Art review: Heather Cantrell at Kinkead Contemporary


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There’s a lot going on in Heather Cantrell’s photographs at Kinkead Contemporary. Whereas traditional portraits turn down the background noise to let their subjects shine, Cantrell amps up the static with mirrors, potted plants, patterned fabrics, animal masks and other props.

The latest images in “A Study in Portraiture,” her ongoing series depicting artists, curators, and other art world denizens, are richly textured, highly theatrical and regrettably slight.


Immediately striking is the lack of connection between the sitters and their environments. Many of the subjects look stiff and out of place, as if they’ve been asked to join a game they’re not quite enjoying.

Rather than capture her subjects in their “natural” environments, Cantrell has photographed them within her own fantasy ecosystem. Indeed, the artist — her face often obscured by an animal mask — literally projects herself into the background of several images; her reflection and her camera are visible in the mirror behind her subjects.

This self-consciousness is honest, and having one’s picture taken by Cantrell seems an invitation to play dress-up or make-believe. By highlighting this artifice, her work suggests that all forms of self-presentation are a kind of performance. Still, it’s not clear why she has limited herself to people associated with art, except perhaps that for an artist, they happen to be the people at hand. And why photograph them in a mirrored, jungle playground when any number of artificial settings would do? The suggestion that everyone is “playing native” carries uncomfortable overtones of exoticism that ultimately make the project feel self-indulgent.

-- Sharon Mizota

Kinkead Contemporary, 6029 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 838-7400, through Feb. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays.