Critic's Choice

A head-spinning journey to the edges of Farrah Karapetian's photographic world

Farrah Karapetian makes photographs the old-fashioned way: placing objects on sheets of treated paper, shining lights on her simple studio setups and then fixing the images with chemicals.

The L.A. artist also improvises freely, splashing water onto the paper, letting bits of ice melt atop it and even transferring some digitally generated images to the otherwise blank sheets with which she begins.

The 12 new photograms in her exhibition “Relief” at Von Lintel Gallery are the messiest she has made. They’re also the most sensual, entrancing and fascinating. Giving visitors plenty to look at and even more to wonder about, they make a virtue of uncertainty.

At a time when so many photographs leave so little to the imagination, it’s satisfying to come across pictures that give you so much to chew on, mull over and ponder. Mysteriousness is Karapetian’s specialty.

Her Chromogenic photograms, some framed, others push-pinned to the wall, work on many levels. For hedonists, there are rich, supersaturated colors, glistening details that look super-realistic, metallic textures that are resplendent, puddly splashes that are happy accidents and abstract shapes that rival nature for its nuance.

If you love process, Karapetian’s photograms serve up an encyclopedic survey of the various ways images — photographic and painterly — are made. Every step is visible in her works, which hide nothing because they are based on the conviction that transparency, not secrecy, serves art best. In the old days, that was called letting it all hang out.

Formalists and historians, scientists and mystics, people who like pictures and those drawn to abstraction, will find what they like in Karapetian’s shape-shifting works. That fluidity makes for one-of-a-kind prints that can never be seen the same way twice.

Von Lintel Gallery, 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 559-5700, through Feb. 27. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.vonlintel.com

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