Review

Upended assumptions in "Augment This" at Cherry and Martin Gallery

“Augment This (Meditations on the Image)” brings together work by eight international artists. At Cherry and Martin, guest curator Christopher Eamon means to throw a monkey-wrench into casual assumptions about modern technology, and largely he succeeds.

Emblematic is “The Shell” (2011), a silent, nine-minute film projection by L.A.-based German artist Mandla Reuter. Flickering on the wall, a sumptuous image of an architectural decoration passes through a sequence of searing colors that recall a spectacular sunrise or sunset on a smog-drenched day. The sensuous Baroque seashell conjures the birthplace of Botticelli’s Venus.

In fact, the decorative, gilded shell is ersatz, a contemporary iteration of a 16th or 17th century European motif filmed gracing a wall of the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. Reuter collapses time and space.

“The Shell,” however, is more than image, deceptive or otherwise. It’s also a room-size installation.

A critical component is the elaborate stack of mechanical elements that compose the clattering film projector standing in the center of the gallery.

Reuter’s nine-minute film is shown as a continuous loop, so he has modified the projector to accommodate a strip comprising nearly 13,000 frames of celluloid. Fans, reels, motors, spindles, power adapters — the contraption looks like something out of a mad scientist’s lab or the shop in a weekend tinkerer’s garage.

Promises, promises: This mechanical movie projector is as much an empty shell as the image glowing on the wall. While we are quick to dismiss all things expressive of a Las Vegas aesthetic as fake and phony, the beauty that technology offers is similarly ephemeral, fleeting and false. It arises instead from the richness of experience — from making and exploring it. Technology is merely the protective carapace within which that pearl might grow.

The show also includes the mysterious emanation of a shadowy figure from within abraded pigment in Jennifer Boysen’s fine untitled abstract painting, Anna Ostoya’s fragments of inkjet prints that occlude abstract paintings, and Gary Hill’s marvelous video projection of a surfboard floating on, under and through the boundless sea, as if the camera were a probe in outer space.

Also notable are three photographs by Pat O’Neill, made between 1974 and 1995 and functioning in this exhibition as a historical platform. The most compelling is a color photocopy of a tattered diagram showing the relative color wavelengths in a spectrum.

The old diagram was produced for the graphic arts department at Rochester Institute of Technology, where many in the modern optical and imaging industries are trained. Framed on the wall like a cherished fragment from a lost world, it resonates against our new digital universe.

The show also includes works by Tobias Kaspar, Susanne Kriemann and Gintaras Didziapetris. Given the running times of the film and video projections, it requires more than 40 minutes to see; the time is well spent.

Cherry and Martin, 2712 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 559-0100, through Sept. 13. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.cherryandmartin.com

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