely from materials available from trophy makers' catalogues and showcased at a Los Angeles art fair. The name of the range acknowledges the work of the modernist designers (Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier) who inspired the simplified forms of the works.

Text by Laura Bradley

Laura Bradley is the Editor of anothermag.com. She is a writer specialising in fashion, fragrance, arts and culture and contributes to NOWNESS, Dazed & Confused and The Gourmand.

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