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Review: Cognitive overload with Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley

Made up to look like black and white drawings, the protagonists in Mary Reid Kelley’s videos speak in a constant, densely allusive patter. This approach worked swimmingly in her 2010 show at Susanne Vielmetter, which featured two videos that looked at the darker side of early modernism. The stark, stylized appearance of those works perfectly evoked stripped-down modern aesthetics.

Her latest efforts — in collaboration with her partner, Patrick Kelley — are less taut and more expansive. Their effect, while equally beguiling, is more diffuse.

“Priapus Agonistes,” is a retelling of the Minotaur story from Greek mythology. In the Kelleys’ hands, the monster is a woman and the tale becomes an allegory of the suppression of female agency.

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As cocky, one-eyed volleyball player Priapus (the work is rife with suggestive puns) sets off to conquer the Minotaur, our sympathies lie with the beast, a lonely, hapless half-breed trapped in a labyrinth of her mother’s making.

“The Syphilis of Sisyphus,” is a satiric, whirlwind tour through French history as told by a pregnant, heavily made-up 19th century woman who rejects nature and embraces progress only to find herself a victim of the march of “Syphilization” — modernity as disease.

At least that’s what I think they were about. These brief descriptions don’t do the videos justice, but at times the references and allusions come so fast and flowery, they threaten comprehension.

Cognitive overload can be dazzling — or bewildering. The Kelleys are brilliant, but their work has lost a bit of its power in a labyrinth of style.

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-2117, through July 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.vielmetter.com

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