Los Angeles

Brian Kennon

For centuries, the law of the grid—as an invisible system of horizontal and vertical lines that partition a page into a visually consistent structure—has dominated modular graphic design. For decades, the group show has held sway over summer gallery schedules. Brian Kennon’s solo exhibition “Group Shows,” on view this past summer at Steve Turner Contemporary, employed the rules of the former to reformulate the latter, demonstrating that the layout of an exhibition can be as prefab as a page layout. Kennon’s nine new works on paper—single-edition ink-jet prints that feature found images swiped from exhibition catalogues and Internet sites—reflect his ongoing interest in print media and its relationship to visual culture. But whereas Kennon’s past projects lifted iconic album covers and artwork (be it that of Nico, Ad Reinhardt, or Richard Hawkins) to subsume his own status as author, Kennon here adopted the identity of a curator, setting himself at a distance from his subject.

For the four large-format prints that constitute Kennon’s “Group Shows” series, 2010, the artist divided his ground into a grid of six rows and four columns. On each page, reproductions of works by other artists are laid out across this matrix and identified by a “checklist” positioned at the center of the leftmost column. For example, in Group Show—The Accident, a list of names identifies images of artworks by James Welling, Mike Kelley, Sherrie Levine, Wolfgang Tillmans, Asger Jorn, and Allen Jones that are lined up elsewhere on the page as if on a contact sheet. While the titular “accident” may refer to the seemingly random nature of this grouping, undoubtedly a product of Kennon trolling caches of digital images, these pictures are united nonetheless by the similarities of their patterning and color palettes.

Hung opposite these prints was “Untitled,” 2010, a series of five smaller framed works that, though departing from a fixed layout, take on the notion of the grid from other angles: as a typological device (photographs of prosaic white picket fences lined up Becher style) and as the image of the grid form itself (empty graph paper and scanned pages of concrete poetry word blocks). Taken together these works construct a surprisingly lucid conversation about formal likeness and shared space. This was particularly evident in Untitled (Monroe/Bochner Sex Joke), in which a cheesecake photo of a topless Marilyn exposing her torso from behind a transparent striped scarf is paired with the image of a drawing by Mel Bochner—a rectilinear, vertically oriented, gridded shaft. A third component, a product shot of a piece of grill-like hardware with a circular opening at its center, floats indeterminately between the two. Positioning Marilyn and Mel (with their respective cultural baggage in tow) as the subjects of a sex joke, Kennon mischievously interpolates his viewers into this lascivious matrix, giving them no choice but to connect the dots.

Just as Bochner’s 1966 work of conceptual curating “Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to Be Viewed as Art” used the act of reproduction to challenge art’s institutional authority, Kennon sought to complicate our understanding of cultural structures (the gallery group show, the Internet image archive) through the pervasive languages of print. This was not only an interesting reprise of late-’60s Conceptual art, but also a smart (and even cocky) take on the faith we put in design.

Catherine Taft