Los Angeles

Jeanette Mundt, Living Room (1–4) (detail), 2012, four oil on linen paintings; pictured: 9 x 12“ and 16 x 20”.

Jeanette Mundt, Living Room (1–4) (detail), 2012, four oil on linen paintings; pictured: 9 x 12“ and 16 x 20”.

Jeanette Mundt

Jeanette Mundt, Living Room (1–4) (detail), 2012, four oil on linen paintings; pictured: 9 x 12“ and 16 x 20”.

A large mirror faced the tinted-glass door at the entrance to Michael Benevento: the first doubling of vision in New York–based artist Jeanette Mundt’s debut Los Angeles solo show. On the mirror hung a small black-and-white painting of a living room. Toward the back of the gallery, a larger mirror leaned against the wall across from a modest side room containing a suite of grisaille canvases, Living Room (1–4) (all works 2012). The four paintings are sequential renderings of the same black-and-white photo (not on display); each painting is a copy (of a copy) of the last, showing a room crammed with retro designer furniture, plants, and a rug, all executed with minor, perhaps accidental, variation. As one turned to leave, the mirror doubled the paintings and the viewer.

In another grouping of canvases, Living Room (1–7) and Living Room, depicting yet another salon, the works are copies of yet another absent photograph. Slight differences are likewise evident from one piece to the next: The carpet’s tight pattern breaks apart into vague squiggles; the outlet and baseboard heater creep away from the edge of the canvas. The series Celebrate (1–15) contains fifteen iterations of goopy white and pink fireworks over a dark cityscape. This suite was apparently sourced from a video, not a photo; here this further repetition seemed redundant, given how well the living-room paintings illustrated the (by now unsurprising) monotonous uniqueness of moments in time. With all of these works, Mundt set up a distorted seriality, signaling something between the devaluation of mass production and the tender rarity of painting. Each piece, like a hand-retouched giclée of itself, seemed merely daubed with authenticity.

The show reflected an obsession with distance: both given the documentary quality of the original source images—records of irrecoverable pasts, tinted with photographic deathliness—and the emphasis of each painted reiteration on the bland absence of that couch, that era, and so on. But perhaps the most palpable distance was that of vision itself. The mirrors bluntly implicated the viewer in the subjectivity of sight. As these rhetorical removes accumulated, the viewer was reminded that seeing is itself inherently separated from reality. Yet, as painting connects the artist’s eye to the hand, Mundt embodied her source photographs. The exhibition ultimately returned to the prime value of the artist’s perception.

A degree further than Mundt from her material, we viewers can only imagine the inner contemplation or boredom of the artist at work. The paintings are small, dull, quickly made, and remarkable foremost as artifacts of an exercise (yet our hands and our eyes remain no more connected than before). These domestic vignettes are banal visual prisons, if not the kernels of further distancings; they offer the prospect of endless painting chores. Seeming stunted, overshadowed by the terrifying infinitude they suggest, these works might have comprised runs not of four but of four million paintings, each based on the last, amplifying chance and transcribing idiosyncrasy in an evolving preserve of the painterly mark to the point where each brushstroke becomes hopelessly abstract, no longer a light switch or a shadow but a self-evident gob of white paint faithfully rendered in white paint. This fully realized series would culminate in endless gray monochromes— representations of vision only—rectangles of attention on blank linen, markers of the places where the artist had lain her eyes. One imagines these final canvases would make for excellent copies.

Travis Diehl