Los Angeles

Mindy Shapero

Anna Helwing Gallery

Mindy Shapero’s image-objects would seem to fit snugly into a West Coast tradition that stretches from John McCracken to Liz Larner; but Shapero, though a recent alumna of the USC graduate program, is a recent transplant from New York, and on closer inspection her work bears as little resemblance to the concerns of this particular region as to those delimiting the more general parameters of contemporary art.

Starting with the smallest constituent parts, Shapero builds her paper works steadily outward by a process of incremental accretion. Some remain modestly scaled, while others rise up on stilts from the gallery floor to address the body of the viewer directly, or even to dwarf it. Paper swatches the size and shape of guitar picks, parti-color or monochromatic, are layered one over another in tightly radiating patterns that resemble the scales of a fish or the swirling eddies of water that might surround it. Almost all of Shapero’s sculptures sport these same scaly skins, and oceanic themes abound in this show as a cosmic point of connection between the sky, the sea, and our 85-percent-water selves.

Shapero’s art is profusely citational: The parts are all seemingly borrowed, recognizable, but the way they’re assembled is not. For instance, Shapero’s liberal use of Color-aid paper instantly recalls the work of Pae White (who showed concurrently at the UCLA Hammer Museum, as it happens). But whereas White deploys her bright cuttings toward a dispersed, shimmering optical effect akin to a walk-in Impressionism, Shapero clumps them densely together—she makes them into things. Her cartoonishly modulated line, meanwhile, is infused with all the infantile nastiness of a Mike Kelley or Jim Shaw yet remains spaced out, meandering, even meditative, in a way that suggests Pauline Stella Sanchez and Marnie Weber. Indeed, Shapero has been employed as Shaw and Weber’s studio assistant for the past several years, but whatever they may have passed on to her has been substantially transformed—almost, I want to say, on a molecular level.

One suspects that Shapero’s production process is largely immersive; guided by the vaguest intentions, it probably defines its own course. Often enough, the results remain willfully indeterminate, just barely taking shape as clouds (I know you can’t see through the air in this place especially with the lights so low, but eventually the sky will open, 2003–2004), multicolored boulders (The orb, 2003), and islands (Take your eyes out to sea, 2004). The last’s Mandelbrot coastline comes into letters that spell out the work’s title onto the floor, in a language carried away on the waves. Another island shape (I am disappearing and becoming the sea, the sun and the sky. I am everywhere at once, 2004) builds precipitously upward to become a pedestal for a Day-Glo yellow Buddha formed from lanyard string (the poolside-seating kind) who towers over our heads. Here again, the title encircles the piece, but this time the letters are reversed, as though glimpsed from underneath, and remind us that there are two sides to every sheet of paper. In this way, Shapero subtly but effectively inverts the perspective we walked in with.

A selection of drawings is also included, ranging from the wispiest just-started sketch to an overstuffed and bulging sort of bas-relief. In the end, though, whether thick or thin, these are made from the same stuff and in the same way as everything else here. All of it is basically “work on paper,” and this is the most surprising part; for if this work is able to draw us into a whole world, then it is precisely because, at the same time, it never allows us to forget what it essentially is.

Jan Tumlir