Critics’ Picks

William Powhida, The Lost Night, 2009, graphite, watercolor, and colored pencil on paper, 30 x 22".

Los Angeles

William Powhida

Charlie James Gallery
969 Chung King Road
October 24–December 23

Insider art-world jokes—as caricature, if not a kind of portraiture—speak volumes about the “contemporary” moment and often end up serving as important social and historical documents as they age. Consider the rich anthology of nineteenth-century Parisian satiric cartoons (those of Honoré Daumier, Henri Meyer, or Paul Iribe), which mock the Salon scene and its establishment. The New York–based artist William Powhida might well be considered today’s Daumier, and this exhibition proves that the art of art-world satire (as a genre? A tradition?) remains a witty and biting form of discourse.

Like many of his past projects, Powhida’s newest works revolve around the fictional character “William Powhida,” a successful enfant terrible artist/idol. Narrated through hand-drawn, trompe l’oeil printed matter—lists seemingly torn from a spiral-bound notebook, glossy magazine spreads seemingly taped to the wall, the six-page layout of an LA Weekly exposé—this show relates the newest chapter in the career of “Powhida”; the artist, having burned his bridges in New York, descends on Los Angeles, getting tangled up with the city’s B-list celebrities, egomaniac art patrons, burger joints, strippers, booze, and materialism. To Powhida, the city and its industries are raw material. His short video Powhida (Trailer), 2009, for example, draws on LA’s cache of professional actors, voice talents, commercial editors, and production studios to plug a fabricated biopic fictionally directed by Steven Soderbergh and produced by “Peres/Saatchi/Boone Pictures.”

While Powhida’s art-world critique is revealing and amusing, what is more noteworthy is the way in which the artist connects that commentary to place. As a site-specific practice, Powhida’s artwork lampoons not only Los Angeles (as it has done with New York, Seattle, and Aspen, Colorado, in the past) but also the position of celebrity, the location of persona, the site of invention, and the gray area of authenticity. And it is through this scrutiny that the artist’s own identity and role within the art world become as much targets as everything else.