Critics’ Picks

View of “Darren Bader,” 2010.

Los Angeles

Darren Bader

Eighth Veil
7174 Sunset Boulevard
February 12–March 19

A row of vinyl numbers runs clockwise around the gallery from 2 to 3,266, demarcating a conceptual baseline from which Darren Bader’s exhibition “Number[s]” departs. Throughout the installation, the artist interrupts the linear numerical progression (which is reminiscent of Mel Bochner’s early architectural/arithmetic installation Continuous/Dis/Continuous, 1971–72) by substituting objects for sections of numerals, ostensibly proposing some absurd equivalence between, for example, a blade of plastic sushi grass and the set of numbers between 866 and 1,035, or a container of sugared fruit jellies and the numbers between 1,194 and 1,214. A few substitutions are sonic: A pair of speakers on the floor periodically pumps out some electro-pop remix, while headphones dangling from a hole in the wall play the Alicia Keys song “Love Is My Disease.”

In addition to the diverse and disjunctive range of the mundane and the domestic—a tote bag with bottles of olive oil, an unopened carton of Epsom salt, two boxer briefs, a potted plant, a flat-screen TV playing the movie Hero (2002)—that Bader positions as sculptural stand-ins within the numerical sequence, he also includes several artworks by friends in his mystifying replacement scheme. There are two photographs by Matthew Spiegelman, a perfectly suggestive and cryptic wall projection by John Williams, and a lifelike potato made out of plaster by Margaret Lee, as well as other intriguing works by Mateo Tannatt, Lisa Lapinski, Ara Dymond, Dash Snow, and Carter Mull.

Decontextualized from any preexisting system of value or bookkeeping, the exhibition’s stream of numbers is an empty abstraction, a self-contained coordination of fluid variables in which objects are arbitrarily ascribed meaning in relation to a larger encompassing notational structure. It is a comic leveling gesture—each component is just another unit, a placeholder interchangeable with its numeric counterpart. Emancipated from normative logic by absurdist humor, Bader converts the rational order of numbers into an irrational codex freely mixing universal signs and private symbols. “Number[s]” pushes the viewer’s narrative impulse to its limits, defying mostly futile efforts to concoct a scenario or connective thread, which, ultimately, is beside the point.