This December, Los Angeles-based artist Ry Rocklen unveils his installation Night Court, produced in collaboration with Absolut as the setting for a pop-up art bar during Art Basel in Miami Beach. Night Court is at once a bar, a performance venue, a sports arena and a showroom for Rocklen’s new line of furniture, ‘Trophy Modern’.

Night Court is the latest and most ambitious incarnation of a project that began in 2011 when Rocklen came across a haul of second-hand sports trophies for sale in a thrift store. Rocklen spends a lot of time in junk shops and flea markets, trawling for those objects that were once cherished but which are now almost at the end of their lives. In the purgatory of the second-hand store, these ex-possessions have one last chance to be valued again.

3D renditions by: Ry Rocklen Photo by: Alexa Karolinski

In previous projects, Rocklen has made floor tiles from amateur paintings, and paintings from sections of stained carpet. He has covered futon cushions and mattresses found at the side of the road with tiny mosaic tiles, matching their colors and patterns to the faded designs on the fabric beneath. He has applied epoxy putty to the surfaces of a tattered parasol and a dead potted plant, rendering them hard and smooth and permanent. Rocklen has called these processes “devotional mummification”. His interventions are protests against entropy, and ar-guments for a renewed respect towards those things that once gave their owners comfort and pride.

“Night Court is at once a bar, a performance venue, a sports arena and a showroom for Rocklen’s new line of furniture, ‘Trophy Modern’. ”

Rocklen’s collection of sports trophies began to grow. Most were inscribed with the names of the winners and the spurious events for which they were awarded: “Hawaiian Tropic 2005 Personality Plus” or “America: Our Tribute, CVAS Talent Show”. Despite the ecstatic emblems of conquest, speed and power that adorned the diverse awards, their forlorn status, deaccessioned from their once-proud owners’ collections, told a different story.

Second to None (2011), now in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is the sculpture that reincarnated Rocklen’s trophy collection. Using wood and marble-effect shelves along with holographic columns (the kind used in the tallest, most bombastic trophies) he fused them together into a single hybrid object: a gleaming altar to the god of winning.

When, in the course of making the sculpture, Rocklen discovered the wholesale catalogs of the companies that supply the componentry to trophy-makers, it struck him that he could use the parts to build any object he chose. The first public presentation of the furniture that he branded as ‘Trophy Modern’ was in early 2013, at an art fair in Los Angeles. Installed in an otherwise empty booth were Rocklen’s couch, chairs and coffee table, made almost entirely from trophy parts. Aside from the gold and silver cushions, and boards laminated with a white marble-pattern, the furniture is a colorful array of dazzling columns supporting eagles, soccer balls, globes, stars and laurels – all coated in gold paint.

‘Trophy Modern’s basic model is the American Diner chair; the Emerald Club is a wider club chair, while the World Couch is adorned with miniature globes. Absolut’s commission of Night Court has provided Rocklen with the opportunity to add new pieces to the line. A horseshoe bar, built around a central island, is accompanied by barstools featuring large gold basketballs beneath their padded seats. Benches and bleachers will provide additional seating for guests who – if the competitive spirit moves them – will also be able to challenge each other across ‘Trophy Modern’ table-tennis tables and chess tables. The entire venue is arranged over a fullscale basketball court, which Rocklen will mark out on the carpet; while no actual balls will be thrown, Night Court will encourage guests to reflect on the competitive aspects of the space. In an art fair, schmooze and socialization is a serious business.

Photos by: Alexa Karolinski

Right from the start, Rocklen intended ‘Trophy Modern’ to be a mass-produced line. The first objects he made were prototypes; since all the components were readily available in bulk quantities, there was no reason why he shouldn’t manufacture the furniture as unlimited editions, or adapt it for special commissions such as Night Court. The pieces are designed to be fully functional, and the artist is pleased that their owners put them to use in their homes rather than display them as artworks.

He has plans for diffusion lines too: ‘Trophy Modern Wood’ will replace the faux-marble laminates with solid wood, and the cushions with rich brown leather; ‘Trophy Modern Black’ will be a monochrome version; ‘Trophy Ultramodern’ would be the most luxurious edition, in which holographic columns are removed to reveal the chromed steel rods that hold the furniture together. Rocklen has also imagined a flat-pack, self-assembly edition of the standard line, in which owners would build the chairs themselves. The possibilities for creating hierarchies and customizations within ‘Trophy Modern’ are endless.

That is not to say that this furniture is not conceptual, or critical. Just as with previous projects in which Rocklen has forced new evaluations of materials and subjects, so too in ‘Trophy Modern’ he elevates these relatively inexpensive trophy parts into chic designer furnishings. But there is a not-so-subtle irony at play too (a quality essential to the very highest tiers of intelligent style). The kinds of personal achievement that provide collectors with the means to invest in ‘Trophy Modern’ furnishings are certainly not the kinds of achievements that are typically rewarded with gold-coated plastic cups mounted on faux-marble bases.

Rocklen’s artworks and furnishings poke fun at themselves and, indeed, at the system of value that they inhabit and rely on for their very existence. They are never spiteful or judgmental. They are humane and self-aware, realistic and honest. It is this that bestows on them their real worth, whether one is relaxing in a ‘Trophy Modern’ chair at home, looking at one of Rocklen’s sculptures in a gallery, or calling for another round of vodka shots at one of the most frenzied and flamboyant events in the art world’s calendar.

Photos by: Alexa Karolinski

Text: Jonathan Griffin Still Photo: Keaton Ventura & Elisabeth Toll
Movie: Alexa Karolinski