Los Angeles

Judie Bamber

Jan Baum Gallery

Judie Bamber’s hyperreal portraits of squished, oozing, or occasionally intact tiny objects would hold up well if scrutinized through a magnifying glass. Excuse Me For Living (Spearmint Freshen-Up Gum Whole and Squashed), 1988, is an itsy-bitsy piece of pillow-shaped gum painted in such detail that, in the diptych’s second panel, you see pin-prick-sized bubbles in the goo that’s leaking from the gum’s liquid center. A hapless canned cherry, perfectly rendered, bleeds a teensy puddle of juice in What Are You Lookin’ At?, 1989. In the diptych Closeness is Easier When You Are Far Away, 1988, a flesh-colored cervical cap appears in the first panel; it resembles a lonely thumb, casting its brave little shadow on a lush turquoise background. It’s gone in the second panel, leaving the turquoise field empty.

Bamber sets up a witty interplay between the three elements that comprise each of her pieces: a precisely-painted small object, a monochrome onto which the object is painted, and the work’s title. In Closeness. . . , there’s a simple now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t progression. The diptych also illustrates its subject’s use by default: when you can see a cervical cap, it’s not functioning—when it’s at work, you don’t see it. Pairing the title with a gleaming oil painting of a birth control device evokes several double entendres, all leading backto notions of ambivalence and avoidance.

The way these works yank viewers in several directions is echoed by the physical movements one must make in an attempt to take in the paintings. To examine the paintings’ backgrounds, which swirl around the subjects like flat, monochromatic whirlpools, one must step back and tilt one’s head like a parakeet. It’s the only way to see their circular texture—a process a little like trying to get a good look at the grooves in a glossy new LP, though more rewarding. Yet even the most far-sighted viewers are compelled to move in quite close to the paintings in order to identify their diminutive subjects. One also has to get close to the painting in order to read the very small title card, which functions like a faintly hostile, provocative punch line. The vitamin E triptych is querulously titled I Told You So, 1988; Be Careful, You Could Put Someone’s Eye Out With That, 1989, is the title of a painting of a cock ring.

Many of Bamber’s spills, droplets, and singled-out objects represent little instances of spotlit violence: an image of a goldfish lying on its side is titled Oh Come On, It Doesn’t Hurt That Much, 1989. The pieces are both amusing and solemn, and imply much about the deceptively small messes and tiny transformations that inundate us daily. Paired with the ringing, quasi-clichés that serve as their titles, these intriguing paintings seem like antimonuments to consumption and vulnerability.

Amy Gerstler