Los Angeles

Daniel Douke

Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art

Much more mysterious than McCafferty’s solar-burn collages are Daniel Douke’s trompe l’oeil paintings of cardboard boxes. Only a telltale seam here, a suspiciously reflective patch there, ultimately reveal that the cardboard boxes protruding from the wall are in fact three-dimensional paintings. That revelation is slow in coming, however, so beautifully rendered is the deceit.

In his fusion of painting, sculpture and photography, Douke is engaged in pursuits shared by a number of artists working today: Sylvia Mangold’s masking-tape paintings, Jud Nelson’s marble “Wonder Bread” sculptures, Michael McMillen’s miniaturized environments, and others. Their shared obsession with the meticulous description of objects seems, in some respects, an attempt to grab hold of the concrete, if only for a moment, before it slips back into incomprehensibility.

In the early ’70s, Douke made airbrushed paintings of swimming pools, but he eventually tired of the fact that his illusions never really fooled the eye; they remained two-dimensional paintings. In one sense, the cardboard boxes are nothing more than photorealist paintings joined at the edges, which, like Warhol’s Brillo boxes, really do make paintings into objects. The sixth side of the box, the side facing the wall is invented in the viewer’s mind. For all intents and purposes, this invisible sixth side is as real as any of the visible sides. The packing boxes are containers, empty of content but full of illusions.

Two of the works in the show are diptychs with the cardboard image on the right and a replication of that image in marble or iron (illusionistically painted, of course) on the left. It’s a nice idea, playing off the collagelike implications of a cardboard painting with the sculptural implications of marble and iron, but it doesn’t work. The marbleized box looks more like contact paper than marble, and I couldn’t tell that the iron box in Witness was supposed to be rusted iron until I read the exhibition brochure. If the rules of Douke’s game hinge on illusionism, then the illusion has got to be convincing.

Christopher Knight