Critics’ Picks

ergo despero #333, 2007, silver gelatin print, 47 x 52".

Los Angeles

Hirsch Perlman

Blum & Poe | Los Angeles
2727 S. La Cienega Boulevard
May 12–June 23

It’s hard to imagine anything new about cartoonlike cats or beachscapes, and yet, in Hirsch Perlman’s hands, the seemingly innocuous takes on a highly original and enigmatic cast. In previous exhibitions, the Los Angeles–based artist has found new meaning for cardboard and tape, pen lights and cameras, focusing intently on seemingly simple materials and infusing each endeavor with his particular vision. In “ergo despero,” large-scale prints of cats, each drawn with quick, descriptive lines in bright yellow, green, and orange, are interspersed evenly with surreal black-and-white photographs of beaches. That these are beaches at all takes some getting used to; sand piles resemble boulders, shores morph into desolate deserts, and skies burn off in a blaze of white. The juxtaposition of these images with cheerful cats sets a surprising and dynamic relationship into motion. The animals’ near-neon colors and apparent alienation—each is alone on the page—allude to Perlman’s reference subjects: Schrödinger cats, named for the early-twentieth-century Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, who famously used cats in thought experiments to illustrate principles of quantum physics. The fate of each feline, placed alone in a box with a vial of radioactive material, could not be determined until the box was opened. That we are, ostensibly, in the position of the cat echoes the apocalyptic overtones of the photographs. In a second, seemingly more straightforward installation, Perlman presents for sale the official counterinsurgency manual of the United States Army, approved for public distribution and made available by the artist for twenty-nine dollars. By sending the proceeds from these manuals to National Popular Vote and the Center for Constitutional Rights—organizations working, respectively, to dismantle the electoral college and for the rights of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay—Perlman further destabilizes accepted roles of victim and aggressor, cat and mouse.