Critics’ Picks

View of “Nathan Mabry: GoodGod,” 2014.

Los Angeles

Nathan Mabry

Cherry and Martin
2712 S. La Cienega Boulevard
May 3–June 28, 2014

A bronzed, toothy cranium has been impaled on the upended stalk of one of a group of traffic signs painted to matte silhouettes, a single black banana balanced on one edge. What could it signify? Talismanic modernism? The tunnel vision of true creativity? A dire warning to all prehistoric casts? One of several such stacks, The Bathers (Venus) (all works 2014), exhibits a kid’s rote fascination with dinosaurs, the avant-gardeness of a high-school sign thief, and an MFA’s obsession with puncturing the sanctity of modernist art. Nearby, two rusted Cor-Ten boxes (Heavy Handed (Flesh and Blood)) make an obscene hand gesture.

There’s an easy quality to these sculptures—what the gallery terms “historical innuendo.” Mabry seems willing to make the obvious jokes—picking on latter-day Serras, for example—even at the expense of his own dignity. Self-reflection is the punch line: Enshrined in two UV-filtering plastic welding shields, punning on Thek reliquaries, are chrome welding masks (Creator (Helmet II) and Creator (Helmet II)), tools of the trade, hung roughly level with the viewer’s head. The show proclaims its own pathetic fixation with “making things,” with the “maker,” with putting “art” in a “room,” no matter how passé we all know that is. Making awkward objects is one thing; making sincere ones would be another.

The show is not without its tender moments, however; fragments of gems/minerals have rattled to the bottom of small framed photos of smoke and stoner textiles (the Smoke Signals series). Nearby, a “primitivist”-type fountain on a pedestal leaks out a ribbon of water, down into the base, which makes an incommensurate, terrific, bronzy slosh. You’d have to be a real asshole to rupture this tripper’s reverie. Unless, of course, you pull him out of a bummer.