Art review: Sara Jane Boyers at Craig Krull Gallery


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Sara Jane Boyers has spent the last 10 years photographing Chinatowns across North America. The resulting images, a selection of which are currently on view at Craig Krull Gallery, are simultaneously documentary studies and appealing aesthetic concoctions. Depicting interiors, store windows and iconic ‘Chinese’ objects in striking colors and compositions, they subtly reframe more familiar, kitschy images of Chinatown.

Boyers, who is not of Chinese descent, largely shies away from portraiture or traditional street scenes, smartly side-stepping their art historical and cultural baggage. She is, however, clearly interested in ‘Oriental’ imagery and objects that can’t help but evoke stereotypes. Traditional silk garments, Chinese calligraphy, and goldfish tanks all appear in her images, usually offset by something more gritty or contemporary.


In one image, delicate Chinese paintings of flowers lean against a wall dripping with dark stains. In another, a wooden sign that reads ‘MILK’ in the cheesy script from Chinese takeout cartons hangs next to a convex mirror reflecting the bright lights and colorful, packed shelves of a modern grocery store. A third looks at a shop window from the inside, providing an awkward, sidelong view of its cloudy goldfish tank, beckoning lucky cat figurine and standard-issue ‘open’ signs.

In images like these, Boyers offers a slightly skewed perspective on the things we typically associate with ‘Chinatown.’ Of course the experience of any ethnic neighborhood as an exotic place is never seamless, but by focusing on those moments and spaces in which stereotypes start to fray, Boyers quietly raises questions about our investment in such escapist fantasies. One image seems to sum this idea up nicely: a building facade, propped up after the structure has been demolished, is pure surface— preserved, but divorced from its original intent.

-- Sharon Mizota

Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through Sept. 3. Closed Sun. and Mon.