Los Angeles

Erik Frydenborg

Bonelli Contemporary

Catherine Taft on Erik Frydenborg

Successive breakthroughs in the natural sciences gave rise to a system of graphical schema to represent the natural order—whether the planetary orbits around the sun, the life cycle of plants, or the double-helix structure of DNA. Over the years, such representations, as commonplace as they are useful, have been refined and standardized into efficient hybrids of design and illustration for classrooms and textbooks alike. The modular artwork of Los Angeles–based artist Erik Frydenborg’s debut solo exhibition at Bonelli Contemporary dissects these sorts of educational diagrams, turning their basic graphic elements into self-contained abstractions. And while this move may not be immediately obvious, it is a shrewd approach to rendering the ambiguities of science and revealing the residual meanings of its organizational patterns.

“Protein Recital”—a fitting exhibition title that evokes both scientific authority and musical pageantry—comprised ten new, multipart sculptures and a series of related prints and collages that engage both the scrappy weirdness of assemblage and the sterility of primary structures. Each sculpture is made up of a series of small, cast forms arranged on one, or several, coffinesque wood pedestals that Frydenborg replicated from a found “prototype.” While the pedestals suggest pieces of laboratory furniture, the abstract objects on top intimate everything from anatomical models, dental molds, and bifurcated Bundt cakes to car mufflers, 3-D topographic maps, pillows, and burlap sacks. Condenser (all works 2009), for example, situates a stack of nine polyurethane plastic forms on a pedestal as if they were a geological core sample. In hues of gray, sage green, baby blue, and white, each stratum of the forms has a different density, as if fabricated from either rubber, cement, Styrofoam, or cardboard. On the wall behind the sculpture was a muted LightJet print of a blue and black field on fabric. This image turns out to be a magnified section of another print, Food Chain, which hung on the opposite side of the gallery.

The somewhat obliquely titled Food Chain, a geometric abstraction in pink, blue, black, and gold and based on the food pyramid, is one of four works—along with Exploring Our Living Planet, a scan of the green fabric cover of a midcentury science textbook; Menu, a montage of colorfully illustrated natural and man-made matter (e.g., a sea lamprey’s mouth, a human thumb, eggs, seashells, and the conical noses of rockets); and Fibers, a red polyurethane blob that sits atop the prototype pedestal—that constitute the modest installation Legend. Collectively, these works serve as an only slightly useful key that attempts to diagram the color palette and forms repeated throughout the exhibition.

Orchestrating such formal refrains, Frydenborg became the conductor of a raucous, materialist recital that was as much driven by art history as by other representational logics. His objects are at once organic and industrial, like John Chamberlain’s bound, foam sculptures; they beg to be activated, operated, or touched, as do Franz West’s “adaptives”; and, similar to Vincent Fecteau’s maquettes, the scales vary from the oversize to the lilliputian. But despite such affinities, Frydenborg’s new work remains patently idiosyncratic. As empty taxonomies, his sculptures and prints demonstrate that in the absence of data, facts, or language, there really isn’t much difference between a food “chain” and a “pyramid.”

Catherine Taft