Laurie Lipton Takes Aim at 'Weapons of Mass Delusion'

Mass appeal
"Delusion Dwellers," Laurie Lipton

Three months ago, I lost a job that I had worked at for half my life. When human resources pulled a George Clooney on me, talking amicably about my “future career possibilities” while sliding a redundancy contract across the table, I felt relieved that my life would change course.

For the month following, however, I sat in front of my television in a stupor, and then I spent a nice chunk of my severance buying things I didn’t need.

My month in purgatory could have been prevented if Grand Central Art Center’s “Weapons of Mass Delusions,” an exhibition featuring the intensely detailed pencil-and-paper drawings of London-based artist Laurie Lipton, had been open at that time. Even given how outwardly disturbing the imagery might seem, I’m sure I would have found it life-changing, therapeutic, even comforting to see my life reflected back at me in her masterful pictures.

In The Dead Factory, skeletons flow into a warehouse on conveyor belts and then arrive again in a never-ending recycled carpet of bones. There’s flesh on the frame of the solitary man eating breakfast in the triptych Monday Morning, but you can see by the expression on his face that he’s spiritually dead. On other panels, the grim mantra of MonTuesWedThursFri MonTuesWedThursFri scrolling across the computer screens of the office workers nails that point home. In Time Travel, a man sprints on a treadmill attached to a clock face hanging over his head like a Sword of Damocles. Is the treadmill running the clock or the clock running the treadmill?

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The black and white of pencil and paper lends a noirish feel to Lipton’s work, but because everything is done by hand, it charges the work with immediacy and deep feeling rather than Brechtian alienation. In Reality TV, a woman in a bra and panties stands in front of a live camera in a television studio watching herself on a monitor watching herself watching the monitor. Cables coil on the floor around her, like snakes about to strike; a plug on the floor looks like it wants to plug into her. The passive dangerousness of treating everything like a television screen is vividly epitomized in the Kitty Genovese-inspired triptych Watching, which is given further resonance by the recent New York stabbing that left a Good Samaritan bleeding to death in the street while people walked by or took pictures of the body with their cell phones.

Lipton’s equally mesmerizing Prime Time makes its point with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face, but its images are intense and striking: a couple sits drinking wine, eating dinner and watching the boob tube, as corpses splay out from the television onto the living-room floor, the wallpaper of the flat transforming into leering skulls as stalactites of gore drip from the ceiling. Ever-present CCTV cameras catch glimpses of the masses and flash them on Big Brother-sized screens atop off-kilter buildings in Closed Circuit. The exhibition’s titular piece features an electronic cathedral, peppered with screens featuring images of violence and terrorism, while a cabal of blindfolded businessmen smokes cigars and changes the channels with oversized remote controls.

The Disasters of War features the only use of color in the exhibit, as someone (us, since the image is from our viewpoint) lies in bed, watching a bloody scene of carnage on television, drinking from a coffee cup emblazoned with Picasso’s Guernica.

Robotic, wide-eyed sycophancy comes into play with a wink and a nod in Icon and Celebrity.In the former, a puppet-faced personality is worshiped, his image plastered on Times Square billboards, microphones hovering nearby to catch every word. In the latter, a pouty-lipped starlet stands in front of a bank of paparazzi, all snapping pictures, extra cameras hanging at waist level, their telephoto lenses like flaccid genitalia. Only the woman seems to be excited by the contact, her erect nipples pressing rigidly against the fabric of her dress—but her irises are the same mechanical black of the camera lenses.

That worship is given a religious angle in Delusion Dwellers, as a throng of wide-eyed devotees applauds or prays to a shining light in the sky. Dressed similarly to members of the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult, their eyes have rolled up into their heads, exposing the whites; they look not like the blank-eyed wisdom of Greco-Roman busts, but rather like television screens immersed in static.

A casual walk-through of Lipton’s work brings to mind artists as varied as David Lynch, H.R. Giger, Diane Arbus and the Old Masters, but that’s because we’re lazy viewers, greeting the new and unknown by comparing it to something we know. Visit the show, give those artists only the briefest of consideration to give yourself some grounding, then take Lipton’s hand and let her be your Virgil, walking you into uncharted territory.

“Weapons of Mass Delusions” at Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233; Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Through June 13. Free.

This review appeared online as "Denuded & Deluded: The razor-sharp satirical pencil of Laurie Lipton takes aim at ‘Weapons of Mass Delusions.’"

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