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Review

Eduardo Sarabia's dream world in L.A., by way of Guadalajara

Eduardo Sarabia’s installation “Drifting on a Dream” is a collection of old and new work that explores dreams and fantasies, particularly as they play out in global commerce. The ambitious exhibition is the Mistake Room’s contribution to Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, the Getty-led initiative looking at the relationship between art in L.A. and Latin America.

Although billed as a single installation — none of the individual works is titled — the show is more of a retrospective, combining Sarabia’s work in painting, drawing, sculpture, video and performance in an environment painted all over with swirling green vines. It’s a cheeky paean to desire and its discontents, from a Mexican perspective.

Sarabia, who was born in L.A. but lives in Guadalajara, is perhaps best known for his ceramics — vases and urns decorated in the style of traditional blue and white Mexican pottery with motifs taken from drug culture: marijuana leaves and cigarettes, guns and scantily clad women. These are displayed on shelves amid other ceramic pieces, including kitschy mermaid tails, elephant-leg stools, bottles of mescal and praying figures. Some of these items also appear nearby in a tableau on a low plinth where a mermaid and a horse frolic in a pond studded with stacks of money and guns. It’s the mass product-ization of a gangster fantasy of success, as out of reach as that mermaid.

In another effort, Sarabia sold shares in a “research project” to find a buried treasure, purportedly Pancho Villa’s lost gold. Photographs of the expedition are accompanied by a long legal contract and a shareholder’s certificate that the artist actually used to raise money. The piece highlights investment speculation as another form of dreaming. (Of course, the treasure has yet to be found.)

In the center of the gallery is a video projection featuring an encounter with Jesus Malverde, a Robin Hood-like folk hero known as the “narco-saint” who died more than a century ago. A man in a T-shirt and baseball cap begins a conversation with a ceramic bust of Malverde, who asks the man what he really wants. The man thinks it over and says, “I know.” The bust replies, “Wish granted.” We never know what the wish is, but like the treasure, that’s beside the point. Sarabia foregrounds the means by which we strive to fulfill our desires — whether through products, money or faith — only to note their ultimate futility. Underneath is the sinking feeling that the cards are stacked against us.

The Mistake Room, 1811 E. 20th St., L.A. Through Dec. 16; closed Sundays through Tuesdays. (213) 749-1200, www.tmr.la.

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