Art review: Sean Duffy at Susanne Vielmetter

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Sean Duffy ramps up his familiar garage-band aesthetic in a large new body of work that contains a few surprises. It’s the final exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects’ current space, before the gallery moves four blocks west in January.

The show includes two of Duffy’s patented ‘hybrid record-players,’ in which several turntables are cut apart and reassembled into one working machine. Put on a vinyl album by Dusty Springfield or, appropriately, the soundtrack to the 1961 Ingrid Bergman film, ‘Goodbye Again,’ which tells of the entanglements of May-December romance, and the turntable does the rest. Multiple needles play the songs at more than one place simultaneously, creating bleary melodies from a layered, time-lapse narrative.

Duffy mashes together serial repetition, familiar from the mass-production ethos of Pop art, with plain old recycling. Social and cultural distinctions between high art and low art disappear.

Row upon row of square pieces of funky plywood are silk-screened with off-register album covers, Warhol-style, creating visual slippage akin to the layered aural tracking found on the turntables. Both are variants of a dog chasing its own tail — or, given pop music’s capacity to encapsulate a moment in cultural time and social space, its tale.


Duffy has crossed one altered turntable with a mechanic’s shop- cart and a painter’s palette. This he used to paint a Chevy car engine suspended from a hoist — not a painting of an engine, but an actual engine cleaned of grime, painted over in oil paint and suspended like Rembrandt’s carcass of flayed beef. The gallery is also ringed with a narrow shelf that does double duty: Beer bottles on top, evoking the sociability of a gallery opening, and glass jars suspended below, filled with garage leftovers (nails, toothpicks, buttons, extension cords, etc.) and fragments of materials from Duffy’s earlier exhibitions.

One of the show’s nicest features is a group of magazines, which Duffy has taken to with a pair of scissors like Matisse making paper cut-outs. Old copies of Artforum, Frieze and Modern Painters are deftly reconfigured into music magazines, their covers transformed from pictures of art into collages of 45s and LPs. Duffy shows them casually strewn on a homemade coffee table, like something salvaged from a college dorm.

This lack of pretension, merged with the fervent ardor of a fan, gets pushed to a whimsical place in ‘The Void,’ a sculpture that is the show’s stand-out. Twenty shop- fans are tied into a sphere with colorful plastic twists, surrounding a big lightbulb at its center. This party bauble — an unlikely disco ball — hangs from an industrial-strength engine hoist, its fans furiously spinning. The over-built hybrid seems designed to cool the heat from the bright light shining within, giving function to a form that has sheer joy as at its driving force.

– Christopher Knight

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 5795 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (323) 933-2117, through Dec. 19. Closed Sun. and Mon.