los-angeles

Larry Johnson

Margo Leavin Gallery

Critics have described Larry Johnson’s work as ironic, witty, and cool, seeing it as “a deliberate provocation, a mocking . . . perpetuation of (coy, cruel, twisted) defense mechanisms” or “user-friendly, if slightly bitchy art—bereft of interiority . . . and custom tailored to intensify those pleasures of the text that Roland Barthes extols.” These quotes are from writers I like and admire, and they get at the heart of some of Johnson’s earlier efforts. But what I saw in the artist’s new works, all from 1998, was only an attitude of cool, a facade of bitchy wit, and an appearance of impersonal, impartial refusal of meaning. What looks in some of these works like the most ostentatious superficiality turns out to contain surprising depths.

Notions of taste and cultural memory were at the heart of a small series of prints on view, much as in Johnson’s previous work. Each print of Untitled (

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