Jean Lowe is not an illusionist in the conventional sense of the term. Her painted images and papier-mache sculptures don't typically fool the eye by closely resembling the things they represent. Her game has more to do with the machinations of the mind, the conflations and confusions between what we know, want and believe.
Maybe a better term for her would be delusionist, for she stabs satirically at broad-scale practices of deception, as well as personal patterns of self-deception. Her work is hilarious and cutting.
That sound you hear in the galleries at Rosamund Felsen isn't a piped-in laugh track but the snickers and chuckles of visitors to Lowe's new show, "Lost Time."
The devious humor begins to unfurl just inside the door with a faux 19th century broadside (painted on paper) appealing for the return of several days worth of misplaced hours and minutes, "Lost, on Monday last, either in the city of Los Angeles, or thereabouts...." A reward is offered. Lowe's parody of time as a commodity with cash value that might be left at a stagecoach stop is whimsical, wistful. Time is actually far more valuable than money.
Elsewhere throughout the show, in a series of printed pages from fabricated auction catalogs, she spoofs the way we assign monetary value to all sorts of far less precious things. She uses the standardized jargon of the appraiser ("some foxing," "extremities a trifle worn") to detail each absurd entry -- from a complete set of her own driver's licenses to seemingly random business letters and quirky "found" poems written on hotel stationery.
The auction items are a jumble of authentic, if inconsequential relics (the cover page of a telephone book, for instance) and contrivances, all presented with equal sobriety. Disjunction jostles with fetishization. What looks like one of Lowe's sculptures or paintings of a psychiatrist's notepad (with a ridiculously funny snippet of text) is photographed and presented on an auction catalog page with text describing the item for sale as the actual notepad, which of course, doesn't exist.
The false layers upon the false until a thickness accumulates that is convincing of a certain comical, circular truth. What has actual value here? What doesn't? And who says?
Another large section of the show is devoted to the brilliant collection of papier-mache books that Lowe has been making for the last 20 years. Large prints of e-bookstore shelves carry genre headings such as Motivation and Self-Help, Business and Career, and Men's Interest.
As in the rest of the show, Lowe's physical touch is missed (the books themselves have such clumsy charm), but there is ample texture to her wit. Deep human concerns collide with shallow societal values in title after title in this imaginary marketplace: "Foreclosure Etiquette;" "What Would Satan Eat?" "Just Ask God: Washboard Abs for Life;" "Hot Buttered Cop Porn;" "Craft Your Way to Mental Health;" "Who's Who in American Prisons;" "Artistic Mammography."
The reading list goes on and on, as does the knowing laughter.
Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-8488, through Feb. 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.rosamundfelsen.com