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By Eric Hood
If ambiguity, uncertainty and a love of the vague send you off the deep end, best avoid curator Marcus Herse's exhibition "Dark Matters: Takes on Conceptual and Minimal Aesthetics-Dusseldorf/Los Angeles" at Chapman University's cozy Guggenheim Gallery. As is often the case with this kind of work, the bafflement is leavened with bullshit, but walk in with a critical eye, and you may not mind the pretentious middle finger jamming into it.
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The hefty pieces of black, industrial carpet with images combed into the nape in Tobias Hantmann's At the Fire Place—Trance are a grab bag of seeing what you want in an essentially blank canvas. One clearly has faces and bodies: a seated John Lennon-esque figure with a ghostly shape hovering behind him, opposite another figure with its back to us. The possible profile in the second carpet-y canvas may be eye strain or just the leftover tracks of someone running a vacuum over it one last time before hanging it on the wall. I appreciate the idea of the viewer searching for a narrative when the artist clearly isn't interested in providing one, let alone an image you can really latch onto, but whether that qualifies as art or an act of hostility is hard to say. I'd venture to say a little of both.
Krysten Cunningham's 3 to 4—an eight-minute HD video of six people in red, blue and green adjusting conjoined sticks of the same colors to create squares, pyramids and Bucky-styled geodesic half-spheres—has a simple retro-hippie beauty to it. If you're inclined toward simple retro-hippie beauty, which I'm generally not, you'll admire the artists stepping through the shapes on a stretch of deserted beach, in the desert or by a riverbank, occasionally framing themselves as they pass into and out of the forms as though they're living artwork. If, however, you find this kind of collaborative art hollow and twee, as I do, it's less intellectual devotion to mathematics and more performance-art cheese.
I was fascinated by the concrete "paintings" of Analia Saban, standard canvases overlaid with a layer of industrial cement. Concrete Gag #5, with its blop of concrete smack in the center, suggests vomit or a soiled diaper, its uneven clumps spilling off the sides of the canvas. The heavyweight yin to that heavyweight yang is the sleekly pristine Slab Foundation #6, a slab the same dimensions as the canvas it rests on. Saban succeeded in making me interested in looking closely at something I see every time I step beyond my front door, and the shine she has placed on it gives it a spring-shower feel of crisp freshness.
In the show pamphlet, artist Christian Jendreiko is quoted as saying he doesn't "make art to make art, but to find something out about the making of art." We're not made aware just what that something might be, but based on his installation, California Guitar, it may be a myriad of puns and similes: An axe plugged into an amplifier lies on the gallery floor, the red light of the amp's ON button glowing silently, no music to be heard. Small rocks placed on the guitar's headstock, neck and body weigh it down and prevent it from being played. A play on rock & roll is the most obvious, the weight of musical history crushing spontaneous innovation a possibility, or maybe it's just a visual suggesting that being stoned interferes with creation. Just say no, just say ho ho ho, or supply the missing music in your head . . . the intent is up for grabs. Even more so with PROJECTION, its graphite lines covering an entire wall and resembling the beginning sketch of a painting or the distracted line scribbles of the bored. The "dark matter" here, as in California, is to provide the absent. Too bad the artist didn't provide a fistful of rubber erasers so an audience's even-darker impulse to destroy what is created could be acted on.
Looking too closely at the guitar and backing up to see the entire penciled wall, I nearly stepped in Monika Stricker's untitled installation: a sheet of 8.5-by-11-inch paper with the words "you're turning me on" printed on it, covered with a dried synthetic sweat that looks like a vast come stain. At the show's opening and for days later, the paper and immediate area were slickly wet enough to require a warning for patrons that they might lose their footing if they got too close, the liquid dripping down onto the floor from an IV bag tucked away in the gallery rafters. A success on several levels: As a visceral visual of the barely discussed, of the private being brought out into the open, of a potential accidental destruction by an unwary patron and ultimately a slyly funny comment on the masturbatory quality of so much conceptual art.
This review appeared in print as "One Giant, Conceptual Come Stain: 'Dark Matters' at Chapman's Guggenheim Gallery veers between the piffle and the perfect."
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