Los Angeles

Pauline Stella Sanchez

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

There’s a moment in every thriller when the protagonists realize they’ve entered a bad situation, having stumbled on an illicit drug factory, a mad dictator’s WMD program, or a mother alien’s nest full of eggs. In this exhibition, Pauline Stella Sanchez conjured the anxiety of such moments with all the craft of Martha Stewart.

The center of Sanchez’s show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery was a series of seven small wood-and-vinyl structures that resembled a display of architectural models. Each was drenched in sky blue paint, mounted on a turntable, and perched atop a pedestal. Collectively titled Gone Mad Blue/Color Vaccine Architecture or 3 state sculpture: before the event, during the event, and after the event. Seen here in before the event stage, 2004, the mini modernist buildings have elaborate, perhaps retractable, roofs lined with small, variously colored balls linked by a network of strings that suggest wires or conduits. Like case-study houses for the apocalyptically inclined, these places seem part of something bigger that one might be happier not knowing much about. Made of what the artist lists as “dominant cinema notes,” “neo-plastic memories,” and “meta-allegory of architecture as body,” as well as the more easily discernable wood, vinyl, resin, glue, and aforementioned balls (actually smoke bombs), these outwardly tasteful yet somehow troubling maquettes reveal Sanchez’s pen chant for churning up logic and blurring fantasy, paranoia, and reality.

A comparable paradox crops up in a series of notational drawings that continue Sanchez’s ongoing exploration of life on the surface of the sun. Collectively titled “Ghost Drawings,” 2004, these fluid scripts rendered in bright yellow paint are like lyrical graffiti by some unearthly creature, finger-painting in its own luminous bodily fluids on subjects ranging from the fantastic to the utterly insane: WE SAW TURNER, reads one; I AM FROM THE SUN, continues another; I WISH I COULD HAVE BEEN YOUR MOTHER NORMAN, offers a third.

Rounding out the exhibition was a video projection bookended by sequences of footage shot inside the Vatican. Though the setting is recognizable, its role in Sanchez’s work seems to be less a specific reference to the papal headquarters and more a general allusion to grandeur, power, and perhaps secrecy. Between shots of vaulted corridors and guards opening and closing enormous, ornamented doors are, presented in rapid-fire succession, four years’ worth of photos lifted from the front pages of the New York Times. Certain subjects crop up repeatedly: George W. Bush; war; athletes; George Tenet and Donald Rumsfeld answering questions; stock-market traders; protestors; mug shots; violence; natural disasters; and images related to September 11. Punctuating these are other, isolated shots: 2004 Democratic presidential hopefuls; a yoga class; Central Park after a snowfall; mermaids in an aquarium; Ronald Reagan’s funeral; the captured Saddam Hussein; a strutting Mick Jagger; various works of art; Charlton Heston brandishing a rifle; a hippopotamus; ballerinas; a sinking ship; Colin Powell addressing the United Nations. It’s a dizzying, disturbing, mesmeric barrage of pictures that moves almost too fast for the brain to process. Surrendering to the visual flood, we are forced to accept the paranoiac/fantastic implication that seems to underlie Sanchez’s enterprise: that all we do is skim the surface while wonderful, amazing, horrific things slide by underneath.

Christopher Miles