Los Angeles

Misty Burruel


In her second solo show at Newspace, Misty Burruel persisted in her attempt to engineer a decorative Pop-psychedelic Art of the Uncanny, here focusing on how representations of nature may become emblems of confusion, desire, aspiration, and tweaked Romanticism.

Rim of the World, 2006, shared the title of Burruel’s show and formed the sculptural centerpiece of the main gallery. Modeled after a topographical map of three sites near Highway 18 in the San Bernardino Mountains, it is made from layered sheets of contoured birch plywood. Irregularly shaped but roughly the size of a boardroom table, it is elevated off the floor on short legs, putting it at the right height for child’s play. Surrounding this work were five untitled wall-mounted sculptures, all also (rather improbably) dated 2006. Each of these began life as a stock molded-foam mule deer (a breed native to the area) of the sort available from taxidermy suppliers.

On to three of the heads, Burruel has grafted flat, round ears, so that the creatures suggest crosses between deer, hyenas, and comic-book mice. Coated in white paint that gives them a porcelainlike surface, the heads and necks have been hand-decorated, as if by a china painter, with polka dots (derived from the balloon design on Wonder Bread packaging), birds, and dogwood flowers, and a repeated motif of three conjoined circles that looks like Mickey Mouse’s internationally recognizable silhouette. Brushed on in boyish blues and girly pinks, these motifs also suggest dividing and multiplying cells, or the spread of an infection. The trophies are mounted on elaborate plaques cut from plywood into profiles of “natural” deer that double as impossible shadows.

Two other works, one a diorama, the other a trophy, each also sporting markings that appear at once decorative and pathological, take more ghoulish and goofy turns. The diorama features a creepily headless and undersize deer standing on a drift of faux snow. The trophy, hung on a heart-shaped plaque, represents a mule deer, though being just a neck and shoulders, it is absent both prize head and prize meat. Providing surrogate gore, and playing off the stump reference, Burruel has painted the chopped necks of both animals with the rings of a cut tree. In a side gallery, the artist presented Kamikaze, 2005, a post-and-lintel balance beam painted in cartoonish woodgrain, and topped by models of the severed front quarters of two miniature horses (each consisting of two legs, a neck, and a chest, with no head and no behind). Adorned with a pattern of oversized flies, they face in opposite directions, as if pulling apart from, or backing into, a problematic unity.

The oddest work in the show, Kamikaze was also the most ambitious and rewarding, partly because it most engaged its dynamic potential as sculpture, strangely evoking David Smith and Anthony Caro. It also better transcended the dependence upon readily available and overly familiar forms, and the tendency to aim for easy targets, that limit the other work. Rim of the World has the same potential but is underdeveloped, and here played scenic backdrop. Burruel’s attempt to hyperbolize the parasitic and distorted relationship that culture often has with nature depends upon, and in her more successful pieces capitalizes on, flashes of familiarity. But it loses out to that familiarity when, instead of ensnaring the viewer in an interestingly sticky web of references, it leaves behind an all-too-clear trail of identifiable sources.

Christopher Miles