Critics’ Picks

View of “Eric Yahnker,” 2011.

Los Angeles

Eric Yahnker

Ambach & Rice at Kunsthalle LA
932 Chung King Road
January 20 - February 26

“Cracks of Dawn,” Angeleno Eric Yahnker’s first LA solo exhibition (he has shown in several other cities, recently Seattle and Paris), is the funniest show I’ve seen here in years, and not simply because its coup de grâce, Cheese Slice on Garland (all works cited, 2010), is a six-by-six-foot colored-pencil drawing, framed in diamond shape, of a pizza slice lounging on a bed of tulips. Its counterpoint on the opposite wall, also six by six feet, titled Watermelon Man/Persimmon Eyes, features Herbie Hancock’s face skewed downward and wearing persimmon sunglasses, as if Yahnker had set the fruit on a worn Best of Herbie Hancock album cover, called it a still life, and started drawing. These and other hyperrealistic works (some in charcoal and graphite) offer an accessibly slapstick, surreal visual comedy harking back to Jim Shaw’s quintessential early-1990s “Dreams” series or Ed Ruscha’s Pop experiments with type and signage; and the ten exquisite renderings included in this show document a perverse, obsessive pleasure taken in copying difficult textures (sequins, cheese, long hair) or transforming iconic photographs into monstrous jokes (Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, 1936, has a smeared ghoul face and nipple hanging out of her dress in Migrant Mother Nip Slip).

But the sculptures occupying the floor space, viewed in context with the selective content in these grotesque drawings, ensure this work translates not as not as a set of bawdy one-liners but as dystopic commentary on world history. Stitches n’ Dishes is an Arte Povera–reminiscent rag rug, constructed of meticulously stapled-together items of clothing, on which are displayed kitsch collector’s plates starring Princess Diana and Prince Charles, among other cultural heroes. Tequila Mockingbird, a fourteen-foot-tall sombrero, distorts scale doubly when paired with the neighboring wall’s Fidelity, a vibrant pencil drawing of Fidel Castro channeling Jimmy Buffet playing the flute at sunset. Even Mother Teresa is fodder here. While satire reigns triumphant, Yahnker’s critique shifts the viewer’s focus away from ubiquitous icons and onto the notion of worshipping comedy as the real hero in our world drenched in strife.