Wednesday, October 6, 2010

“Elad Lassry: Sum of Limited Views” and “Richard Artschwager: Hair”

by Louis Nahlik

Elad Lassry: Sum of Limited Views” and “Richard Artschwager: Hair
Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
September 10, 2010-January 2, 2011

The two concurrent shows on view at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, “Elad Lassry: Sum of Limited Views” and “Richard Artschwager: Hair,” revolve around a similar theme of the representation of figures and objects. The three galleries and performance space inside the Museum are split fairly evenly among the two artists. The first and third exhibition spaces are dedicated to Lassry, the first filled with his still images and the third filled with his moving images. The second, larger exhibition space is solely Artschwager. The performance space has one piece by each artist, a physical connection making apparent the thematic connection.

Gallery view: “Elad Lassry: Sum of Limited Views.” Photograph by Louis Nahlik.

Elad Lassry was born in Tel Aviv in 1977 and currently works in Los Angeles. His still images, what he calls his “pictures” (as opposed to photographs) are instantly beautiful and settling. Numerous portraits and still lifes are beautifully shot and framed in frames painted with the predominant color of the image it holds. Lassry’s pictures are made up of publicity photos, found objects, and created objects. All are very particular to the piece at hand, and work with one another oddly yet appropriately. Entering the gallery from the right of the lobby, the first encounter is numerous brightly colored rectangles, about 10 per wall, all at the same level, surrounding the room. Most measure 11”x14,” and, due to their small stature, require the viewer to come in closer to experience and really see each piece.

Gallery view: “Elad Lassry: Sum of Limited Views.” Photograph by Louis Nahlik.

Lassry’s use of models and his change of them into objects themselves is excellent. Man 071 (2007) is a portrait of a handsome man with shoulder length brown hair. The numbering of the man makes him more an object than a person, the effect of which further instills Man 071 into the show as a whole. Another piece, titled Cat Toy 2, reinforces that fact. The man also exhibits another of Lassry’s features not utilized enough in this show: multiple exposures on a single frame. This effect is especially unsettling. Initially, Man 071 looks like any other of Lassry’s portrait pieces, but Man 071 has four eyes. Lassry uses the double exposure effect on the model’s eyes only, requiring the viewer to take a second look to confirm what may have been suspected, giving the piece an unsettling feeling. A few other pieces in the show utilize the same effect: 3 Variations on a Bob, Silver Grey (2006), Felicia (2008), and Guinevere (2009), the last two of which have an equally dizzying background pattern, enhancing the effect. These pieces are perfectly nestled amongst unassuming still lives of ceramic monkeys, meat, artichokes, onions, eggs in a carton, tomatillos, and a number of other things that Lassry has found or assembled. The pieces really only work as a set, though, and, taken alone, lose the effect that is so great when a part of a group. The pictures themselves are beautiful and equally nice to look at as diptychs or triptychs, but for one to question what it means to create a picture, a group is necessary.

Gallery view: “Elad Lassry: Sum of Limited Views.” Photograph by Louis Nahlik.

Lassry’s films are as haunting, even more so, as the multiple exposure pieces. They are slow motion 16 millimeter and super 16 millimeter films featuring various forms and the representation of the forms. The first, Zebra and Woman (2007), is just that. A camera slowly pans from the back of a zebra to its head, creating some unsettling, vibrating stripes that fill the frame when the camera is seemingly stuck between haunch and head. The black and white stripes fill the wider super 16mm frame, and the breathing of the animal causes the stripes to ripple back and forth extraordinarily slowly, almost to the point of it being an illusion. As if you staring at the stripes causes their vibrations. There is a moment of black screen before the same technique is used on a woman’s head. Believably, the time of the blackness on the screen could merely be the time it’s taken the camera to pan from the zebra to the woman locked together in a stare. A blonde, unassuming woman is filmed in profile from her face rightwards to the back of her head. The debilitatingly slow speed is equally unsettling when used on the woman, especially if she has been staring at the zebra this entire time. The woman especially reflects Lassry’s pictures in the front gallery, cropped and shot perfectly according to the piece with which it works.

The second film’s inspiration is a trompe l’oeil image that Lassry found of a one story, four-walled building from a 1971 science textbook. Untitled (2008) features a simple, blue and yellow square house painted on a white floor. An assortment of models pose and interact with the piece to make it as 3-d looking as possible, to some avail. A few of the actors are character actors from commercials or other media outlets, causing the viewer to look twice due to an unmistakable, but un-namable, recognition. One actor that especially struck me looked liked a handsome combination of Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise. This double-take effect the bit characters extract from the viewer resembles Man 071 in that it requires the viewer to look longer at a piece, a very affective effect.

The third film, Untitled (Agon) (2007), consists of two dancers interacting. It also plays in slow motion, giving the dancers added emotion and a heavier storyline. It is derived from a dance from the 1950s, and pays homage to the fact, but there is a feeling in this piece that is not evident in the others in that there ought to be more or less to it. The dance is beautiful and serene, but the background draws too much from the dancers, who don’t show enough to overcome the busy background to stand alone. But, like Lassry’s pictures, the piece works in the room with the other two films to give a more general ambience and effect that could not have otherwise been attained.

The noise of the projectors is something else entirely worthy of mention. Although the films themselves are all silent, the noise of the projectors is heard throughout the entire museum, enticing visitors to the back gallery in order to find the source.

Gallery view: “Richard Artschwager: Hair.” Photograph by Louis Nahlik.

The Richard Artschwager installation in the second gallery could have any piece stand alone beautifully. It is a wonderfully arranged show featuring predominantly hair-based pieces, the earliest dated 1969 and the most recent completed just a month or two before the show opened.

Artschwager has a storied history: he was born in Washington D.C. in 1923 and began making furniture in the 1950s. He has been grouped with a number of his contemporaries and movements, but always seems to outlast or outchange them and stay relevant to this day. His work as a furniture maker (his most known art pieces are made mainly of wood and Formica), led him to this exploration of hair. Old sofas and chairs used to be filled with rubberized horsehair to make them more comfortable. Artschwager literally flipped this idea inside-out and began creating pieces that showcased the aesthetics of the hair itself. There are a few recognizable objects in the show: a table, a table and seats, a chair, and exclamation points. But that’s it. Most of the other pieces resemble humans in some capacity, but are largely abstracted and turned more into forms than figures. These people are also faceless and, like Lassry’s, nameless, reduced to objects. Artschwager’s colors painted on them seems arbitrary to the persona of the piece as well; they are painted according to aesthetics, or chance on some pieces.

Gallery view: “Richard Artschwager: Hair.” Photograph by Louis Nahlik.

Most of Artschwager's pieces begin as scribbles or newspaper clippings blown up to the size they appear, the result of which blurs all of the pieces (he calls this “imperfect precision). He is making the familiar shape of a person into something unfamiliar and unsettling. The objects are distorted and blurred. Even the nameable objects are skewed: the chair, High Backed Chair (1988, rubberized hair on painted wood, 64 3/4“x37”x40”), is a chair with rubberized hair extruding from between the vertical wooden slabs, making its usage, let alone its comfort, questionable. The table, Drawing of a Table (1984-85, rubberized hair and wood, 36”x46”x15”), has the same effect of the chair. Its usability is questionable, which is especially irreverent to Artschwager due to his history as a furniture maker. He is making that which is usually accessible: a piece of furniture, into something inaccessible: a piece of art.

Gallery view: “Richard Artschwager: Hair.” Photograph by Louis Nahlik.

Artschwager’s wall-mounted pieces are terrific, and, like Lassry’s images, have a much better effect in a group. One of Artschwager’s iconic blp pieces is hung vertically by a doorway, and another is suspended about 20 feet up in the corner of the wall 60 feet to the left of the first blp. In between, and on the perpendicular wall, are a collection of hair pieces seeming to reach the Bristle Corner (1995, acrylic bristles and wood, 24”x 8”x8”). They all splay one way or another, or lay vertically, but all are a part of this greater quest to reach the blp. Artschwager deals with perception and deception within the pieces, the representation of form. The pieces are “a sincere celebration of making and looking at objects and pictures” (Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis), and really only have the full effect when seen in person. The desire to touch these pieces is another aspect of the feeling of inaccessibility, a quality which the museum has attempted to overcome by providing samples of the rubberized horsehair that visitors are welcome to touch. Books and an iPad upstairs are also waiting for the interaction that is unattainable in the galleries.

Ultimately, the two shows work together perfectly. What had started as an Artschwager idea turned into something bigger and more beautiful, “imperfectly precise.” The crisp clear images combat the abstracted form, the shaky film images appear almost scribble like in some frames, and form is evident throughout. It is an older and newer generation of artists with interacting and appropriate shows, playing with the idea of representation, of image and object. The blurring of the representation of form and the method of showing that form is a common thread throughout modern art history, and these two artists carry on that discussion to the present.

Elad Lassry: Sum of Limited Views” and “Richard Artschwager: Hair” remain on view through January 2, 2011. Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis is located at 3750 Washington Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63108. 314/535-4660. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Monday & Tuesday. Admission: Free to all Wednesdays & Saturdays; All other days: $5/adults;$3/seniors; free/CAMSTL members.

Louis Nahlik is a Fall 2010 Intern at Art Saint Louis. A St. Louis native, Louis is a 2010 graduate of UM-St. Louis, where he earned a Bachelor of Liberal Studies in Art History & Studio Art.

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