Critics’ Picks

View of “Semele,” 2011.

View of “Semele,” 2011.

Los Angeles

Elliott Hundley

Regen Projects
6750 Santa Monica Blvd
May 26–July 1, 2011

“Semele,” Elliott Hundley’s latest exhibition and his second interpretation of the themes and interpersonal dramas in Euripedes’s The Bacchae, again showcases his characteristic conflation of collage with painting and sculpture, and his even more compelling blend of visual art with textual narrative, to wondrous, decadent effect. His assemblage materials—gold leaf, shredded tapestries, metal wires, pine cones, and lobster legs, to mention only a few—have a luxurious, fertile irony and drag sensibility as symbols of the debauched Greek tragedy’s focus on a spurned Dionysus’s return to his birthplace to violently avenge his mother, Semele.

The show is made up of three monumental, multipaneled collage paintings and three wispy, precariously balanced sculptures whose messy, scavenged ephemera resemble bowerbirds’ nests or wrecked kites. On the wall furthest from the gallery’s entrance, two loosely rendered, abstract oil paintings provide a tertiary introduction to Hundley’s fantastic, theatrical imagination. They are like color keys or tonal studies for the other pieces that are more immediately demanding of the viewer’s attention for their figurative and macro/micro scale experiments.

Hundley’s effort to display what he has called “the narrative of production” works best, though, not in the abstract paintings but in the large wall works, where he litters sweeping compositions with excruciatingly detailed minutiae (thousands of beads, sequins, and found objects) pinned delicately to flat surfaces. Notably, these pieces are bejeweled with images he shot of his friends campily reenacting The Bacchae, as if to channel Jack Smith or Derek Jarman. Formally, each wall work transcends its Greek connection with its devotion to an element: For example, eyes that run like leaping fire (all works 2011) feels fiery for its red color scheme, and the fierce, warlike imagery aerated by a layer of rainbow fringe obscuring the surface’s pictorial frieze. The Lightning’s Bride undulates with watery blues and purple motifs, while earth is represented in the high house low!, a copper-leafed, volcanic explosion of terrestrial imagery ranging from gems and minerals to architectural ruins to photos of a person stomping through a landscape. Just as the bricolage panels beg to be seen from afar and up close, Hundley’s exhibition embraces paradoxical slippages between romance and horror, violence and ecstasy, and gender binaries, not to mention antiquity and modernity.