This is a funny show, really.
Over there, scattered along the main wall, a conversation between analyst and analysand traces a kind of erratic through-line around an idiosyncratically hung collection of diverse works, ranging from an Yves Tanguy knock-off and a Frank Stella lithograph to more recent pieces (Wade Guyton, Carol Bove, and Louise Lawler to name a few) with little regard for chronology.
At times, the patient's breakthrough seems to be on the tip of his tongue, as he dredges through memories of past parental abuse, before finally slumping into the self-negating lament of a textbook neurotic. Both the vinyl-lettered conversation and some multilingual posters for Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method go unattributed on the checklist, but both point to the aesthetic of a single artist, exhibition co-curator Matthew Brannon. Both bear an easy resemblance to his own highly literate and somewhat neurotic oeuvre.
Installation view of Drawing a Blank at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; Courtesy the gallery.
The show's undeniably cheeky thesis looks at various strategies of authorial effacement and aesthetic reduction as though the art objects in question were laid out on a psychoanalyst's couch. Its ultimate success derives from its skillful activation of the gallery as a site for any number of self-defeating yet seemingly intractable anxieties. And it’s funny too, I swear.
Particularly burdensome to the art critic, always theoretically accountable for his opinions, is the fear of missing something, not getting the joke or the connection or the point. In my case, I'm at pains to admit, this happened more than once. Apparently, Morgan Fisher's Scratched European Widescreen from 2005 has an inscription sandblasted onto the surface of its glass. But abhorrence to my own reflection in the gallery's unflattering light meant that I had to learn about this later, through Bruce Hainley's discussion of Fisher's Aspect Ratio Pieces in Frieze. (For those like me not in the know, the mirrors are the specific sizes of different film stocks.)
Louise Lawler, Freud's Shirt, 2001/2003, (detail) cibachrome, matted, image: 5 x 4 1/2 inches (12.7 x 11.4 cm), mat: 13 15/16 x 11 3/8 inches (35.4 x 28.9 cm); Courtesy the gallery.
Likewise, immediately adjacent to this piece, Barbara Bloom's Crittall Metal Windows series, 1972-2010, reduces found advertisements to the point where they just barely remain legible as such, while expunging the maximum possible amount of actual information and visual interest. Faced with the collapse of their over-familiar, quintessentially mass-cultural, and vaguely nostalgic appearance into a confusingly meaningless void, I wondered whether my inability to interpret these works wasn't somehow my own fault. Now, through the lens of time and subsequent research, I feel like this neurosis may have been the point. Turning a commonplace about the way advertising works on its head, their wit lies in the way they communicate nothing subliminally.
Having thus exposed my critical impotence, I feel little shame in sliding full-tilt into cultural narcissism, choosing to highlight, from the wealth of works on display, two that bear a particular relevance to Los Angeles art history. If the inclusion of two Frank Stella lithographs, resolutely formal yet obviously hand-drawn, calls to mind Robert Irwin's famous criticism of the ragged edges of Stella's canvases, Andrew Cameron's two pieces, Message Compression (EbnrFrXmpl) and Bad Scan, both 2011, represent a distinctly cynical development of the ever-so-SoCal trajectory of “finish fetish.”
Recalling the nightmarishly intensive process of Irwin's dot paintings, Cameron uses the humble medium of pencil on paper to reproduce, with uncanny accuracy, the detritus of the modern office. Encountered in any context that didn't explicitly confer the status of art onto the two pieces, they would undoubtedly be taken for exactly what they appear to be—evidence of some kind of copier malfunction, recycled. The technical demands involved in this nearly seamless camouflage are formidable, and they elegantly respond to the contemporary interest in junk materials, exemplified in the work of artists like Agathe Snow, insofar as their disposability is perversely, neurotically, the outcome of a process rather than its starting point. In so doing, Cameron also addresses the vexed status of artistic labor in the wake of Conceptualism, in which the physical work of creating art has become increasingly anonymous, outsourced to an ever-growing industry of faceless fabricators.
This plays into broader anxieties about the role of the artist and the value of art that the show's curators seem to both excavate and inscribe. Whatever the case, Drawing a Blank makes a witty argument for the importance of a neurotic relationship to art, where even the most ideologically expunged of works is seen to harbor, beneath its surface, a weltering unease about its place in the world.
Send in the clowns.
(Image on top: Andrew Cameron, Bad Scan, 2011, pencil on paper, artists tape, 11 x 8.5 inches; Courtesy of the artist)