For those familiar with the practices of Walead Beshty, Karl Haendel, and Patrick Hill, grouping them together in an exhibition may seem a little unexpected at first. Play with Your Own Marbles, currently on view at Noma Gallery in San Francisco, presents the work of these three Los Angeles-based artists in, if nothing else, a formally handsome show. Though cleverly clustered in a fashion reminiscent of photographer Wolfgang Tillmans' installations (a method Haendel also plays with in his own installations of drawings), the numerous works don't feel crowded in the modest space of the gallery.
The largely monochromatic show (the most prominent exception is Beshty's series of cerulean photographs) is organized at once soberly and playfully. Beshty's empty plexiglass cubes, beat up and cracked in transport, are displayed on the FedEx cardboard boxes in which they were shipped. Meanwhile a large pencil drawing by Haendel rests on a board balanced atop four stacks of art magazines, deliberately or not illustrating the idea that the press actively holds up contemporary art.
In terms of medium, one might say that Beshty, Haendel, and Hill work in photography, drawing, and painting, respectively. However, none of the artists' work sits comfortably within the traditional parameters of these genres. Haendel's graphite on paper drawings depict various objects: cutting blades, pins, and torn pieces of paper are rendered in painfully photorealist detail. Moving yet further into a conversation about the truth of the photographic recording, Haendel's 2009 series Karl-O-Gram is made up of pencil drawings of photograms. Nails, blades, and pins are depicted in varying degrees of (what appear to be photographic) focus and blur. This effect is heightened by the unrealistic scale in the drawings; paper clips larger than envelopes imply photographic enlargement rather than meticulous draftsmanship.
As much as Haendel's drawings engage with the conversation of photography, so too do Hill's canvas works with sculpture. Applying concrete in brush-like strokes to traditional panel-mounted, stained and dyed canvases, the ubiquitous material is called upon to take part in the history of art, not as minimalist indexes of industry but in the ancient practice of painting. These gestural gray brushstrokes are contrastingly scored with nearly perfect straight lines running through them. The concrete begins to crack and crumble in these works soon after they are made, like urban sidewalks pushed up by tree roots or disheveled by California earthquakes—or simply like a decades-old oil painting.
(Images: Karl Haendel, Karl-O-Gram #9, 2009, Pencil on paper, 30 x 22 inches; Walead Beshty, Isabella, 2009, Cyanotype, 7.75 x 5.75 inches; Patrick Hill; Issues, 2008; concrete, dye, ink, acrylic paint, canvas,; aluminum honeycomb and wood panel,staples; 56 x 44 inches)
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