This exhibition of nine artists, which drew from Paul Schimmel’s selection for “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s” (with the exception of Jeffrey Valiance), posited the proximity of current art from Los Angeles and Viennese Aktionismus. Such a thesis may have programmatic value, and indeed such relationships exist, but the juxtapositions only served to make the differences clearer, rather than to underline anything other than superficial similarities.

Central to the exhibition was an installation by Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy consisting of various pieces and entitled Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone, 1992. In the accompanying video, starring life-size dolls as well as the artists themselves, Kelley and McCarthy adapted this idyllic, Swiss children’s novel and distorted it until it exploded. It analyzed the inner structure of the novel, and the history of its American reception as a tale emblematic of the safe European world. The characters were reduced to Heidi, who wore a mask of the pop-idol Madonna, the stupid and horny grandfather, the shepherd boy Peter, a stuffed goat with a gigantic vulva, and Klara, the girl from Frankfurt, existed only as a doll and functioned as the imaginary catalyst that unleashed the dark side of life in the mountains.

Based on oppositions and psychic antagonisms, the set was split into two parts to represent the two different locations in which the story takes place. (Klara’s metropolitan Frankfurt was represented by a building near the American Kärntner Bar in Vienna, designed by Adolf Loos, and its interior space closely followed Loos’ plan.) A Swiss chalet with straw bed and folksy tools represented Heidi’s mountain world. In his 1908 essay “Ornament and Crime,” Loos relies on an economic model for his argument but there is also a moralizing subtext about the “fringe” elements of society. With critical reference to this subtext, Kelly and McCarthy foregrounded the repressed narrative of sexuality, incest, and sodomy in this child’s tale.

While Kelly and McCarthy created a purgatory from cultural fragments, Lari Pittman transformed a sense of personal apocalypse into a universal message. Chris Burden’s tiny model of Paris, complete with a disproportionately large Eiffel tower made of toys, marked the failure of technology and culture. The tower became a carousel on which were mounted two models of the Titanic that revolved around its top. Raymond Pettibon retreated to an isolated room of the gallery. A confusion of drawing, images, and graffiti illuminated his personal stream of consciousness. Jim Shaw’s and Benjamin Weissman’s comic strip Horror A Vacui, 1991, seemed to disintegrate in the blackness of the tiny panels. Valiance offered a cynical commentary on mysticism and superstition. Less convincing were Nancy Rubins’ monolithic graphite works.

Johanna Hofleitner

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.