Los Angeles

Chris Finley


Known primarily for interactive sculptures produced from drugstore items like Rubbermaid containers filled with detritus—pieces of toys, whittled-down pencil stubs—Chris Finley presented in last year’s exhibit “Level One” paintings that made some unusual demands on viewers. Some had to be walked through, examined from specific vantage points to catch perspectival tricks, or, in the case of Boing Splat, 1997, glimpsed while jumping on a trampoline. Though the method of presentation has changed in “Level Two” (part of a series loosely based on the structure of video games, with viewers advancing through levels of “skill” in the works), the artist’s strategy remains much the same: clever, neat packaging is used to contain a variety of disorderly, gross, or scary things.

The four large paintings on view—Drool; Sweat; Scream; and Drool, Sweat, Scream (all works 1998)—depict grotesque subjects in stylized renderings, in evenly surfaced sign-painters’ enamel. The first three paintings are structured identically, with near-symmetrical groupings featuring a child at the bottom, a parent at the top, and the other parent mirrored on either side of these two. Each family comes with props relating to the work’s theme; the weightlifting family in Sweat, for instance, is encircled by an array of pizzas. Dad, a huge black bodybuilder, flexes with a grimace, his body providing the background for the rest of the crew. Mom hefts barbells with her burly deltoids, while the blonde girl, also in workout togs, gazes wide-eyed at the plate of pizza before her. The final painting, Drool, Sweat, Scream, combines these families and their accoutrements into one dizzy spectacle, including, along with pizzas and weights, the cherries, cake, and knives from Drool, and two huge scouring brushes and a horrific pile of melting eyeballs dripping from the father’s hand in Scream. The radiating organization suggests an explosion outward, but allows every component to be read clearly.

The lone sculpture in the exhibition, Chomp, consists of plastic planters and file drawers filled with a variety of common objects. Here, too, Finley’s orderly setup contrasts with the untidy contents: the perfection of surface characteristic of mass production is posited against the terminal sloppiness of the human condition. Chomp contains sliced dinosaur dolls, best-selling novels in which every other word has been circled, mouth guards, and audio-and videotapes made by the artist. One of the VHS tapes, for instance, is said to show a prolonged take of Finley trying to keep a smile on his face; another, according to the gallery, shows the artist repeatedly saying “duh,” but players for the cassettes weren’t included in the show. Instead of giving all his secrets away, Finley plays a multilevel hide-and-seek with the viewer; if you want to grasp his concerns, the game structure intimates, you’ll have to play along.

Lisa Anne Auerbach