Critics’ Picks

View of “Shōka,” 2013.

Los Angeles

Emilie Halpern

Pepin Moore
5849 ½ W Sunset Boulevard
September 22–December 21

For the first installment of “Shōka,” her solo show at Pepin Moore, Emilie Halpern created a scattered arrangement of rocks on the gallery floor. By day as subtle and tranquil as a Zen rock garden, the installation came spectacularly to life at night, when, illuminated by blacklights, the rocks emitted a phosphorescent glow (a naturally occurring phenomenon). On the evening of the opening reception, gallery-goers—visible in the darkness only as disembodied white shirts and hovering absinthe-and-tonics—threaded paths around clumps of rocks radiating ultramarine, purple, and salmon. A bit like a giant painting underfoot, the installation seemed to exist on two levels: a spatially ambiguous arrangement of pure, disembodied colors, and the tactile reality of the material substrate. As with painting, people tended to notice the former more than the latter; at least one viewer stubbed her toe.

Halpern’s piece, which came down on October 18, was the first of the show’s three parts. For the second installment, opening later this week, Halpern is covering areas where sunlight hits the gallery’s walls with gold leaf, and in November she’ll present pottery. And, though her fluorescent rock installation may invoke painting, it’s really more akin to Robert Smithson’s indoor Earthworks. (Its Japanese title, 地, pronounced “chi,” translates as “earth”). Both Smithson and Halpern transform rocks—a material not merely natural but elemental (in the ancient sense)—by creating ordered compositions in the space of the gallery and, more crucially, by pairing them with a second, artificial element of quasi-alchemical power. Like Smithson’s mirrors, Halpern’s blacklights work their magic on our perception without actually altering the materials. It may seem like alchemy, but she’s just showing us the stuff of the earth in, quite literally, a new light.