Los Angeles

Luciano Perna

“Profound Nonsense,” the title of the show, reveals something about Perna’s leanings, his interest in and commitment to absurdity. Perna trusts the messages of silliness, and it works to his benefit. Silliness offers a nuance of meaning, a layer that either confirms or throws judgment. In the center of one room sits Perfect Sense (all works, 1988), a stuffed animal—Dumbo the elephant, to be exact—in a frying pan on top of a cardboard box that once contained stereo speakers, now employed as pedestal. Beside it, a tarred and feathered motorcycle, looking insane and beautiful, entitled El Pollo Loco, which leads one to believe that Perna’s first one-person show is, in part, a comic road movie.

On the largest wall Perna has the feature presentation: 18 works, hung side by side, all 84 by 24 inches. The works are playful and unpainterly (for example, one is stained with coffee cup markings, another has photographs glued to its surface); the images are useful, decipherable, and immediate. Their sequence has an odd poetic quality to it, a hazy emotional logic. Diaristic and neither personal nor precious, they seem to be about elements in the world, fragments, what lands in a person’s lap. Some are titled glibly, as in Bilingual Burlap; others, simply, such as Black Painting. On the facing wall is an overwhelming boat sail with record albums and electrical fans attached to it. The two gargantuan works—one fragmented, stretched, colored, labored, formal, rational; the other unstretched, raw, human as flesh, minimal (though not in scale), transgressive, and eventlike—correspond in a gentle yet severe way.

There’s a cinematic quality to the works here, and each individual work in the gallery is distinctly different from the others, as if each were a wall or frame. Together, they form a broad metaphoric landscape that is weird and intriguing. Each piece looks as though it were made by a different artist. This demonstrates versatility, not confusion. But there are moments of fuzziness where things don’t quite add up. Mounted flush against the wall as one enters the space are five assemblages, entitled “Commemorative Coin Series,” each comprising a set of five handmade lead coins mounted dead center in 2-by-2-foot wooden frames, under two sheets of plexy. Fishing, consists of a miniature fishing hook and lead sinker attached to the face of a coin, with nylon fishing line as background. Time, features tiny clock parts with coffee grounds as a background. You get the picture: appropriate imagery for each topic. As objects on the wall, these works have an austere poignancy traceable to their direct presentation, their symmetry; you think you’re looking at something from the Bauhaus. But what does this work have to do with commemorative coins, or any type of currency, or coin design, or real or speculative values? Nothing. They’re amusing, but they lead nowhere.

A still taken from the film Lolita, distorted with water spots, entitled 69 Tears, in an edition of 69; four large convex mirrors stacked on top of each other to form the numerals 88 in Class of ’88: these are small puns that weaken what is lucid and original about Perna’s work. When it comes to art making, cleverness can be the most irritating quality imaginable. You hear snickering over your shoulder. Did you get it? It hardly matters.

Benjamin Weissman