C.K. Wilde's "Emptiness Portrait of Thich Quang Duc" renders the iconic scene of the 1963 self-immolation of a Vietnamese Buddhist monk in a busy Saigon intersection as a collage of cut paper currency.
Flames of orange, gold and pink swirl luxuriantly from the body of the monk, sitting placidly beside a car whose wheel rims spell out "DOLLARS." The image is as mesmerizing as it is disturbing, a meticulously crafted statement about the underlying economic engine that drives action all across the continuum, from spiritual to geopolitical.
"Cutting up money is a disruption of the narrative of power," the L.A.-based Wilde has written. His currency collages at L.A.'s Rosamund Felsen -- part of a show with plenty of peaks but also a few troughs -- take on myths, legends, icons of art history.
Wilde uses money from around the world for the gorgeous surface appeal of its broad palette of colors and designs as well as for the associations with value and might that it does not shake, no matter how small the slivers he cuts. The works, some older but most from the past few years, are dazzling, however nuanced or obvious their subversive intent.
Wilde also paints, makes music, books and sculpture, but collage is the main event here. A pair of portraits fashioned from maps, magazine pictures and ads depict Patrice Lumumba and Leopold II in a style reminiscent of John Heartfield, minus his razor wit. A group of smaller pieces read as playful, personal homages, and are dense with wordplay and fruitful friction.
Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 1923 S. Santa Fe. Ave., No. 100, Los Angeles, (310) 828-8488, through June 20. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.rosamundfelsen.com