Los Angeles

George Stoll

Angles Gallery

To get at both the delicacy and the humor of George Stoll’s ongoing holiday project—the holiday du jour is Christmas—there’s no better place to start than his deft drawing of Christmas lights in a blizzard, Untitled (christmas lights, white sphere), 1999. Here, the artist has drawn variously sized circles in white pencil on white vellum so that the snowball circles of “lights” almost disappear like bubbles in champagne or a Ryman in a snowstorm. It’s a brazen, funny, and entirely sweet way of reducing art to its barest essentials—representation degree zero. You almost have to take it on faith that anything is going on at all.

Such subtle but precise use of materials is a hallmark of Stoll’s work. At Angles, “tinsel” Christmas garlands quietly adorned a few corners and walls of the gallery in lazy, leisurely smiles of artifice, meticulous accumulations of slivers of hand-painted aluminum foil: One glimmered white and a soft golden yellow, another cranberry and evergreen, each hue faded slightly as if sugar frosted or dipped in milk. In a less careful or generous practitioner’s hands, Stoll’s spare garlands might suggest the work of Martha Stewart on a stingy OCD bender. But whatever the apparent “craft” or homemaker aesthetic he employs, Stoll adheres more to an unassuming (but thorough) negotiation of art history and point-blank representation than to the lessons of Living. Neatnik conceptualist, he takes the legacies of Pop and arte povera to Santaland.

Bravura stacks of snowballs made out of Styrofoam, cheesecloth, plaster, spackle, and gesso aim most directly at the ever-changing history of realism and reveal Stoll’s Hollywood background. When is something well-made enough that it’s mistaken not for what it is but what it stands for? The beauty of this show was how Stoll reversed that question: His garlands, snowballs, and Christmas lights emphasize everything that isn’t there by remaining just outside realism. From working in production design on horror films, Stoll knows that what most powerfully conveys a snowball may not be frozen water.

Elsewhere, a room of variegated silk organza panels, stitched finely in silk thread, depicted different arrangements of Christmas lights. Stretched and box-framed, in Untitled (christmas lights, white on gray) and Untitled (christmas lights, double-blue moiré), both 2004, parts of the panels’ appliqué fabric circles have been cut out, creating holes with elegant scalloped edges through which light can shine, projecting shadows and hypnotic attenuated twinkling effects on the wall behind. Stoll’s “light boxes” suggest Lite-Brite—or Jeff Wall—unplugged.

It’s hard to take holidays seriously anymore, so the idea that someone might make art out of them is rather challenging. But why not? Christmas lights are just as referentially complicated as Deleuzean rhizomes. Stoll probes areas of culture (seasonal home decorations and souvenirs, the idea of festivity itself ) that are superabundant but generally dismissed as beneath serious consideration. He mines the holiday with the surest, most economic magic for almost totemic results. No matter your background, you can’t escape having some sort of relation to Christmas, and it is that collective unconscious Stoll taps.

As John Waters put it lately, “I love Xmas so fucking much I could shit.”

Bruce Hainley