Neil LaBute tries his hand at an art show


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Neil LaBute -- visual artist? Well, sort of. The playwright-filmmaker known for his oft-disturbing and provocative works has applied his subversive wit to a new collaboration with photographer Gerald Slota that is currently on view at the Robert Berman Gallery in Bergamot Station.

‘home.sweet.home’ features photographic collages created by Slota with accompanying text -- sinister and disturbing -- written by LaBute. The show opened in 2010 at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York.


‘The topics were totally at random and were developed over the course of a year or so,’ LaBute said via email. ‘I would either send Gerald little stories or (less often) he would send me an image. The themes of ‘family’ and ‘relationships’ developed more strongly once we had the idea of calling the exhibit ‘home.sweet.home’’

Slota and LaBute never met in person until the exhibition opened in New York in 2010. Thinking they shared a similar sensibility, Slota’s gallerist and LaBute’s agent connected the pair (‘like a dating agency for artists with nasty thoughts,’ the playwright said).

‘We both liked the idea of collaborating, but we weren’t sure what to do,’ LaBute said. Their email correspondence developed into a series of postcards called ‘because the darkness feeds my soul,’ which appeared in Aperture magazine and later became the basis for a gallery show.

Slota is an artist who specializes in abstract, sometimes disturbing photographic images achieved through collage and other effects. Based in New Jersey, he has also contributed photographic work for the New York Times, Harper’s and the New Yorker. LaBute said that before their collaboration, he was not familiar with Slota’s work, ‘but I loved what my agent sent to me. How can you not be charmed by a guy who scratches out the eyes of kids for a living (at least on paper)?’

In a separate interview, Slota said that he sensed a ‘creative kinship’ with LaBute, and that when they finally met, it felt like they had known each other much longer.

The topics addressed in the show shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with LaBute’s plays -- themes involving sex and emotional violence play dominant roles. In one collage, pictured above, the text reads, ‘my teacher asked me to kill her husband and i’m going to. i really am. she told me she loves me.’ In another, a man reminisces about a time he was caught by his grandmother while engaging in less than appropriate behavior -- and her response.


LaBute says this is his ‘first and possibly only’ gallery project. ‘I don’t know that I would ever have the ideas or the inclination to do a show on my own but who knows? I do like the idea of connecting with an audience in the direct and visceral way that fine art can but I feel strongest when working in my own mediums of film/theater.’

The gallery show, through Feb. 4, is running in parallel with City Garage’s production of an early work from LaBute, ‘Filthy Talk for Troubled Times,’ which is playing at the adjacent Track 16 Gallery.

Slota and LaBute added a new works to the L.A. show and have talked about creating more and moving the show again, possibly to London. ‘I treat my play scripts as fluid entities, and I think I feel the same way about this artwork,’ the playwright said. ‘Art should be able to change and grow, otherwise it only exists as dusty fodder for museums.’


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-- David Ng and Lisa Fung