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Review: Mary Heilmann lets loose sexy, shameless color at Hauser & Wirth

Review: Mary Heilmann lets loose sexy, shameless color at Hauser & Wirth
"Mary Heilmann: Memory Remix" delivers an electrifying jolt at Hauser & Wirth in Los Angeles. (Mario de Lopez / Mary Heilmann, Hauser & Wirth and 303 Gallery)

To see a single painting by Mary Heilmann is a treat. To see a roomful feels as if you’ve gone to heaven.

That happens twice over in “Mary Heilmann: Memory Remix.” The extravaganza at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in downtown Los Angeles zeros in on the painter’s brilliance: her capacity to make an artwork that consumes every ounce of your attention while simultaneously impressing as part of a larger whole, surrounded by other works she has made.

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The double-barreled dynamic begins the moment you walk through the door and notice that the long, rectangular space has been divided diagonally.

On the left, a big pink canvas hangs next to a medium-size pink diptych, followed by a small pink triptych and a pink-and-black masterpiece. In front of all four stands a pair of pink chairs and a small pink table, on which rests a pink cup and saucer.

On the gallery’s right side, four blue-and-white abstractions show what Heilmann can do with those two colors: transform simple compositions into spunky symphonies of visual energy.

"Mary Heilmann: Memory Remix” installation view.
"Mary Heilmann: Memory Remix” installation view. (Mario de Lopez / Mary Heilmann, Hauser & Wirth and 303 Gallery)

That electrifying jolt takes on architectural heft when it ping-pongs between each half of the installation. Sexy and shameless, the pleasures of Heilmann’s installation are neither salacious nor innocent, just delicious and ripe for enjoyment.

The precision — and wisdom — on which Heilmann’s art has been built comes into focus when you venture into the middle of the gallery and turn around. There, a pair of chairs (one pink, one blue) stands before four works that flank the entrance.

Their palette is black — as in tuxedos and evening dresses. Their subject is music, made by hand on a piano. And their atmosphere is emotional, by turns exuberant and melancholic, joyous and bittersweet.

A second gallery, shaped like an L, reveals that the first gallery is an overture, a prelude to what Heilmann can do when her art is given the space — and the time — to pick up momentum and strut its stuff. It might be the most beautiful interior in all of Los Angeles.

Mary Heilmann's “Spider’s Stratagem,” 1995. Oil on canvas, 54 inches by 36 inches.
Mary Heilmann's “Spider’s Stratagem,” 1995. Oil on canvas, 54 inches by 36 inches. (Mary Heilmann, Hauser & Wirth and 303 Gallery)
“Little Red Boxes” by Mary Heilmann, 1989. Oil on canvas, 78 inches by 58.25 inches by 1.75 inches
“Little Red Boxes” by Mary Heilmann, 1989. Oil on canvas, 78 inches by 58.25 inches by 1.75 inches (Mary Heilmann and Hauser & Wirth and 303 Gallery)

Four or five clusters of paintings, ceramics and chairs transform the space’s nooks and crannies into a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle whose parts pulse, throb and re-arrange themselves in a shape-shifting dance that can’t be experienced the same way twice.

A rainbow of blazing colors — simultaneously garish and gorgeous — animates the first cluster, which includes six paintings and fours chairs.

In the second cluster, five red, white and black paintings are as blocky and bold as anything made by a Minimalist but so much more romantic that they make Minimalism look stingy: uptight and stuffy and afraid to let loose.

Those five paintings give way to three red, white and green canvases, which make you wonder whether you’re looking at a new group or an expanded version of the same one.

"Hellfire Series #2" by Mary Heilmann, 1984. Glazed ceramic, 5.5 inches by 10.75 inches by 10.75 inches, on view at Hauser & Wirth
"Hellfire Series #2" by Mary Heilmann, 1984. Glazed ceramic, 5.5 inches by 10.75 inches by 10.75 inches, on view at Hauser & Wirth (Hauser & Wirth and 303 Gallery)

The next cluster takes you from three dimensions to two — and back again. Three tabletop sculptures have the presence of angular vases. A fourth, affixed to the wall, resembles a giant insect that splattered on a windshield. A trio of paintings, on canvas and ceramic, is so physical that you feel it in your gut well before your brain can make sense of it.

Finally, three canvases line the wall to the exit. True to the open-endedness of Heilmann’s art, they do not sum up the exhibition so much as throw you back into its promiscuous mixture of color and shape, form and content, fact and possibility. Heilmann’s first solo show in Southern California since her retrospective at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2007 is not to be missed. Nor visited only once.

Hauser & Wirth, 901 E. 3rd St., L.A. Through Sept. 23; closed Mondays. (213) 943-1620, www.hauserwirth.com

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"Mary Heilmann: Memory Remix," 1995, on view at Hauser & Wirth.
"Mary Heilmann: Memory Remix," 1995, on view at Hauser & Wirth. (Mario de Lopez / Mary Heilmann, Hauser & Wirth and 303 Gallery)
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