While not exactly ambitious to become the lucky 13th apostle, Jeffrey Vallance now has his very own Biblical Gospel, whose completion coincides with, or rather culminates at, the Warhol Museum exhibition The Word of God. The Pittsburgh show is the last in their series examining how the world's major religions are dealt with in contemporary art, with previous iterations taking on Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism -- and "somehow they found out about" Vallance's Christian Bible. Conceived for a 2009 Geneva festival celebrating John Calvin's 500th birthday, for which his European dealers had commissioned a complete, alternate version as an accompaniment to the standard Bible, it was never fully produced but still The Gospel According to Jeffrey was revealed unto the world, along with his further writings Jesus Exegesis and Three Beatific Visions. Fittingly, these tracts are shown alongside several of his wondrous Reliquary sculptures, in which the artifacts of his secular vagabonding are ritualistically encased as though they pertained to the adventures of official saints.
Vallance was raised Lutheran, and he continues to take that training seriously. "I've explored other cultures all my life, from Polynesia to Sweden; but this is the first time I've faced my own, the one I was raised in. And by the way, people don't know how crazy Luther was! He was not a saint at all. If they'd taught us the interesting parts of his story, I'd have liked him a lot better in school. For example, he had most of his major revelations on the toilet. He spent a lot of time on the toilet, since he was constipated. The Devil would appear to him and show him his ass and they'd fart at each other, like a farting battle." Given Vallance's long-standing involvement with the uneasy interactions between ritual, humor, culture, and religion in his various artistic undertakings, it's easy to see how that might appeal to him -- especially in light of his penchant for conflating serious issues with aesthetic humor. "In the contemporary art world, the most taboo thing is talking about belief systems seriously. Blasphemy and irreverence are fine, but real faith -- people freak out."
Speaking of humor and taboos and freaking out, his piece in MOCA's Pacific Standard Time offering the exhibition Under the Big Black Sun is Blinky the Friendly Hen -- a suite of works from 1978 including a satin-lined casket and burial shroud for a frozen foul, largely regarded as everyone's favorite moment in the show for the rare breath of laughter it injected into otherwise fairly stentorian conceptual and theory-laden proceedings. "I've heard that from a lot of people. In a large percentage of reviews, it's singled out at as a 'breath of fresh air.' I wasn't expecting that. As for the rest of the show, I really liked it. When I was starting out, that's what I was seeing. I still remember being at the openings when it was first being shown, when it was new. It's almost like it's taken LA museums this long to even put me in these kinds of shows at all -- but I was here, working and showing, that whole time."
Besides the high-profile and crowd-pleasing Tiki sculptures and thematic installation/exhibitions such as have been acclaimed at Track 16, Santa Monica, CA, Forest Lawn, Los Angeles, and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, Vallance's best-known works are his reliquaries -- small but saliently obsessive homages to the holiness of everyday bullshit -- and his mail-art such as long-term correspondences with government officials. L.A.'s Margo Leavin Gallery a few years ago did a wonderful double show featuring works from both these latter series -- presenting a thorough assortment that nevertheless merely scratched the surface of his Hoarders-level holdings. All three of these facets reflect deep histories going back to his childhood, predating art school and fancy ideas about culture by decades. "As a kid, I was a fanatical letter-writer; it was just something I did. As time went on, I'd ask for weirder and weirder things. Only later did I realize it was Mail Art." With Nixon, the comedy of correspondence inspired the establishment of a museum dedicated to the disgraced leader.
Vallance also started obscure fan clubs, in retrospect a brilliant precursor to Facebook and his obsession with its groups function. Back in the '70s it was The American Dirigible Society, Frisbee Canine Corps, maybe six or seven all told. On Facebook, there are about a dozen -- The Clowns of Turin, Polynesian Butt Plug, Nixon in Nature -- all still active. What he has done on Facebook feels fundamentally the same as encountering his works in the real world, as the site caters to his impulse for "silly" collections and archives celebrating the unlikely involvements among people and their things, kitsch and the canon, memories and marvels, meanings and metaphors.