Critics’ Picks

Los Angeles

Oliver Payne and Keiichi Tanaami

Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
May 6–August 27, 2017

It’s called “bullet hell” for a reason: In this die-hard subgenre of 2-D shooters, the player’s lone plane makes twitchy forays against radiating swarms of missiles and beams. Oliver Payne is a fan of the games, though, he admits, also very bad at them—but never mind, the goal is to mash the trigger while slipping into and through the patterned psychedelia of wave upon Voidborn wave of pullulating munitions. Payne’s present collaboration with Keiichi Tanaami—a pioneer of Japanese Pop art with, among other things, a vintage Jefferson Airplane album cover to his credit—makes a mesmerizing combo of their styles. Stickers of 16-bit missiles and bombs are superimposed onto twenty-nine of Tanaami’s drawings—blooming demigods, mushrooming courtesans, and what looks like the occasional Muppet, rendered in fleshy black lines. All untitled and dated to 2015, the works’ sprays and starbursts mostly mimic actual moments of gameplay. Tanaami’s drawings play the boss, streaming blue-hot death from eyes and crotch. In a few pieces, Payne’s embellishments take on a sense of mark-making themselves: for example, the teeth on a skeleton, like molten fillings, or a bouquet of detonations beside a skull with long lashes. In a previous 2013 series of collages, Payne stuck bullet hell stickers to photos of Greco-Roman antiquities. The Tanaami pieces, too, unlike the video games they reference, feel classically on pause. In the oval calm of this museum’s “vault” gallery, the bombs are poised and the plane is still.