Los Angeles

Dirk Skreber

DIRK SKREBER'S RECENT WORKS ARE DISASTERS. In the paintings especially, the built environment meets its match in the original expression of the hand of God on a bad day: the flood.

Skreber's paintings romp in the buffer zone between abstraction and representation, engaging in material play that seems less about irony or gee-whiz effects than about expedient ways of laying down color or line at the service of an image. In Untitled (brown flood) (all works 2001), perfect rows of packing tape cover the massive canvas; the slight color variations repeated uniformly in the tape, a by-product of the manufacturing process, are aligned to create diagonal ripples that read as both an Op-ish visual effect and a representation of wind disturbing the surface of muddy water. This is, after all, an aerial view, and the brightly colored, lozenge-shaped marks in oil paint on the tape turn out to be the roofs of cars not yet completely submerged beneath the rising flood, some still lined up in the places where they were parked and some just beginning to be swept along. Tape also forms the ground of Untitled (black flood), here a slightly shiny but dark void from which emerge a few angular shapes, aligned according to a skewed grid: the roofs of buildings along city streets popping up above the flood line at night, or perhaps at midday with lusciously dank water.

But it was Untitled (runway) and Untitled (abstract) that really stole the show. In the former, a wide, thick swath of silvery paint bisects the canvas diagonally from the left, like a Barnett Newman zip gone awry. The numbers on this broad swath make it a landing strip, elevated, presumably on an earthen berm, just high enough that it hasn't yet slipped beneath the shimmering waters that cover nearly everything around it. The symmetrical squiggles that punctuate the canvas here and there begin to read as posts poking out of the water, accompanied by their reflections. Lines of thick weather-stripping tape, meanwhile, form the edges of other walls or architectural elements. Untitled (abstract), as its title suggests, is less easily made out, but as much as it is pared down to a linear composition of horizontal bands, it nonetheless carries suggestions of landscape, albeit a paved-over one: The dense blacks and bright yellows look like fragmentary views (perhaps multiple film frames) of freshly laid, lined asphalt, slicked with water in one patch.

Less satisfying was Skreber's architectural model for a bizarre building with a swastika-shaped floor plan and a vertical light well in the center (an ominous take on Bruce Nauman's 1988 Center of the Universe), which relies too heavily in shock value. Saying much more, and much more in line with the paintings, was a model of a large, boxy building, laid out on a grid yet set askew on an off-kilter foundation: This, it would seem, is what happens to our best-laid plans. Like the paintings, Untitled (grid) attests to Skreber's winning recipe: his fully developed senses of both romanticism and skepticism, vying for the same head space and duking it out to manifest themselves in the same expression.

Christopher Miles