Critics’ Picks

Benjamin Carlson, Untitled, 2015, oil and gesso on canvas
40 x 40".

New York

“Villa Aurora Revisited”

Balice Hertling at the Film Center | New York
630 9th Avenue Suite 403
July 15–September 19, 2015

A collective imaginary exists surrounding Los Angeles that is characterized by its contradictions: arcadian but synthetic, decadent yet arid—an impossible paradise for the far-flung West. “Villa Aurora Revisited,” organized by the Los Angeles gallery Park View, makes a dissociated, retrospective musing of California’s sprawling metropolis through works by artists who spent time at Villa Aurora, a residency program housed in its Spanish-style mansion overlooking the Pacific coast.

“The apparent ease of California life is an illusion, and those who believe the illusion real live here in only the most temporary way.” Steven Warwick recites Joan Didion’s 1977 essay “Holy Water” in his work of the same name (all works 2015), which encompasses two supine flat-panel monitors soporifically displaying the twilight horizon of inland Salton Sea and its washed up garbage. Benjamin Carlson’s untitled work made of oil, wax, and gesso on canvas begs a second glance, appearing at first as a wall-mounted trompe l’oeil cardboard plane. With its craggy topology, the painting also resembles a barren lakebed. Hiker, an expansive chromogenic print by Buck Ellison, seductively depicts a shirtless, ruggedly styled fellow crouched neighborly amid wildflowers and sprouting greenery. Its casual air is problematized by the scene’s self-conscious fashioning and implores the question: What is there to be said when representations of social intimacy resemble stock photography? Across the gallery, an unassuming work poetically sums up the exhibition’s fanciful, impressionistic spirit: Elif Erkan’s painting Terroir (Trees and Ground), in which a chalky beige spans across the work’s Victorian frame, nearly blanketing its underlying image. The concealed pigments (daubs of green, orange, and blue) evoke vegetation against a placid sky, a glimpse toward a memory washed over in sand.