Los Angeles

View of “Rebecca Warren,” 2017. Photo: Sean Logue.

View of “Rebecca Warren,” 2017. Photo: Sean Logue.

Rebecca Warren

View of “Rebecca Warren,” 2017. Photo: Sean Logue.

In the Hadean period, the earliest geologic era in earth’s history, the planet’s defining characteristic was its hot, molten surface, which would ultimately cool and harden to create the relatively stable terra firma we enjoy today. Much later, following the arrival of Homo sapiens, the Bronze Age would see the advent of metal tools, after which the sturdier iron supplanted bronze; the alloy would thereafter become the medium of choice for artisans and sculptors. British artist Rebecca Warren recently produced a series of painted bronze sculptures titled “Los Hadeans” (all works 2017), whose spindly forms, like cattails gone to seed, call to mind both amorphous protean globs and the blue-chip bronze figurative works on which they are commonly seen as riffs. Yet Warren has remarked that her titles are intentional red herrings, and her “Hadeans,” invariably described as Giacomettiesque, on closer inspection reveal themselves to be rather squirrelly and coy, diverging from both Giacometti’s pathos and the primordial Sturm und Drang of their namesake period. 

One of these sculptures includes a diminutive yarn pom-pom of the sort that one might make at summer camp, which linked it to other likewise adorned pieces among the works on display across Matthew Marks’s two Los Angeles galleries. Los Hadeans (III), a lanky shape with two legs, a headlike lump crowned with a spire, and a flat plane extending from its midsection that brings to mind a matador’s flag, has a pom-pom affixed where the figure’s right eye might be. The adjacent work Let’s All Chant also featured a pom-pom, in this case pertly perched on an angular, table-like structure of shiny painted steel, held in place by a skinny pink beam that sliced across the room and rested against the table’s surface. As the only non-“Hadean” work in this gallery, the piece underscored the signature tension in Warren’s practice between the lumpily figurative and the sleekly planar. In both modes, Warren leans heavily on art-historical precedents. Her figures reference not only Giacometti but also Futurist sculptors such as Constantin Brancusi and Umberto Boccioni, while her boxy structures are more anodynely minimal—save for their plushy additions. Yet all of Warren’s citations, from the explicit to the generic, seem chosen to serve as heroic foils for her deliberately flippant surface treatments and embellishments. Indeed, Let’s All Chant is painted in a color I must resignedly describe as “millennial pink”—the much derided yet omnipresent hue of 2016.

While this somewhat forced dialectic of competing formal languages dominated the works on view at the gallery’s North Orange Grove location, those at the adjacent Santa Monica Boulevard space demonstrated the artist’s knack for nuance. Here, a similarly spare figure, Nini, was on view alongside two medium-size, fuzzball-sporting monoliths (Early Sculpture and Old Age) and a curious wall work titled All That Heaven Allows. Neon tubing contorted into a squiggled S links this composition’s two centrally positioned pom-poms, both attached to a peach-painted MDF support, while a third pink pom-pom sits on the work’s upper-left edge. 

Pom-poms are funny, but they’re also sad—abject things shaken from the sidelines or impotently tethered to caps. In All That Heaven Allows, Warren lets the kitschy melodrama of Douglas Sirk’s eponymous 1955 film creep in, but there is also some of the subdued despair of Todd Haynes’s 2002 remake, Far from Heaven. The result is a deceptively complicated work, full of human contradiction. This piece transcended the hyperbolically hellish connotations of an underworld before the Bronze Age as much as it did the constellation of references that threatened to overtake many of the show’s other inclusions. In so doing, it single-handedly shifted the exhibition’s tone from one of sardonic referentiality to a melancholic reflection on our postmillennial present.

Cat Kron