Art review: ‘Some Assembly Required’ at Jack Rutberg

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Among the objects that have made their way into the assemblages and collages in the large group show, ‘Some Assembly Required’ at Jack Rutberg, are scraps of burlap, newspaper classified ads, old bottles, a shopping cart, paint tubes, bells, auto parts and human skulls. Subversion is the throughline of assemblage, especially; each material’s original function or context is derailed, reassigned, undermined, tweaked or otherwise disrupted. The Rutberg show attests, albeit unevenly, to the potential for great poetic density and temporal complexity in such rifts and shifts.

The show skitters from coast to coast and on to the Continent, skipping across decades, with work spanning nearly a century. Significant names abound-- Joseph Cornell, Louise Nevelson, George Herms, Mark Tobey, Romare Bearden, Robert Rauschenberg -- even if significant, piquant moments are fewer. Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz’s ‘The Billionaire Deluxe’ (1977) stirringly transforms a sticky oil can into a television monitor with a digital counter whose numbers move ever upward -- the amassing of wealth as entertainment, perhaps, or a time bomb in reverse. Betye Saar’s ‘Shaman’ (1991) sets a small wooden carving of a man in the equal-opportunity company of an array of guardians and small objects with spiritual or talismanic properties -- a tiny Buddha, a desiccated bird skull, an electronic circuit board.

In his seriocomic icon, ‘Queen of Hearts’ (1983), Lynn Foulkes builds a cross of wood perforated with what might be bullet holes, mounts a carte de visite portrait where Christ usually appears, and paints out the subject’s head, replacing it with the revered secular symbol of Mickey Mouse. Humor crops up here and there (Ed Ruscha, Alexis Smith), but less often than a sense of loss, an emotional dislocation to match that of the materials. Among the finest examples is Hannelore Baron’s tough little box assemblage (1984) made from wood, paper and cloth, which reads as a reliquary of verbs in the past tense: burnt, torn, scribbled, salvaged. -- Leah Ollman

Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 357 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 938-5222, through April 30. Closed Sunday and Monday.