Los Angeles

View of “Nikolas Gambaroff,” 2012.

View of “Nikolas Gambaroff,” 2012.

Nikolas Gambaroff

View of “Nikolas Gambaroff,” 2012.

Last September, Ei Arakawa commenced his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, “I am an employee of UNITED, Vol. 2,” at Overduin and Kite (Volume One preceded at Galerie Neu in Berlin), with a performance skewering the model of the peregrine, contemporary artist, who racks up frequent-flier miles en route to the far-flung venues where he carries out cultural services. The opening event involved a host of actions, including Arakawa alongside fellow New York artist and collaborator Nikolas Gambaroff and others hoisting and manipulating mannequins while slotting Gambaroff’s painting panels into exposed wall niches. The sundry materials employed during this live installation of sorts were left behind, thereby concretizing themes of transit and exhaustion. (None too subtly, the tired mannequins came to rest in wooden chairs, contemplating a scrim painted to reproduce that of the 1910 Ballets Russes production Les Orientales.)

Two months later, this scenario, which had been predicated on the convertability of materials, in turn served as the basis for “Tools for Living,” Gambaroff’s own maiden LA excursion (also at Overduin and Kite). The show, via composited newspaper, manipulated supermarket circulars, architectural photography, and actual architectural interventions, highlighted a host of past activities (including references drawn both from contemporary culture and the more insular artists’ circuit in which Gambaroff moves) that provided the exhibition’s subtext and literal support. Among the most obvious were residual elements from Arakawa’s show, particularly the niches that had previously held Gambaroff’s own paintings, and, spanning nearly the full length of one gallery wall, the large blue-and-white United Airlines logo, which had borne Arakawa’s misspelling UNTIED. Restoring the word’s proper order, Gambaroff also built a facing freestanding wall out of which he cut the anagram UNEDIT.

Both surfaces additionally served as ground for the superimposition of décollage-like “paintings”—admixtures of “brushstrokes” (or at least gestural parcels of negative space intended to signify as such) and collage. At the center of several of these works were color photographs of skyscrapers. Though major American cities were easily identifiable (namely, Houston and LA), the generic, clear-skied quality of the images suggested that the buildings could be in any major metropolitan hub, be it Dubai or NYC. In this and in the shifting sight lines glimpsed through the excised letters of the built wall, Gambaroff proposed spatial, spectatorial disjunctions. Equally disorienting juxtapositions of form—sale slogans merging with deal prices disintegrating into stock pictures of Coke, Perdue chicken, corncobs, and ripened tomatoes—were effected by the scrambled surfaces and painterly tears within each composition.

At the front of the gallery, more traditionally hung works (all Untitled, 2012) offered a host of recent newspaper stories and their adjacent ads, cutting a vertiginous path from the Taliban to children’s movies, ecological disasters to Cartier watches, hunger strikes and murder profiles to Picasso at the Guggenheim. The last in particular matters insofar as the subject of “art” appeared in Gambaroff’s show to be just as topical as any other news event, with dates appearing as proof that all content sourced for a given “painting” belongs to the same day’s paper. Yet how does this gesture politicize the very real, often socially inconvenient adjacencies inherent in print media, rather than simply rendering them decorative, inert, detached, neutral? Indeed, the question itself is so embedded within the modernist project of collage as to be nearly foundational to it. Seen as individual pieces, Gambaroff’s paintings do not add much to this legacy, nor, it would seem, to the related story of painting’s obligation to represent. But taken together as a show at large, they gained in association, posing not so much as tools for living as tools for coping with the contingencies and tedium of everyday life.

Suzanne Hudson