No man — or woman — is an island in a new installation by London-based Israeli artist Zadok Ben-David. Sand is the unstable ground on which thousands of individually cut-out figures stand, each visually intertwined with the others in an otherwise barren desert.
Using a chemical-etching technique, Ben-David cut more than 3,000 miniature figures from thin metal sheets. They fill a gallery, standing upright on a field of sand more than 37 feet wide and 43 feet deep.
The images are based on casual photographs the sculptor took on global travels — “People I Have Seen But Never Met,” as the title of the exhibition (his third) at Shoshana Wayne Gallery explains. Nobody does anything the slightest bit unusual in this proliferation of individual portraits.
People stroll, take selfies, crouch to tie a shoelace, check their cellphones, hurry on, search inside a purse or set a backpack on the ground for a rest. A woman in a kimono uses an open fan to shield her head from the sun.
A boy rides a bicycle, a man looks at an open book. Almost all of the people are alone, though a few couples do appear.
Each figure is less than a foot tall. Dispersed among them are more than 50 relative giants, not quite waist-tall; their height is the only distinguishing feature that separates them from the throng. (The big ones are cut from steel rather than aluminum like the small ones, apparently for sturdiness.) Given the photographic precision of the cutouts, the shift in size is like a sudden close-up taken from a telephoto lens.
Ben-David painted all the cutouts matte black, which gives the figures the graphic punch of two-dimensional ink drawings in three-dimensional space. The acute precision with which the metal is cut and the fine-grained sand is brushed resonates against the easy casualness of the figurative activity. Ben-David is looking hard at informality.
Maquettes with a small number of cutouts in plexiglass boxes in a side gallery allow for close viewing, although absent the installation’s sheer numbers they feel like boxed-set souvenirs. I also kept wondering what the the main installation might be like if a riot of color were introduced — something Ben-David has done in other works — a joyous cacophony of excited variety instead of the rather dour sobriety of this monochrome field.
Since the cutouts afford visual transparency, what we see are figures glimpsed within figures. Women are within men and vice versa, sexes are interspersed, races commingle, ordinariness is exalted through it all. Everything feels transient, ephemeral. The sentiment might not be uncommon, but its artistic manifestation is.
Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Through May 27; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 453-1595, www.shoshanawayne.com