Los Angeles

Alice Könitz

Vielmetter Los Angeles

In her 2004 exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter, Alice Könitz presented an absurdist video featuring four characters in an idyllic natural setting, all wearing geometric masks that looked at once primitive and fashionable. Such images represented a way for Könitz to begin negotiating the complex symbolic terrain between exteriority and interiority. In her latest show she continued to use formalism as a vehicle for moving from idiosyncratic concerns—recurring modular shapes, familiar low-budget materials, a limited palette now further refined to brown and metallic colors—toward an investigation of the wider social realm. While Könitz stated no explicit political ambition, the exhibition’s no-nonsense title, “Public Sculpture,” invokes a social dimension at a moment when “public” and “private” are semantic notions defined by an elite.

Könitz has often employed models and maquettes as a means of interrogating space, and even her fully realized works often feel provisional. Based on a maquette on view in the gallery’s back room, the show’s capacious if spare centerpiece, Mall Sculpture (all works 2006), comprises four large, thin, hexagonal melamine frames covered in brown felt that are in turn supported by five triangular columns covered with sheets of reflective gold-colored construction paper. Despite the regularity of the modular units, the work’s overall plan is asymmetrical and looks surprisingly arbitrary, appearing at once like an enormous, unclasped gold bracelet and an errant fragment from a low-budget science-fiction set. Könitz based her form on architectural structures she observed in West Los Angeles’s Century City—shiny urban-scaled emblems of late capitalism, anxiously situated between utopian modernism and the empty promise of postmodernism. Theatrically exposing its thrifty origins and heavily glued joints, Mall Sculpture communicates its inability to signify luxury and power, instead performing as both disruptive barrier and open-ended monument to the contingencies of social space.

Represented in the show by several digital photographic collages and a maquette titled Model for Donut Shop was Könitz’s daylong sculptural intervention near a twenty-four-hour doughnut joint at a strip mall located somewhere between Koreatown and Silverlake. Outside the shop the artist assembled a vertical tower of three triangular columns interspersed with horizontal, circular gold-papered platforms; inside she mounted two gold-papered hexagons on the wall, partially occluding an extant pastry poster. The unlikely transposition of Century City architecture to the eclectic working-class neighborhood elicited little interest from locals when I was there, though the event succeeded in drawing a modest audience to a district off the art-world map. While the site-based work suggested new tactical possibilities for Könitz’s ongoing interest in vernacular forms, it also subtly recalled Robert Smithson’s strategic staging of New Jersey (and later Utah) as an exotic Other to an insular, “cultured” community.

In a 1982 lecture at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Fredric Jameson said, “We have seen that there is a way in which postmodernism replicates or reproduces—reinforces—the logic of consumer capitalism; the more significant question is whether there is also a way in which it resists that logic. But that is a question we must leave open.” Almost a quarter of a century later, Könitz hardly provides a conclusive answer, yet she does manage to mine Jameson’s postmodern moment like an archaic site, unearthing symbolic forms from the recent past. Könitz’s impoverished materiality and handmade facture allow her to articulate difference from—if not exactly opposition to—the smooth, seamless forms of the pervasive corporate imaginary: Emphasizing potential, her sculptures adamantly deny resolution by offering open-ended models rather than finished products. In these modest proposals, form resists empty formalism if not the fluid spectacle of the present.

Michael Ned Holte