Los Angeles

Liz Larner

In her first exhibition on home turf since a 2001 retrospective at LA MoCA, and her first solo show at Regen Projects since 1997/98, Liz Larner positioned herself as a dedicated, if sly, student of her own sculptural genealogy and a vital force in the emergence of Los Angeles as an epicenter of sculptural innovation. Compared to the retrospective’s centerpiece, Untitled, 2001, a massive fractal sphere finished in iridescent green-purple automotive paint, Larner’s new work feels rougher around the edges, and better for it.

Occupying the corner opposite the gallery entrance, Diamond Deserts, 2004–2005, is a dark form made of ink-soaked paper, thin sheets of rubber, metal, and black wall paint, with a tapering, thong-like strand that connects floor to ceiling. It efficiently demonstrates two of Larner’s primary concerns: first, the collapse of three dimensions into two (or vice versa); and second, the way in which a positive form activates the negative space around it. Diamond Deserts is intended to suggest a vortex, but it also acts as an alcovelike display space for a scattering of smaller works. The entire arrangement recalls Tony Smith’s inhabitable cardboard Bat Cave, 1969, turned inside out.

The polyhedral modules of Smith’s sculpture reappear in a series of eight porcelain works titled “Smile,” 1996–. Four of these are angular white crescents; the others are slender fragments thereof: full, toothy grins and thin-lipped smirks. Traces of their rough-and-ready origins as foamcore models are left on the cast work’s abutting triangular forms. Porcelain has reemerged as a significant material in industrial design in recent years but remains a rarity in contemporary art. Even as Larner takes advantage of the material’s unheralded toughness, fissures in the sculptures imply a more expected fragility, sometimes also revealing inky black interiors that connect the “Smile” series to Diamond Deserts and—by hinting at the alimentary void behind the mouth—to the body.

“Guest,” 2004–, a series of small sheets of chain mail that mold themselves to the contours of their situation, draws on the rigorous but open-ended formal experimentation of forebears such as Eva Hesse and Barry Le Va but also sees the artist recuperate elements of her own earlier works made of similar materials. The new sculptures are less aggressive, characterized by a delicate facture and a subtly parasitic presence—more inconvenient than menacing—that is humorously suggested by their title. Isolated on the floor, one of the larger Smile sculptures plays host to, and shapes, a blackened steel Guest that gently drapes across its crescent form, while a silver-plated version holds its own amidst Diamond Deserts. A third, gold-plated Guest is nestled in the corner, off the floor, recalling Larner’s earlier Devex Yellow, 1997, a similarly installed tangle of acidic yellow paper-covered rings. The new work twists into an inchoate spiral, quietly echoing the larger black vortex in the opposite corner.

Such complex linkages gather most of the works dispersed throughout the exhibition, rendering the large sculpture RWBs, 2005, apparently incongruous. A twisted heap of bent aluminum tubes, some anodized blue, all outfitted with outrageous patterned-fabric sleeves of red, white, and blue (these sometimes emblazoned with gold, silver, and orange flames), RWBs is at once fucked up and beautiful. The ersatz patriotism dresses up, but does not entirely obscure, the incomprehensibility of the unwieldy structure beneath, which is held together with bicycle chain. RWBs is deeply entangled in a symbolism that risks being read as simple irony. It’s not. Seeming to contradict the careful formal relationships established elsewhere in the show, it’s a strategic sore thumb that not only refuses to disappear but pulls the whole exhibition together.

Michael Ned Holte