Critics’ Picks

The Paintings of Sophie Rummel, 1974. Performance view, Cirrus Gallery, Los Angeles, 1974. Photo: Gus Foster.

The Paintings of Sophie Rummel, 1974. Performance view, Cirrus Gallery, Los Angeles, 1974. Photo: Gus Foster.

Los Angeles

Guy de Cointet

Overduin & Co.
6693 Sunset Boulevard
December 19, 2007–January 26, 2008

Regarding text as a fluid continuum of ciphers, signs, and codes, Guy de Cointet visualized language as the occasion for attenuated reading and word games. Pairing formal clarity with opacity of meaning and deferred comprehension, Cointet’s language-based practice ranged from restrained drawings; graphic, signlike paintings; and books and newspapers in code to theatrical productions and their accompanying sculptural stage props. Examples of every medium are on view in this exhibition, but the eight works on paper, made between 1971 and 1983, are riveting: In some, sentences are elegantly scripted in backward calligraphy, requiring a mirror and patience to read, while elsewhere, words are veiled in code and letters are scrambled or abstracted into patterns of lines teetering suspensefully on the edge between legibility and impenetrable symbology. Executed with polylingual fluency befitting the son of a linguist and a general, Cointet processed and encrypted language through meticulous calculation, visual contortion, and wordplay. He was interested in language’s noncommunicative uses, and his work investigates the mystifying enchantment of (apparent) gibberish, the aesthetics of typeface design, and the horizon of sense and nonsense. In the back room, the gallery has gathered an impressive archive of Cointet ephemera, including photographic documentation of most of his performances, books, his 1971 encoded newspaper ACRCIT, and the announcement poster for his 1973 performance starring midget actor Billy Barty as Qei No Mysxdod (code for “Guy de Cointet”), in which one of several fabricated press quotes accurately lauds Cointet’s work as “Brilliant . . . teetering on the outermost edge of Art, distilling itself into a thrillingly nutritious world. . . . Simply ravishing!” Revelatory, funny, and perplexing, this show is a gift to the city in which the artist produced these enigmatic works.