Los Angeles

Delia Brown

Margo Leavin Gallery

Delia Brown’s recent show, her first at Margo Leavin, comprised thirty-six drawings, watercolors, and oil and acrylic paintings (all 2001) depicting the intertwined lives of a young woman and her mother. The models for these roles are Brown herself and the gallerist Leavin, respectively. The set is Leavin’s home. Together the two women inspect the bounty of their garden, hang out poolside, and have predictable mother-daughter spats. They chat as they go about their daily grooming. A thermometer-wielding Leavin dotes on a sniffly Brown, curled up in bed with the remote control.

If you’re not in the know, Brown’s works simply look like upper-class mother-daughter vignettes. If you are in the know, you can still choose to think of them that way, or you can see them as scenes of artist and dealer posing as mother and daughter, illustrations of a fantasy in which artist and dealer are mother and daughter, or reflections on the similarities between and psychological conflation of artist-dealer and child-parent relationships.

Unfortunately, the scenes are generally clichéd, and they’re delivered with neither sufficient nuance to redeem the cliché nor enough drama to earn the salvation of camp, so the straightforward mother-daughter read is unrewarding. If they are about posing or fantasy, they seem tied up in either uninteresting ego trips or head trips to which I don’t care to be privy. And if they are meant to illustrate the connection between business relationships and family dynamics, the analogy falls flat, failing to coax a thoughtful consideration of its implications. The work seems to be about mutual admiration and gratification more than anything else. Leavin and her house get to be the subject of an entire body of work by a hot young artist whom Leavin helps make hot, and the artist gets even hotter. After all, who wouldn’t be tempted to buy into this curiosity? I don’t share the indignation some have voiced over this arrangement. I see it as a simple variation on old lines of patronage, promotion, and commerce. There’s nothing wrong with it, and in fact it’s pragmatic and useful, and for someone intrigued by how these things work, it’s curious to see in action, but it doesn't make for interesting paintings or drawings.

What these works really have going for them is Leavin, whether you know who she is or not. (And if you do know her, it’s not because of Brown, who seems able but also seems to be looking to get by on giving 90 percent in a field that demands 110. Her figures seem wooden, and her painterly approximations too often seem the result of a lapse in observation or a failure to resolve a visual problem. Only in the watercolors does she harness the medium’s potential to convey subtleties of mood and expression.) Leavin is a figure of such presence that even a meek representation of her is worth a look. Her cool house, notable art collection, and the Eileen Gray table that holds her ashtray add interest, even if it does seem like namedropping in the form of painting, and the images of Leavin working in her study or posing with her dogs are hard to pass up. Brown’s best move here might have been her choice of Leavin as a model, but that’s kind of like being the director of a movie that at least has one good actor. It’s too bad Brown didn't marry her casting sense with a better plotline and finer crafting.

Christopher Miles