Los Angeles

Pauline Stella Sanchez

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

Dedicated to “those with no face and no voice,” Pauline Stella Sanchez’s exhibition at Rosamund Felsen Gallery concluded a trilogy of mixed-media shows, begun in 2001, in which the artist engaged with tropes culled from art history, cinema, and architecture. Her trilogy’s untitled Part 1 exhumed astonishing confluences between modernist art and the contemporaneous cult of theosophy, while Part 2, the 2005 “It’s Busted,” clustered around allusions to control, grandeur, and power. Part 3, which was untitled, was concerned with seeing itself, and the ways in which sight is rendered as spectacle. Sanchez’s point of entry to this philosophical subject was Russian Constructivism. The “no face” saluted in her dedication derived from Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematist manifesto, an exhortation for visual art to reach beyond masks of social identity toward a state of “pure feeling.”

Upon entering the gallery, the viewer confronted a group of five “Constructivist” architectural models displayed on white rectilinear stands of uniform height but varying sizes, strategically guarding the space like a series of obstacles. Made mostly of balsa wood drenched in putty-colored acrylic and latex, the models reprise Malevich’s stage-set maquettes for Victory Over the Sun, the 1913 Cubo-Futurist opera. Deconstructed, collapsed, and mounted on lazy-Susan hardware, the sculptures all feature elements suggesting boxes (though they remain open at the top and bottom), which hold, but fail to fully contain, piles of architectural debris: rectangular panels and strips of balsa and poplar. Sanchez seems to embrace the Constructivist project as an active extension of Cubist formalism. Yet she also wants to bring the whole edifice down. Her stunningly effective #7 with wink and interpersonal deception theory, 2008, in which an overturned balsawood stage rests atop an assortment of cubistic shapes piled up like scrap lumber, evokes a migraine.

Characteristically, Sanchez titled the series, dated 2008, as a run-on sentence that at first glance is baffling, but on closer reading becomes apt and profound: “Head/bust series with affect displays 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 My Head Stuck not Struck no TRAPPED as a Constructivist theatre stage, no sculpture, no architecture, no painting . . . see the butter as my brain, struck condition after viewing too much, with trap doors, solar panels and no floors simply four walls . . . get me out of here I cannot breathe . . . yes you may it is an unfinished object, shake it . . . no need to confuse the dazzle with the disruption when the standardization set in long ago . . .”

In this show, Sanchez renders thickets of concept and language into a highly refined and deliberate graphic display that is both sedate and ominous. Consequently, a surfeit of content circulates throughout the subtly defined negative space between sculptures.

As always, Sanchez’s conceptual palette is dazzling. The ideas at stake in this show—which also included a twenty-one-minute cinéma poème and a series of thirty-four small ink-jet prints, titled “Self Portraits,” 2006–2008—were monumental, and hence remained unrealized: The artist was attempting to locate the moment when, as she put it, “the standardization set in,” and sight was rendered as spectacle.

Most of the “Self Portraits” were shot in a museum or gallery, where Sanchez appears with her camera reflected in the glass protecting significant artworks, playing the roles of both viewer and photographer. This sequence of frozen double-exposures is interrupted by frames evoking the past (for example, an architectural portrait of Kandinsky’s gambrel-roofed house) and pictures of a cyborgian four-year-old girl with Kool-Aid-blue hair and electric-blue fake eyelashes.

I’m struck by the disparity between the aggressive concision of Sanchez’s visual work and the spiraling discourse surrounding it. Yet even here there’s a method. The wide loops of language deployed in her titles keep the game as she wants it: fluid and open.

Chris Kraus