Christopher Sebela

writer, wronger, rearranger

Rob Pruitt — who last week opened a gargantuan solo exhibition inspired by the Amish tradition of Rumspringa, the period during which some teenagers sow wild oats before they reach the age to join the church — is not the first artist you might think of when you think Anabaptist. You might go way down the list before getting to Mr. Pruitt, 46, a gleefully tricky purveyor of trash culture who is known for making paintings of pandas and of Paris Hilton, who has fashioned an eternal-flame monument from a bar table and a Bic lighter, and who once held an extremely brief gallery show composed solely of a long floor mirror bisected by a line of real cocaine, which was ingested by visitors.

But Mr. Pruitt has been through his own personal version of a wandering-homecoming experience, a kind of reverse Rumspringa that became so well known it has shaped his career and reputation almost as much as his work itself. In 1992 Mr. Pruitt and a collaborator, Jack Early, put together a splashy, irreverent exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery exploring the marketing of African-American culture. A decade later it might have been the subject of battling reviews, but at the time the winds of political correctness quickly turned the show, by two Southern white men, into an incendiary event. They were called cynical, even racist, and were essentially drummed out of the art world for years; Mr. Pruitt ended up selling couture dresses for a while and coming up with craft ideas for Martha Stewart Living.

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