Los Angeles

David Bunn

Roy Boyd Gallery

David Bunn taps into the pleasure humans derive from peering into things, and the results he achieves are both wry and contemplative. Employing telescopes, magnifying glasses, windows, and kaleidoscopes, as well as less conventional pieces of hardware-turned-viewing-devices such as lengths of plumbers’ pipe and fire-hose nozzles, this work deals with seeing as an eternally open-ended activity. Rather than focusing exclusively on what is visible at a particular moment or from a single vantage point, Bunn examines shifting points of view and politically resonant visual puns to explore the mutability of imagery and serendipity as a component of the art-making process.

Under the Nose of Stalin with Afghanistan (1987–1990) was one of several previously exhibited pieces modified for this show. Rather than discard or attempt to “restore” the piece, which was stained by a glass of red wine hurled at it when it was first exhibited, the artist amended the work to incorporate the vandalism as part of its content. Bunn added an official-looking “damage report” duly dated and initialed, and displayed it inside half of a large war-medal-shaped wooden crate, opposite a photo of Stalin mounted on red velvet. Dangling from the bottom of the crate, a piece of black plastic shaped like Afghanistan echoes the color, size and shape of Stalin’s mustache. Mimicking the diction of an art-conservation document, the “damage report” unexpectedly drips with political double meanings. Because Stalin’s remains, ideologies, and likenesses have undergone numerous defacings and rehabilitations, Bunn’s continued engagement with the piece, reflected in its dating, is triply appropriate.

The Center, 1988–1990, a contraption with an offbeat elegance, consists of a plumb bob suspended over a brass plaque engraved with the work’s title, displayed under a bell jar. Presented on a round metal table with casters, the piece looks both sober (brass plaque) and wacky (the spindly legged table on wheels). A manipulable paradox incarnate, The Center can be rolled anywhere in the gallery.

Physical paradoxes, odd resemblances, and contradictions abound in Bunn’s work. An opaque, metal-plated window provides the focus of a piece entitled The Natural (1988–1990). South America (1988–1990) turns an empty black picture frame into a device through which one can view a large abrasion on a slab of concrete floor that’s a dead ringer for a map of South America. Mixed Views, 1990, is a beautiful treelike sculpture abloom with viewing devices of all kinds, many of which are inaccessibly situated. Several pieces include common index cards, bronzed in the same way doting parents preserve their infants’ first shoes. As “beloved mementos,” the normally flimsy and expendable cards embody yet another witty physical contradiction.

The materials used in these works, including brass, glass, bronze, wood, sheet metal, copper, and the aforementioned pipes and telescopes, create an interesting clash of vocabularies. In Bunn’s work, their hands-on, workmanlike connotations support decidedly cerebral contents. Though many pieces suggest the hybrid inventions of some hopeful home astronomers, or the tinkerings of an off-duty construction worker or fireman, Bunn’s intellectual austerity and off-beat wit endow them with amusing allegorical echoes.

Amy Gerstler