Art review: ‘The Splendour of Fear’ at Michael Benevento Gallery

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“The Splendour of Fear,” at Michael Benevento Gallery, is a rarity among summer group shows: thoughtful, substantive and elegant, with a strong selection of individual works, any one of which more than justifies a visit.

The show revolves around a loose but surprisingly distinct theme, assembling six artists whose work, according to press materials, reflects a spectrum of somewhat gothic sensations: “intimacy to a point of discomfort, beauty within decay … melancholy … sadness and obsession.”

It balances photographs and video from the 1960s — by Sigmar Polke and Stan Brakhage — with like-minded recent work by artists whose names are less familiar. All rise to the association.

Cerith Wyn Evans sets the tone in the front foyer with a wall-mounted, red neon rose blossom — a luridly sensual vision that falls curiously short of tacky. Sergej Jensen is represented by a muted abstraction on stretched cotton, marred by with a single, wound-like puncture; JD Williams by a dozen peculiar mixed-media drawings featuring what looks like a dance between two cutout brains.


Polke’s photographs of familiar objects cast in odd arrangements are a treat, as always — particularly a small color print involving a rainbow-hued afghan blanket interwoven with flowers.

Equally memorable are three small black-and-white Polaroids by Saul Fletcher depicting poignant details in an apparently abandoned interior space.

The highlight, even among such distinguished company, is the pair of works by Brakhage: “Mothlight,” from 1963, a rapidly moving, three-minute collage sequence made by fixing the wings of dead moths directly to film; and “I … Dreaming,” from 1988, a beautiful, six-minute meditation on life, death, family, home, and the body, told through impressionistic footage of the aging artist, his young granddaughters, and the shifting interplay of light and shadow around the interior of a house. “Intimacy to a point of discomfort.”

--Holly Myers

Michael Benevento Gallery, 7578 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 874-6400, through Aug. 22. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Caption: Cerith Wyn Evans, Untitled (Takashimaya rose) 2008. Credit: Michael Benevento Gallery