Los Angeles

“Spellbound”

Karyn Lovegrove Gallery

Perhaps as a result of having grown up watching Bewitched as often as possible, I’m fascinated by TV magic, from the sweet but toothless moral repetitions of Sabrina the Teenage Witch to the new-age banalities and annoying sisters of Charmed. I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer weekly with friends, taking great pleasure in Willow’s learning the intricacies of casting a spell (her confidence in the world, her belief in herself, are in sympathetic relation to the success and power of her incantations). Like Rimbaud, part of writer-producer Joss Whedon’s genius has been to find, within teen angst and anomie, metaphors monstrous, demonic, and bewitching. Why is there such an abundance of spells and sorcery on the airwaves right now? As with Bewitched, the taint of difference, of otherness, in characters who manifest supernatural powers remains. Is all this magic the collective wish for something that, outside law or reason, unmasks normality?

Given my predilection for almost any kind of abracadabra, I was happy to encounter “Spellbound”—an exhibition of works on paper from artists as unlike as Louise Bourgeois, Lisa Yuskavage, and Thomas Schütte that “record this beguiling state.” Of course, enchantment never falls far from the twee, but for the most part the work on view avoided that danger. The enchantments to be found in this show were the results of messing with the quotidian and disarticulating clichés, rather than waxing poetic about the bliss of the everyday. However much the artists here might truck with nostalgia or fantasy— reveries of the perfect world of childhood, which, excuse me, never existed—most of them seem to realize that when opening any magic box, things more menacing are often unloosed with daydreams. Ellen Berkenblit’s drawings of a protuberantly nosed woman and the children’s-book figures of Vivienne Shark LeWitt never really surpass illustration. More on target were Ricky Swallow’s beguiling watercolors of a suited chimp dancing and reading, conveying representation’s almost magic ability to fool and charm.

With its “Peaceful Pink” walls—a pink making everything and everyone glow—and fresh white floors, “Spellbound” was a virtual bouquet for Karen Kilimnik, whose best pieces here, like Nutcracker Snowflake II, 1997, in which a lone ballerina deeply curtsies, display the gush and genuine weirdness of her work. When KK draws a wild lynx, all fire and feline independence, in Wild Lynx Relocation Effort, 1999, she abandons Audubon for a fucked-up take on the media-saturated present via personal obsessions and dream logic. Recalling the palimpsestic pencil notes on a nearby Louise Bourgeois drawing of mermaidlike figures, Kilimnik includes a text about the strategies of P. Blackwell, a British Columbian animal trapper who is in charge of the lynx relocation effort. Scrawled in crayon to the left of the depicted lynx and bottles of perfume, the text informs us: “His trick: an extra scent lure ‘usually they can’t resist Chanel No. 5’ Blackwell says.” KK then wonders about other potential lures: “What about Penhagligion’s Bluebell perfume? [G]odiva chocolates? Perhaps a diamond bracelet from Tiffany’s?” Suddenly, through the magic mark of her crayon-wand, trapper P. Blackwell is turned into fairy fashion arbiter Mr. Blackwell, and the drawing into an exegesis on the loopy relocation techniques of a fantasy or dream. Following the lures of personal obsession often leads to the purest strangeness of beauty.

Taking a more material approach, Francesca Gabbiani applies the energy of her paintings’ obsessive scratching to painstaking colored-paper cut-out collages. She achieves a terrific pattern and range in hue by daintily building up piece on top of piece. For Fallin’ and Once Upon the Time, both 1999, the compact scenes of autumn woods and a forest at night move past the burdens of landscape and take on the persistent alienness of a flashback to something that cannot be fully remembered, each cut conveying the overwhelming task of representation, bound to fail. In the bravura Dream Baby Dream, 1999, a study in frost gray, snow white, and shadow black, Gabbiani creates a scene for a possible Swan Lake, a floating isinglass island with snow-encrusted bare black trees. Equal parts craft and witchcraft, her technique changes the childhood pastime of cutting out folded paper disks for snowflakes into necromancy—or at least into a mapping of the urge to imagine or believe that such a thing as magic, black or otherwise, exists.

Bruce Hainley