Art review: John Divola at LAXART


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Between 1973 and 1975, John Divola made an exploratory group of black and white photographs that built on the deadpan anonymity of Ed Ruscha’s photo books while also scuffing up their pop-culture sheen. Divola’s ‘Vandalism Series,’ shot mostly in abandoned houses, oozes the poetic mixture of lament and curiosity amid collapse that speaks of their conflicted moment in American history.

Like Divola’s slightly later yet better-known ‘Zuma Series,’ examples of which are in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s current show, ‘Under the Big Black Sun,’ the artist took spray paint to ruined walls to explore a question dating back to camera work’s earliest years: What is the relationship between painting and photography? The 67 prints at LAXART, which become steadily more involving as you work your way through the show, keep complicating the question, here updated to absorb abstract painting.


Silver paint echoes photographic silver printing, the dominant mode until color photographs moved into the foreground in the 1960s. Divola uses it to draw on walls, subtly announcing the light reflections that animate all photographic processes, and sometimes juxtaposing it with light-absorbent black marks. In some of the most compelling works, he shoots into corners formed by walls and floor or ceiling, emphasizing three-dimensional volumes that get flattened out by paint marks riding the surface.

Some works are rather arch, such as a businessman’s lost wing-tip shoe painted silver, while others are savvy -- none more than a corner shot including a pair of sticks propped up to form a big ‘X,’ which transforms the photograph into an image of a canceled negative. Before the 1980s, photographs lived in an art-ghetto, a specialist’s field with a separate history. Divola’s photographic mash-up with painting would be instrumental in changing that, and these early works chart his eloquent path. RELATED:

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— Christopher Knight

LAXART, 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 559-0166, through Jan. 21. Closed Sun and Mon. (check holiday hours).