John T. Riddle Jr. Solves America's Problems

Installation view with John T. Riddle Jr.'s America's Problem Solver, about 1970
As media mark the 50th anniversaries of Woodstock, Apollo, and Manson helter-skelter, local art institutions are revisiting the Watts rebellion (1965) generation of black L.A. artists. "The Riddle Effect," Craft Contemporary's modestly scaled survey of John T. Riddle Jr. (1933-2002), deserves more attention than it's gotten. Riddle was among the most adventurous of 1960s L.A. artists and an influential teacher. He taught ceramics at Beverly Hills High and art at Spelman College. Returning to L.A., he became chief curator at the California African American Museum. "The Riddle Effect" was organized by the artist's former CAAM colleague, jill moniz.

Riddle said he came up with titles or concepts first, then selected found objects to meld into a sculpture. America's Problem Solver (about 1970s), an assault weapon assemblage, has been all too topical several times since the Craft Contemporary exhibition opened on June 2.

Another of Riddle's self-imposed rules was "You  couldn't take the found object in its exact context and stick it in some art. You had to cut a piece off; you had to do something so it wasn't the same as what you found."
John T. Riddle Jr., Pressure from the Right, about 1965
Though always political, Riddle had a wary fascination with minimalism. He admired David Smith especially. Pressure from the Right (about 1965) trolls Donald Judd and, presumably, American politics circa the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
John T. Riddle Jr., Fallen Man, 1968-69
Riddle did not limit himself to assemblage. In the late 1960s he produced a series of welded metal sculptures of stick figures with circular heads, surrogates for black men, but resembling the newly introduced graphics of traffic signs and airports.
John T. Riddle Jr., Panthers, about 1970
John T. Riddle Jr., untitled collage, about 1968
Riddle also did 2D works. Some 1960s paintings/collages look back to the Harlem Renaissance and Bob Thompson. Nixon (1972) is uncomfortably relevant and contemporary.
John T. Riddle Jr., Nixon, 1972


Anonymous said…
At least CAAM isn't a sleight-of-hand rip-off that another museum across town is perpetrating. There must be a way to get certain museum directors to leave LA.

Scram, vamoose, arrivederci.

Purposeful or inadvertent sabotage of a public trust, such as a facility owned by the County of Los Angeles, has to be an illegal act.