Los Angeles

John Battenberg

Esther-Robles Gallery

At the Esther-Robles Gallery, John Battenberg’s latest angle on World War I aviation—focusing now more on the machines than on their intrepid pilots—makes for an extraordinarily handsome and impressive display. The pivotal work here is transitional, placing the familiar skeletal cast aluminum flyer within his plane, which. is suspended parallel to the wall on a vertical course. The machine (Full Detail—Fokker Dr 1, 96 x 72”) is given as a truncated section of fuselage and wings around the open cockpit, formed beautifully by stretching canvas tautly over a plywood frame, covering this with fiberglass and applying a brilliant coat of flame-colored enamel over all. The inescapably affecting mystique of Battenberg’s subject, treated as always with grimly scrupulous poignancy, is now poised within a slick and pointedly “estheticized” environment. The tug of such unashamed nostalgia against such sheer technical virtuosity commands admiration against all one’s categorical resistance to manipulated kitsch.

In the other works, he chooses portions of airplanes—rudders or wings or ailerons—and makes them into stunningly executed pieces of sculpture. Battenberg’s care for accurate detail, both in the construction of his works and the use of identifying insignia, creates at least the illusion that we are seeing embellished replicas of the real thing. Only in his arbitrary but successful use of color does he earmark the smooth structures as being, after all, calculated artifice.

Jane Livingston