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Jim Eller (aka James A. Eller)

American, b. 1943

Rat Garage

Metal and rubber
10.5 x 16.25 x 25 in. (26.67 x 41.275 x 63.5 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

Jim Eller’s 1962 assemblage Rat Garage has two components: a metal multicolored toy parking garage and, in place oftoy cars, bright pink rubber rats. Following the precedent established by Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, both garage and rats are commercially manufactured products, selected and purchased by the artist rather than fashioned by his own hand. But unlike the ordinary commercial items favored by Duchamp, Eller’s toys are highly charged representations, sharing qualities with art even before he juxtaposed the disparate objects. Like classic pop art but even more so, the resulting artwork is so disarming, so seemingly innocent, that it effectively masks the disruptive critique of authorship and originality lurking behind its sunny affect.

Eller was nineteen years old and living in Los Angeles when he made Rat Garage. The young artist worked feverishly in this vein for one year, becoming as he did a favorite of the legendary curator Walter Hopps. In 1963 Hopps presented the retrospective exhibition By or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy at the Pasadena Art Museum to great acclaim. But by then, Eller, like Duchamp before him, had ceased making art, leaving Rat Garage in the curator’s care before walking away. Hopps saw to it that even in his absence, Eller’s work would be included in important exhibitions and publications, thereby ensuring a place for Rat Garage in the history of California modernism.

Tom Jimmerson

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