Los Angeles

Allan Graham

Angles Gallery

Allan Graham’s deliberately dysfunctional doors metaphorically open onto the series of paradoxes that once grounded representational painting: before they migrated to formalist abstraction, then mutated into Minimalist installations, and finally disappeared into what is commonly thought of as everyday life. The artist’s meticulously unfinished and unenterable constructions neatly chart the architecture of an essential aspect of Modernism’s negative impulse—its desire to align the rarefied territory of esthetic experience with the mundane.

On the surface, Graham’s works are common, slightly altered Masonite doors that have been painted black or white and hung on shiny brass hinges in simple pine frames. Upon entering the gallery, you’re almost immediately compelled by childish curiosity to try to open the single, paired, or double doors, either by slipping your fingers into the holes where the doorknobs are supposed to go, or by prying the ones that are slightly ajar further apart, or even by aggressively pushing the others toward the walls on which they are mounted, despite your knowledge that the visible hinges make all this impossible. As expected, nothing gives. Literally denied access to the other side, you find yourself peering through peepholes—into utter darkness—and even bending over, like a voyeur, to see if anything might be visible through the holes where the doorknobs should be. In each case, all you can see are saturated, light-swallowing shadows.

When it becomes evident that Graham has set up a series of situations in which you are constantly thrown back to this side of the door, it also becomes clear that you arc meant to scrutinize the painted surfaces—which range from evenly applied, opaque coats to lightly applied, translucent layers—and the various relationships among hinges, holes, numbers, frames, and putty-sealed cracks. These hardly incidental details replay issues central to the history of Modernist painting, offering a sort of 3-D illustration of the manner in which the picture plane gradually and relentlessly usurped the deep space of illusionism. Each of Graham’s pieces denies the viewer access to another, implied space, but holds out the suggestion that there might he something beyond formalism’s fixation on the materials of painting and Minimalism’s insistence on the contingencies of real-time experience.

But these references to art history swamp this charmingly naive project, undermining the Zenish, Cage-inspired impulse that otherwise animates this work. Graham’s disarming invitations to ponder the wonders of everyday experience—the absurd conundrums and silly inconsistencies—appear to be little more than an attenuated recapitulation of Joe Goode’s mysterious milk-bottle paintings from the ’60s and Robert Therrien’s more recent, perspective-reversing keyholes, in which literal things and metaphors shift positions with more force and resonance than in Graham’s static doors.

David Pagel