Los Angeles seems like the ideal place to stage an art exhibit that tackles issues of identity. People everywhere struggle with their identities, but in Los Angeles, that struggle is our very culture. Here that struggle breeds, festers and spreads its influential bile to all points on the globe. From studio execs who define themselves by the kind of car they drive, to the innumerable women who starve and carve themselves to fit some shallow, unattainable standard of beauty, Los Angeles sort of leads the world when it comes to identity crisis.
“We Are Who We Pretend To Be,” at WWA Gallery, affords Los Angeles denizens the opportunity to, if not confront, at least contemplate their id. The show features work by ten artists, each delving into our collective mirror and extracting wholly unique visions from it.
The work of Vincent Cacciotti arrests you with his dark, alluring depictions of women hiding behind elaborate masks, or perhaps protecting you from knowing the totality of their power. There’s a distraught young nude seemingly pulling glowing electrical tubes from her long locks, and another whose cheek flesh has been opened like a door to expose intricate clockwork, while hour and minute hands hang on a chain from her neck. Time may ravage the body, but does it also steal your soul? While on a purely aesthetic level I prefer these gloomy erotic pieces, Cacciotti has another piece in the show that may be a much more profound statement. In Freedom of the Press, a robot (a dead ringer for the one from Lost In Space), sits at a stately desk, making what must be an historic phone call, as a gaggle of press crowd around to cover the story. It’s a humorous scene, and it could portend some inevitable tech-doom, but that’s not what got me. It’s this little touch, that lurks in the background with a trenchant wit, that seized my attention. On the wall, behind the reporters hangs a mirror. This isn’t just any mirror though. This mirror resembles the one that hangs in The Arnolfini Portrait, that astounding 1434 masterpiece by Jan van Eyck. For centuries art scholars have argued about that painting. Is it a marriage ceremony or not? Is the woman pregnant or not? If not, does the green dress symbolize her desire to be so? Does the dog in the foreground symbolize this desire as well, or is it just a dog? Does the brush on the bedpost mean she is a servant? Is the white candle the eye of God? It’s a painting so jam packed with symbolic grist, yet nobody seems to agree on it’s meaning. Perhaps no other work of art, in the annals of history, has a more muddled identity. Cacciotti’s use of the mirror is a sly wink indeed.
David Chung provides a little comic relief with Herro Cat Teaches Sex Ed, before you meet the aching despair of Nicole Bruckman‘s paintings. In one of Bruckman’s paintings, a girl stands holding a glass box with what appears to be a dead fish within it. In others, a woman weeps green, envious tears, or walks a desolate, Munch-ian pier. A sadness emanates from all of Bruckman’s pieces here, and the striking resemblance between her central figures makes me wonder if it’s not Bruckman herself. Allison Reimold renders anthropomorphic women in graceful graphite lines, while Bethany Marchman envisions bunnies and bears in corsets. Evan Cummiskey paints mad, surreal scenes with a slightly sculpted appearance that calls to mind the work of Robert Williams. Lou Pimentel‘s gorgeous watercolors of expensive kicks addresses how often we seek to identify with the greatness of others (see Michael Jordan). Anyone who has ever had a stuffed animal, that was most certainly alive in the mind’s eye, will identify with the oil on panel work of Joachim Knill. There is something so completely oddball about the paintings of Jophen Stein that words can’t quite encompass. His stout characters in helmets and devil pajamas strike me as Dickensian by way of Monty Python, yet Stein resides in Pomona, so maybe he’s just pulling the Anglophile out of me. His stand-out piece here, The Problem With Shrouds Is They Never get Clean, veers so dramatically from his other work in the show as to cloud analysis even further.
There’s this thing that WWA Gallery does really well. They bookend their shows with deliberate calculation. It helps that the layout of the gallery is maze-like, so you are almost forced to view their shows in a certain order. A subtle excitement tends to build as you anticipate the discovery of treasures around each corner. Cacciotti begins your journey here, inviting you to wind your way through the web-like complexities of personal identity, until you land upon what may be the shows most adroit statement, Pagliacci by Justin Bloomer. Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” is an opera within an opera, wherein actors play actors playing…well, you get the picture. It is a tale of murder, betrayal, and veiled identity. Bloomer takes no surreal liberties with this. He simply paints the scorned, vengeful clown in full make-up against a stark black background, staring right at you. The play is over.
“We Are Who We Pretend To Be” runs through December 1, 2012WWA Gallery
9517 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Tuesday to Saturday, 11-5 pm or by appointment