Art review: Robin Kandel at Sherry Frumkin Gallery


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In her exhibition, “measure,” at Sherry Frumkin Gallery, Robin Kandel embarks on a personal investigation of physiognomy, the largely discredited study of facial features as indicators of personality. Her multimedia works center around two photographs: a portrait of Kandel’s great-grandmother, for whom she was named, and a snapshot given to her by a friend. The friend assumed the woman in the image was Kandel, but the artist eventually realized it was a stranger who happened to look just like her. Combining these two photos with images of herself, Kandel explores the vagaries of physical resemblance.

The installation “compare and assess” includes a wall of black-and-white digital prints that layer Kandel’s face on top of the other women’s visages with varying degrees of transparency. This effect, which sometimes creates doubled eyeballs or bulbous necks and shoulders, is eerie but also reflects a restless search for commonality: a magic moment when features align and family is affirmed. That this happens more easily with a stranger’s face undermines physical resemblance as a basis for affiliation. Looks, in other words, don’t tell us very much. While this idea and Kandel’s approach aren’t terribly novel, her questioning feels sincere.


Where the show falters is in its invocation of the history of physiognomy. The aforementioned installation also includes a vitrine of cruel-looking metal tools. We see them elsewhere in a video — a series of still shots of the instruments applied to various parts of a face. The hard-edged metal against soft, pliable flesh implies violence, but the video’s tone is matter-of-fact. Kandel’s attempts to debunk physiognomy seem strangely antiseptic in light of more sinister histories in which the pseudoscience ascribed criminality and intellectual inferiority to whole races and classes of people.

– Sharon Mizota

Sherry Frumkin Gallery, Studio 21, 3026 Airport Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 397-7493, through July 31. Closed Sundays-Tuesdays.

Images: Top, a detail from Robin Kandel’s composites and a detail of the vitrine. Credit: Sherry Frumkin Gallery.