Los Angeles

View of “Sean Kennedy,” 2013. From top: Untitled, 2013; Untitled, 2013.

View of “Sean Kennedy,” 2013. From top: Untitled, 2013; Untitled, 2013.

Sean Kennedy

Thomas Duncan Gallery

View of “Sean Kennedy,” 2013. From top: Untitled, 2013; Untitled, 2013.

Sean Kennedy Thomas Duncan Gallery For his second show at Thomas Duncan Gallery, Sean Kennedy abandoned the hanging wood-and-Plexiglas boxes that dominated his first solo presentation in the same space. Those 2012 pieces—dangling platforms that reveal, from below, tableaux of everyday objects arranged by the artist—addressed themselves to the ceiling and the floor, rather than projecting out from the wall or standing on a pedestal. These works maintain irresolution, hovering between image and object, and they occupy space uncertainly, always one jostle away from disarray or total disaster. (Their components, so carefully parked, are not tacked down.) Not so for Kennedy’s new series of so-called graphic paintings, which use similar Plexiglas frames but flip them so that they hang like conventional panel paintings. Their contents remain securely in place, thanks to Kennedy’s application of see-through adhesive—a kind of pigmentless paint—to affix such banal items as safety razors, USB flash drives, PEZ dispensers, and Good & Plenty cartons to the acrylic surfaces suspended within each frame. Pragmatically, this glue is key. Yet the panels retain an element of contingency, as they can be oriented with any side up.

Importantly, in this new grouping, Kennedy preserves the pictorial element of seeing underneath, and indeed through, the physical base. Still, though the works are literally transparent, the many tasks undertaken to arrive at the final product are not immediately evident. The press materials explain that Kennedy builds his compositions starting with the outlines of race cars’ contours—graphics that flatten a three-dimensional object’s front, back, and sides onto one plane. He puts down logo-heavy designs taken from a decal sheet, which he enlarges and paints onto the backside of the first panel, before gluing objects onto a second Plexiglas panel behind that (in some but not all of the pieces). Finally, he creates a third panel with brushy abstractions and a solid monochrome rectangle, thus unifying each piece with a strong background color: bubble-gum pink for one work, which is emblazoned with lettering for Hot Tamales and Starter (all works Untitled, 2013); dark forest green for another, with a riotous cluster of M&M’s; and lilac for one of the strongest visual assemblages, in which whirling spheres and AT&T Broadband insignias interrupt the spatial order of sandpaper sheets. In all instances, the logos, numbers, and snippets of type are collaged together, in a manner both ad hoc and deliberate. Kennedy maintains the integrity of each element so that meanings might proliferate through the close juxtapositions of abstract painting and appropriated pictures. Even in the background’s spills of acrylic, nothing really dissolves.

In a statement penned for the occasion and presented under the banner of the show’s title, “Mixed Messages,” Kennedy explains that he considered such monikers as “lid paintings, sandwich paintings, window paintings, decal paintings, container paintings, graphic paintings, layer paintings, [and] improvised paintings” before deciding on “graphic paintings.” Graphic, when used as a noun, refers most obviously to Kennedy’s use of speedway stickers; as an adjective, it connotes sex and violence, both of which are relevant to the testosterone-fueled adolescent fantasy that is NASCAR. It is hard not to read the racetrack theme as a reference to a particularly dystopian vision of American capitalism and sensationalized mass witnessing, even though Kennedy claims that this sporting motif is a red herring as far as content is concerned. Nevertheless, the presentational aspects of commercial graphics—their clean and simplified “clear” aesthetic—would seem to be an essential, structuring aspect of this series. Moreover, the fact that the cars figure the radical contingencies of collision and collapse means that they model at the level of iconography—red herring or not—the precarious genesis of form.

Suzanne Hudson