Los Angeles

View of “Lisa Williamson,” 2016. Photo: Steven Rimlinger.

View of “Lisa Williamson,” 2016. Photo: Steven Rimlinger.

Lisa Williamson


View of “Lisa Williamson,” 2016. Photo: Steven Rimlinger.

“There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension,” wrote Joan Didion in “Los Angeles Notebook,” her now-iconic mechanistic meditation on the city’s environmental precariousness. “What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sandstorms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to the flash point.” “Body Boards,” Lisa Williamson’s quiescent exhibition, distilled this psychic and electrical charge in five terse, vertically oriented forms. Nerves, Stereo (LES3), Tsunami, Tincture, and Sunbather (all works 2016) are the distinctly Angeleno titles of a group of exacting wall sculptures that captured the tone of Didion’s gimlet-eyed counter to the prevailing ethos of sunny California optimism—marrying the anxious energy of the writer’s prose with the West Coast Light and Space movement’s surface buoyancy. Williamson fashioned each piece out of an eighty-by-forty-inch panel of thin, sharp-edged aluminum, which she cut, bent, folded, and vividly painted. The sculptures cumulatively opened up a sprawling network of free association by way of their compressed formal language.

Nowhere was disquiet more elemental than in Tsunami, a sheet of cobalt-blue aluminum whose top edge curved off the far wall of the compact gallery, folding over itself to create what surfers refer to as a barrel. Expressionistic but rigid, this arching matte metal object towers crisply over its viewer, evoking the most sublime of waves and harboring with absolute stillness the destructive force of a wall of cascading water. Not as phenomenologically active but still potent, Nerves, an alpine-green plane studded at regular intervals with electric-pink protrusions that evoked something between abstracted cones and nipples, and Stereo (LE3), a white panel out of which two vertically stacked black bowls extend, hugged the left wall. Bearing references to both sensory receptors and woofers, the erect modular nubs and their steely concave counterparts froze the works in Technicolor anticipation, as if awaiting a transmission that was long overdue.

The nearby Tincture’s titular reference to contemporary marijuana culture may have been intended to enhance this nervy stimulation. The sheet, whose sides fold inward like the doors of an open cabinet, displays a mustard-yellow ground overlain with a rectangular lemon-yellow line that might suggest a doorframe, behind which the arms and legs of a centrally placed geometric blush-pink abstraction stretch down and outward. In Sunbathers, a fuchsia border outlines an eggplant beach towel whose frayed, toothy end kicks up from its bottom edge.

Notions of suspended temporality were enhanced by the condensed spatial schema of the works, which seemed to perch tensely within the narrow confines of the gallery. The cool geometry and controlled lyricism of the velvety surfaces, combined with the works’ evocative titles, provided a cool rebuttal to their Finish Fetish predecessors’ reliance on gloss to confuse the relationship between the art object and its sun-drenched environment. Instead, the show evidenced the stillness of pre-flash-point calm—summoning an assessment of our surroundings and reminding us, as does Didion, “how close to the edge we are.”

Erin Kimmel