…in from the cold, curated by Marco Rios, brings together the disparate practices of five artists under the conceptual impetus provided by John Le Carré’s 1963 novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, a popular tale of intrigue and espionage written at the start of the Cold War (and the tome from which the exhibition title was sourced). The curatorial premise of the show purports to unite artists whose own acts of coming in from the cold “allude to various methods of information gathering, infiltration, and the patience involved in both pursuits.” However, when positioned together in the Five Thirty Three gallery space, the challenging and dynamic works create dialogue with one another and instead allude to a “coming in from the cold” that serves as a metaphor for the reinstatement of agency and the promise of action.
The political nature of the exhibition becomes immediately apparent with Norm Laich’s Carnage, a massive enamel wall painting depicting four outstretched hands set around the ExxonMobil trademark logo. The cartoon hands evoke Dr. Seuss’s selfish storybook character, the Grinch, and the timeliness of this visual expression of corporate greed and big oil’s endless demands remains undeniably palpable. More interesting, though, is the ephemeral nature of the mural itself, making it a potent commentary on the transient power of political dissent in an age of short attention spans and the all-to-frequent branding of dissenters as heretical and un-American.
Erin Ming Lee’s graphite-on-paper drawings layer moustache- and tuxedo-clad men—reminiscent of the spies that inhabit Le Carré’s stories—atop one another on sheets of tracing paper. Simply affixed to the wall with tape along their upper edges, the sparsely populated pages flutter on the breeze, contributing to the elusive quality of the anonymous men that populate the pages. These mysterious subjects, outfitted in suits and fedoras, cloak their identities like the unseemly characters they suggest. While sharing the space with Laich’s wall painting, these men become mid-20th century predecessors of our revered (er, reviled) corporate giants of today.
Dotting the exhibition are John Souza’s miniature mixed media sculptures, attached to the wall on diminutive, waist-high shelves. Wood and clay combine to create tiny landscapes requiring hunched contemplation and measured investigation. Tiny baskets housing bodily organs, a severed foot chained in place, and frozen water smothering two-thirds of California suggest nightmarish scenarios and horrible distress, yet the small stature of the works silences the terror and halts the narrative, rendering it inert and mute. Within these works resides power in restraint and an effective allegiance to brevity.
The silenced voice is also referenced in Carlos Mollura’s Untitled (Ghost of Home Depot). A wooden pallet sits directly on the concrete gallery floor, atop which rest the clear, plastic ghosts of cement bags, some spilling from the pile and coming to rest on the floor. Another corporate giant—the big-box store—here becomes an absent actor peddling empty wares.
Matt Lucero’s absent actor takes the form of his grandfather’s work on the Union Pacific Railroad through a cast section of the Pacific Electric Railway, the now defunct Los Angeles public railcar system whose tracks once crisscrossed downtown streets. Lucero’s plastic foam cast of these tracks may nod to Bruce Nauman and Rachel Whiteread, but it gestures much more emphatically to the physical contribution of the artist’s ancestor. The cast fills the negative space in which Lucero’s grandfather toiled, venerating the hand of the laboring craftsman in place of the oft-lauded hand of the artist.
Disembodied limbs, silent menacing faces, frozen water, and absent agents–all stand on the cusp of action, storing potency and awaiting the opportunity to come “in from the cold.” Hinting at potential without exerting it, these works deftly recall the sleeping giants of agency and efficacy, waiting to be unleashed. For now they remain tantalizingly dormant, concealed, or simply intimated, a gesture in the making. Who will make the first move?