Los Angeles

David Lamelas, Untitled (Falling Wall), 1992–, drywall, wood, screws, acrylic paint, reclaimed lumber, 17' 5“ × 26' 8 1/2” × 8' 1/2". Photo: Josh White.

David Lamelas, Untitled (Falling Wall), 1992–, drywall, wood, screws, acrylic paint, reclaimed lumber, 17' 5“ × 26' 8 1/2” × 8' 1/2". Photo: Josh White.

David Lamelas

David Lamelas, Untitled (Falling Wall), 1992–, drywall, wood, screws, acrylic paint, reclaimed lumber, 17' 5“ × 26' 8 1/2” × 8' 1/2". Photo: Josh White.

Over the five decades of his peripatetic, sui generis art career, David Lamelas—who was born in Buenos Aires and now works in his hometown and in Nice, France—has probed the basic parameters via which artworks are defined and transmitted. His practice has spanned film, photography, sculpture, and drawing, anticipating now-ubiquitous styles of appropriation and institutional critique. Coinciding with his wide-ranging and long-overdue first US retrospective “A Life of Their Own” at California State University, Long Beach, “The Other Side” at Maccarone was decidedly lean and mean. Here his structuralism expressed itself tectonically, premised on that most elemental variable of white-cube display (and current geopolitical discourse): the wall.

Upon entering the gallery, the viewer was greeted obliquely by Untitled (Falling Wall), 1992/2017: an approximately eighteen-by-twenty-seven-foot bright-white wall tilted forward at an acute angle. A more modest and informal scaffolding of salvaged timber beams arranged at the wall’s center point appeared to prop it aloft. The exposed and rugged umber surfaces of this coarser support were in stark contrast to the pristine opacity of the wall threatening collapse. It was hard to resist reading the formal tension as a political allegory of precarity, of robust infrastructure built on less-than-sturdy foundations. Untitled (Falling Wall) abutted a floor-to-ceiling partition dividing the immense gallery space into two zones. Beyond it stood Walls Are Meant for Jumping, 2017, conceived in 1967 but previously unrealized. Based on a drawing contained in the archives of the Getty Research Institute, this piece delineated a large, empty, cruciform-shaped space with a three-and-a-half-foot tall “pony” wall. As a continuous boundary with no point for entry or exit, it created something like a pseudo-environment. One could peer inside and perhaps imagine clearing its height with a leap, but it nevertheless remained a physical barrier drawing attention back to one’s own positionality. Lamelas, who notably explored the elusive construction of his own and others’ artistic personae, often considered his engagement with built space as a kind of camouflage, wherein the artwork becomes indistinguishable from everyday architectural space; more a figment of the imagination than a tangible object.

Such spatial manipulations felt duly resonant given the historical milieu of Southern California, where, at the storied but short-lived Claire Copley Gallery (Lamelas exhibited there in 1976), fellow postConceptualist Michael Asher staged a 1974 intervention that invites comparison. Asher performed a reverse operation: He removed the wall separating the exhibition space from Copley’s office, creating a permeable, responsive architecture with social ramifications (publicly exposing the gallery’s dealings). Critical dialogue with artists such as Daniel Buren—who has long bemoaned a prevalent strain of idealism in which artworks are considered essentially autonomous and unmarked by the frameworks in which they are presented—may have facilitated Asher’s shift away from more purely perceptual environments. “The Other Side”—which at first glance appeared germane to site-specific discourse—confounded one’s definition of specificity, as the works themselves remained site-ambiguous. Recent iterations of (Untitled) Falling Wall have been shown in New York and Berlin with only subtle variations in the degree of the wall tilt or the source of the lumber. Just as Lamelas has filmed his ongoing “Time as Activity” video series (begun in 1969) in various cities without overtly engaging their localities, these sculptural works, though firmly in place for the exhibition’s duration, are designed to flow. As such, they are quasi doppelgängers of the contemporary artist as consummate traveler—a now de rigueur public persona that Lamelas surely pioneered. In this way the temporary apparatus is showcased foremost, a kind of social sculpture absent social embeddedness. The idea is interesting, though it’s in part artistic gestures irrespective of place that have anti-gentrification activists targeting the gallery infrastructure of downtown Los Angeles as a symbolic site of protest.

Liz Hirsch