Los Angeles

Math Bass, Newz!, 2014, gouache on canvas, 34 x 32". From the series “Newz!,” 2014–.

Math Bass, Newz!, 2014, gouache on canvas, 34 x 32". From the series “Newz!,” 2014–.

Math Bass

Math Bass, Newz!, 2014, gouache on canvas, 34 x 32". From the series “Newz!,” 2014–.

For Math Bass’s first solo presentation in the city where she lives and works, the artist transformed Overduin & Co. into a kind of playground, its rooms crisscrossed by chutes and ladders. Twinned versions of a waxed-steel sculpture—a narrow vertical plane with a deep U-shape extracted from the top and a smaller, mirroring shape removed from the bottom—were propped side by side against a wall, while three similarly composed iterations of floor-bound metal sheets (each work titled And Its Shadow, 2014) arced as though performing spry gymnastic backbends. The press release for this exhibition, “Lies Inside,” pictured one of these works with hands shown gripping the sculpture from behind, thereby incorporating the otherwise obscured figure implied by the sheets’ bodily outline. The staging of the piece with, instead of as, a body (or at least its surrogate) likewise announced the performative dimension of Bass’s practice. And indeed, on the show’s last day, Bass, along with artists Eden Batki, Lauren Davis Fisher, and Lee Relvas, highlighted precisely this aspect of her work, posing under or inside the metal sculptures and behind the ladders before inciting a call-and-response recitation.

Bass seems to assume as precondition for her art the possibility of converting exhibition into event, and makes extraordinarily clear that any individual piece can lend itself equally to both functions. In her past work, a ladder that leans against the wall might be climbed, as in Brutal Set, performed at the Hammer Museum in 2012 as part of “Made in L.A.”; or its role might be subverted, as in Body No Body Body, 2012, a grouping of unfolded ladders upon which Bass fitted sewn, striped canvases. These earlier pieces laid the groundwork for the possibilities of engagement in “Lies Inside,” even as the recent show exceeded them. If a gestalt allows us to see only the duck or the rabbit, but not both at once, Bass’s objects are held in suspension as if at some hypothetical moment in the process of conversion at which both figures—artwork and prop—remain improbably legible. For example, Yellow Gate, 2014, a freestanding grill placed just inside the front door, prescribes movement and allows visual passage through its open metalwork, yet it also coheres as a carefully composed thing in itself.

Moving between two and three dimensions, Bass added arches to the existing structural columns, framing the viewer’s various perspectives and connecting the architecture to the sculptures and a series of adjacent paintings, the latter replete with their own friezelike arcs. Grouped together under the moniker “Newz!,” 2014–, these panels borrow the graphic vocabulary of sign-painting to picture fire, smoke, and alligators, while slyly gesturing toward Bass’s earlier work and performances (for example, the smoke recalls the 2011 performance piece Dogs and Fog, in which she filled the same space—then Overduin and Kite—with dogs and fog, before singing with friends atop cinder blocks arrayed in a circle), effecting its own tautology. These hard-edge paintings on raw canvas lined the walls of the whole installation, contributing mightily to one’s sense of the works’ versioning, especially as they move fluidly between pattern and recognizable imagery: Alligator teeth become stairs, and eyes become doorways. Thus, they provide a legend for how to read the other objects in the space.

Surpassing even the sculptures’ anthropomorphism, Bass’s paintings stare back, often literally, in the form of smirking faces, here making good on the exhibition’s titular promise of a kind of lurking presence. Yet “Lies Inside” also puns on the transparency of meaning, raising the question of whether there was something disingenuous at play, too, an updating of Magritte’s treachery of images, wherein things are exactly as they seem and something else entirely.

Suzanne Hudson