Los Angeles

“Bastards of Modernity”

Angles Gallery

Certain of little except the uncertainty of just about everything, the eight Los Angeles artists brought together by curator Michelle Guy employed a variety of materials common to any house (Formica, bits of cloth, staples, television monitors, gaffer’s tape, Styrofoam) or the most banal materials of painting (oils, acrylics, enamel, canvas) to depict the abstract potentiality of daily life. What linked the artists was a basic fascination with the nonce architectonics of the discarded, unacknowledged, illegitimate stuff that is often already at home. The strength of the show resided in the artists’ ability to confront the strangeness of the quotidian in a manner as elegant as it was quietly perverse. They explore the faultlines of their Modernist predecessors, knowing, as Philip Larkin did, that “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.”

If tidy Piet Mondrian played dad, Marcel Duchamp (via Rrose Sélavy) gladly performed the role of mum. Guy carefully organized her artists into two groups, one for each gallery space; the first reconsidered Mondrian’s painterly grids (as well as the canvases of Barnett Newman and Gene Davis), the second Duchamp’s readymades. But Guy complicated this easy division: although the set-up was tautly devised, she allowed things to breathe and begin to relate among themselves.

Kent Young’s Untitled (#12), 1997, a grid of used fabrics—silk swatches, washcloths, painter’s rags, corduroy, carpet, sweater scraps, felt—stapled directly to the wall, created its own boogie-woogie; but his process involved a strong dose of the performative since he installs his work with no fixed plan. Only after mixing and matching to find both the right beat and syncopations does the piece get stapled in place. His grid “rhymed” nicely with the opening of Jessica Bronson’s video, Jessica Bronson and the Dick Slessig Combo present for your pleasure . . . , 1996, a matrix of gradated pinks and reds that become rising and falling blobs—the motion of her lava lamp looped to the cheesy, repetitive, cocktail lounge tune of the Dick Slessig Combo’s “The Lou.” Employing rudimentary video techniques to make something deft, Bronson’s title moved across the screen again and again like someone hungry for an encounter but, too drunk and nervous, reduced to pacing and retracing his steps. Gently disrupting the correlation between Young’s and Bronson’s works were Jorge Pardo’s two photographs of colorful slabs of Formica outdoors (both entitled Maybe an Edition of 5, Maybe Not, 1992) and his plywood and Formica table on a chartreuse enameled metal floret base, designed for everyday usage in an edition of thirty, its placement in the show confusing swift distinctions between the two.

Shirley Tse’s beige and gray vinyl upholstering of audio-equipment packing Styrofoam, Untitled, 1996, perverted the quirky element of craft suggested by Pardo’s work. In her modular accumulated sculpture, the Styrofoam’s holes and cutout nooks comment on the usefulness of the seemingly useless—the holes are cost-effective because they make the package that much lighter to ship—and their formal oddness becomes visible. The silent presence of her work’s discarded “audio” component contrasted with Dani Tull’s Hi Fi/Romantic Standards, 1997, a little Playboy-pad installation of “Prop” stereo equipment on polyethylene foam shelving with two soundless Styrofoam “speakers” filled with twinkling red, orange, blue, and green lights. The scale of his work takes its cue from the model furniture found in model homes; slightly smaller than proper, it makes the rooms of the home feel bigger. A single CD case with a ’70s silhouette of a heterosexual couple embracing against a sick sunset—a reproduction of one of Tull’s paintings, which resembled an image one might find on a pack of condoms—anticipated a consummation that never happens. (The inescapable sleazy ditty of Bronson’s video provided a fitting soundtrack to both works.)

Kevin Appel’s unobtrusive, seemingly simple paintings, with their awkward grids of bisque, sea-foam green, dirty rose, rust, and cocoa, at first made little sense. Their titles, Shelf w/ Speaker, 1996, and Bookshelf #2, 1996, provided information about what was going on, but certainly not how: they retained their seduction and privacy even once you discerned their “shelves” and “speaker” and binding of “books.” Appel’s painted home is naturally abstract—or abstractly natural. And like his painting, Two Lamps, 1996, whatever comforts are illuminated remain strange, their ease coursing with something like its opposite.

Bruce Hainley