Critics’ Picks

David Gilbert, Dark Tree, 2017, ink-jet print and pins, 19 x 13".

David Gilbert, Dark Tree, 2017, ink-jet print and pins, 19 x 13".

Los Angeles

“Hurts to Laugh”

Various Small Fires
812 North Highland Avenue
July 8–August 19, 2017

Walking along the narrow alleyway to get to this gallery’s main entrance, one hears the voice of comedian Maria Bamford. In her inimitable style, she addresses the social expectations that underscore, and perhaps produce, anxiety and depression, conditions which most of her family and friends would rather not deal with. When I arrived, she was poking a hole in the obnoxious positivity of her sister, who had just become a life coach.

This is a fitting introduction for a group exhibition that teeters on the precipice between the pitiful and the absurdly funny. David Gilbert’s ink-jet prints of informal sculptural assemblages where vertical elements (a pole, a piece of wood, a tree) have collected bits of everyday flotsam, such as butterfly stickers and earbuds, are particularly notable for their deadpan tone. Dark Tree, 2017, for example, depicts a piece closer to Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree—drooping under the weight of a single ornament—than any sculptural precursor. Claude Wampler’s Shit, Goddam . . ., 2017, limns a similar line, albeit with an altogether different affective charge; the installation blares disco music and lights when a viewer trips a motion-activated sensor. Maniacal and poky, this work and many others here attempt to meet this meshuggeneh political moment with a dose of caustic humor that acknowledges, rather than ameliorates, bad feelings.