Review: Comedy and tragedy collide and cross-pollinate in 'BARBARA, or Ardor' at Grice Bench

Jacob Stewart-Halevy, “Mock Turtles (Hospital Mural),” 2016. (courtesy of the artist and Grice Bench, Los Angeles)

Works of art — like people — aren’t very much fun to be around when they take themselves too seriously.

The same goes for group shows, which can be especially tedious when their organizers pretend that they’re more important than they are.

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It’s even worse when summer shows simply presume that they are FUN! — in all caps — and that you must be a humorless drudge if that’s not good enough for you.

Lara Schnitger, “Girl in Delfts Blauw,” 2014, fabric on canvas, 59 x 47-1/4 inches, (Courtesy of the artist and Grice Bench, Los Angeles)

None of that happens in “BARBARA, or Ardor,” a loopy yet whip-smart exhibition at Grice Bench in downtown Los Angeles. The 12-artist mishmash of paintings and drawings, videos and sculptures, collages and cutouts, photos and fabrics strikes just the right balance between idiocy and brilliance.

There’s no rational reason Lara Schnitger’s “Girl in Delfts Blauw” should even be in the same show as Miyuki Kawamura’s “Mind structure when you say I am an immigrant.” But the glued fabric composition and the subtitled video make so much visual sense together that you begin to think differently — more intuitively, poetically, perhaps magically.

Something similar — yet even stranger — transpires between Jacob Stewart-Halevy’s Matisse-inspired painting of children dancing around a cigarette-smoking turtle and Ilene Segalove’s video of a Lifesaver candy on the bottom of a pool, where the letters that spell out its name dissolve and drift off.

Kevin Reinhardt, “Pontius Awaiting Return of Yeshua Descending from the Moonbeam Path (Bulgakov),” 2018. (Courtesy of the artist and Grice Bench, Los Angeles)

Failure and freedom spiral around each other, making sparks fly in the mind’s eye and charging the atmosphere with a sense of risky possibility.

Single works are loaded with so many stories that they seem to be on the verge of exploding. That’s the case with Kevin Reinhardt’s two-color, two-dimensional sculpture, “Pontius Awaiting Return of Yeshua Descending from the Moonbeam Path (Bulgakov)” and Van Schley’s compact photo archive from 1976, “A visit to Arkansas and to the German Democratic Republic.” Comedy and tragedy collide and cross-pollinate.

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The eccentricity continues — and the serendipity intensifies — in equally engaging works by Christina Ramberg, Alice Tippit, Mateo Tannatt, Cosima von Bonin, Matthew Hale and Roger White. It’s a mix-and-match extravaganza with something to be said for every combination.

With logic on the backburner, and seriousness sidelined for poor performance, “BARBARA, or Ardor” is a breath of fresh air.

Grice Bench, 915 Mateo St., #210, L.A., (213) 488-1805, through Sept. 27. Closed Sundays and Mondays. gricebench.com

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