Combating public corruption comes about midway down the list of official priorities for the FBI. Seven recent small oil paintings on panel by Jesse Benson take the agency at its word, albeit in an unexpected way.
In his solo debut at Michael Benevento Gallery, Benson zeroes in on nondescript tabletops and bland corners of storage rooms for confiscated works of art. Paintings, prints and sculptures are casually stacked or arrayed, often interspersed with FBI promotional materials and portrait photographs of agency officials. Benson's realist paint-handling is heightened by the small scale, which demands close perusal.
It's anybody's guess whether the stored art is authentic or fake (one cheaply framed print carries the florid signature of Salvador Dali, among the most forged artists around). Ditto the officials' photographs.
Sorting between integrity and dishonesty is a standard FBI job, as it likewise becomes for a viewer of Benson's art, as much as for Dali's. When one painting shows a high security paper-shredder looming over a stack of framed pictures, Benson's acute "realism" is what he self-consciously shreds.
Taking on the modern conviction that art should critically interrogate its conditions, these sly pictures reflect the dictum back on itself. The artist is cast as Sgt. Joe Friday, assembling just the facts. That Benson makes his FBI paintings roughly the size of a sheet of legal paper adds another layer of well-honed wit.
Michael Benevento Gallery, 7578 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 874-6400, through May 23. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.beneventolosangeles.com