at LA Louver, Los Angeles (through 16 January 2021)
Reviewed by Eve Wood
45 at 45, currently on view at LA Louver in Venice, is an exhibition of epic proportions, not only because of the sheer number of artists included but also because it signifies and celebrates four-and-a-half decades of LA Louver’s luminous and expansive vision. Big group shows can be difficult to navigate, especially if they constitute more of a retrospective-like approach; yet when done right, the plethora of works included create what feels like a variety of intimate conversations. Such is the case here where artworks by represented gallery artists like Matt Wedel and Rebecca Campbell create insightful and sometimes deeply moving interchanges with works by artists the gallery does not necessarily represent but have shown in the past. The breadth of this exhibition is truly impressive, as is the range of work represented, some of which are representational and some of which are not. Either way, the thru line here appears, simply, to be excellence.
Some of the works appear to be more obviously enigmatic than others, as with Carmon Argote’s stunning piece entitled “Test Pocket” (2019), which consists of a multiple color oxide wash on linen that appears to be buckling in at the center. The work is reminiscent of Eva Hesse’s strangely haptic drawings where some shapes appear to converge on each other violently while others float in empty space. The linen bunched up in the center creates tension between the colors and the raw exposed linen behind them. The result is unsettling yet beautiful.
Some works combine representational imagery with more surreal elements. Rebecca Campbell’s painting, “Which Side Are You On?” (2019), is dreamlike and disturbing, where a gun-toting 1940’s mid-western family poses next to their Oldsmobile in a dusty terrain, while behind them the sky opens up into a bright red and green plaid pattern. The title suggests something ominous is afoot, and given today’s fractious political climate, the work takes on an evolving meaning. Are the people represented here preparing to declare war on their neighbors, or are they simply exercising their “god given right” to bear arms? Either way, their reality is changing as the colors behind them assert themselves into their perfect landscape.
Still other works express their enigmatic qualities more intimately. Tacita’s Dean’s lovely work entitled “A Found Postcard and a Painting in Gouache” (2020), is, well, exactly that, as one side of the image mirrors the other so precisely it is difficult to tell the difference between the two, but this work isn’t only beautiful scenery. It likewise raises questions about authenticity and believability. What happens when we can no longer definitively identify the real from the fake, the truth from the lies and so on and so forth. The painting lures you in, yet once you are there you are left wondering where the “there” is exactly. The image reminds me of Gertrude Stein’s famous poeticism when referring to her childhood home in Oakland California, saying “there is no there there.”
If there is no “there there” in Dean’s world, then there is an abundance of “there” in Elliot Hundley’s universe, perhaps even too much. Hundley’s encaustic, oil, photographs and collage on linen, entitled “Changeling” (2020), gives the suggestion of an outline of the human body amid a barrage of swirling shapes and colors. Imagine if a bunch of ghosts got together for a party, but overcome by their own grief, and realizing their capacity to manifest in physical space is limited, they go mad instead, flitting this way and that, wreaking havoc on the living world. The color red is used to great effect here as it punctuates an otherwise darkly chaotic atmosphere. Again, there is the suggestion of culpability as Hundley’s mad ghosts go in search of their fractured pasts, attempting perhaps to make amends.
Still other works address notions of personal responsibility, as with Ben Jackel’s sculpture “Force Majeure” (2020), made from stoneware, walnut and steel. The title refers to a clause that is included in contracts to remove liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes. The sculpture is a representational image of a missile or some sort of weapon of mass destruction pointed at the ground. Jackel appears to be suggesting that should a man-made disaster of epic proportions occur, the powers that be would pass it off as something other than what it is, refusing any responsibility. Chernobyl comes to mind. The piece is seductive in its cold materiality, which makes it even more ironic.
Other works feel more timely than ever, as with Alice Neel’s powerful portrait of an African American man entitled “Kanuthia” (1973). As with all of Neel’s work, the figure represented is powerful and dignified, and one senses the artist’s own personal connection to her subject. Christopher Pate’s “Crackup: Jason Martin” (2019) is similar in its powerful use of the gaze, as Pate dissects a black and white inkjet portrait of Martin, positioning it against a backdrop of paint on paper. The result is awkward and disquieting as we as viewers struggle to make sense of this man’s face floating in a sea of thick paint that resembles the movement of waves on the sea.
Ultimately, most of the works in the exhibition address our human relationships to each other and to the world around us, highlighting our humanity and perseverance as well as our inability to accept responsibility for our brutal and often destructive natures. Perhaps the time has finally come for us to make amends to the planet and to ourselves.
Eve Wood is Los Angeles Art Critic for Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Wood’s poetry and art criticism have appeared in many magazines and journals including Artillery, Whitehot, Art & Cake, The New Republic, The Denver Quarterly, Triquarterly, Flash Art, Angelino Magazine, New York Arts, The Atlantic Monthly, Artnet.com, Artillery, Tema Celeste, Art Papers, ArtUS, Art Review, and LatinArt.com. She is the author of five books of poetry. Also an artist, her work has been exhibited at Susanne Vielmetter and Western Project and Tiger Strikes Asteroid in New York.