At zeitgeists R Us, aesthetic prognosticators have been working overtime, eager to christen whatever comes after Pathetic /Abject/Slacker art. In Los Angeles, there is always something new in the air, but it can sometimes be tricky to distinguish between night jasmine and sulphurous waste. Appropriately enough, the latest art seen here combines the foul with the flowery, the fetid with the aromatic, the ‘low’ with the cooked ‘high’. Although organised around different themes, two recent group shows highlighted a new form of silly funky formalism, one that aims to transform thrift store throwaways into austere classicism.
Following the Pop-historical wisdom that art goes in 20 year cycles, 70s-style Pattern and Decoration is back, eager to do its decorative abstract thing to the Slackers’ funky rages and detritus. Ironically, it is the ‘low’ elements which enhance the content of the work, relieving abstraction from charges of ivory tower elitism and imbuing it with a homespun, biographical element. The works’ obvious art historical precedents actually help them to accrue meaning. Formalism looks reinvented by decorative funk.
Kathy Chenoweth (of ‘The Zone’) makes austere grids out of carefully varied shades OF masticated chewing gum, there by transforming Alber-like colour-studies into up-beat Pop Art statements. The icy intellectualism inherent in the grid is mitigated by a medium literally laced with the artist’s spit. Warring smells (yellow/lemon, green/mint, purple/grape, red/cherry, etc.) further ground the works, which double as surveys of the current gum flavour market. The title of one the grids, In and Out, refers not only to the grid’s inherent weave but the art’s unlikely journey from artist’s mouth to canvas. Chenoweth’s 20-foot long Belt Rug no. 3 , woven from a vast array of thrift store cast-offs, functions as a giant abstract grid painting, with the belts’ colours, sizes, and buckles acting as compositional elements.
In ‘Technocolor’, Jim Isermann’s untitled, Stella-inspired amalgamation of shag rug and hard-edged painting is incredibly crafted, precisionist abstraction. For the last decade, Isermann has been Los Angeles’ odd man out, but these shows suggest that the time for his formal experiments has finally come. Isermann’s oddball blend of art history and decorative craft leads effortlessly to the work of the other artists in these shows who make formal studies from a variety of untapped media, often slipping into the nether lands between painting and sculpture.
New York artist John Donahue makes an abstract design out of rows of connected wire kitchen and hardware utensils. Gridded boxes, whisks and handles become motives in the abstract composition. Carter Potter (a ‘Technocolor’ star) made an abstract grid form woven strips of film leader which stretched from floor to ceiling, enclosing real space within film, the classic medium of illusion. Dani Tull re-rolls various colours of crépe and toilet paper to create stump-like Time Lines. These tree-truck poseurs are decorative tools; in rolls of putrid party shades, they’ll chronicle the history of all tomorrow’s parties. Caren Furbeyre’s plexi-glass experiment with shades of coloured water and oil is a lava lamp colour study in a meticulous Larry Bell-like box. Larry Mantello strings Taiwan gift store trash into clustered sculpture. Sally Elesby makes wall and floor pieces out of bent wire decorated with bits of frills and glitter. With their beribboned, tenuous lines, her amalgamations of drawing and sculpture are like Richard Tuttle in tatty drag.
Sue Spaid titled ‘The Zone’ after a 1913 Apollinaire poem which a critic claimed combined ‘elements of cubism, Orphism, plasticity, simultaneism, and futurism.’ ‘Technocolor’ curator, Bennett Roberts, states that his show is also bringing together ‘an historical gorge of discarded materials and concerns.’ But, in both these shows’ works, art historical critique is kept in check by a nice sense of the ridiculous. Nancy Davidson’s giant balloon on a cardboard box pedestal, Blow Up, wears a lace doily yarmulke, its overblown sculptural presence brought about by a well-endowed air nozzle, which openly flashes its schlong. Terri Friedman’s neobaroque chandelier features dangling dog toys and plastic bags filled with coloured water surrounding a live gold fish bowl. Jacci Den Hartog uses formed rubber and plaster, not to make Sue Williams-like fake vomit, but to sculpt a lurid landscape of Green Rolling Hills with Yellow Sunflowers.
In Luciano Perna’s Snow Dwarf and the Seven Whites, a tiny Robert Ryman –like canvas is a stand-in for Snow White. Seven little plastic dwarves gape in awe at the blank, virginal purity hanging before them. Probably for most of us Ms. White is inextricably linked to the appeal of Ryan’s favourite colour. Significantly, for Perinea – and for most of these artists – that’s not a bad thing.