Art review: Glenn Kaino at Honor Fraser

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‘Bring Me the Hands of Piri Reis,” the title of Glenn Kaino’s first gallery show in several years, at Honor Fraser, refers to a 16th century Turkish cartographer known for having made one of the earliest extant maps of the Americas. In a series called “Knowledge Transfer,” Kaino makes ink-jet transfer reproductions from Piri Reis’ maps but intervenes before the prints have dried to smudge and smear the pigment with his hands, thus obscuring and distorting geographical delineations that, made only a few years after the death of Columbus, sought to define the shape of the then-rapidly expanding world.

It is a trick that Kaino plays repeatedly in this ambitiously multi-faceted exhibition: the disruption of some commonly held epistemological strategy — a map, a diagram, a model, a photograph — to call attention to the ways in which knowledge is formulated and systematized. How do you know what you think you know? It is a question posed in every piece, often playfully, but with an undercurrent of social critique.


In “Temporary Autonomous Zones,” for instance, a series of sculpturally manipulated photographs of Los Angeles storefronts, he presents the seamless illusion of a portion of each storefront having disappeared — a gesture that assumes a deeper resonance when you learn that each vanishing address once housed a local artist-run space (including the venerable Deep River, which Kaino co-founded in 1997). The word “trick” is particularly apt for an artist who is also trained as a magician, and whose work in recent years has drawn illuminating parallels between the mutually illusion-laden worlds of professional magic and contemporary art. The magician’s ethos of secrecy and guarded knowledge becomes a telling metaphor for the perceived esotericism of the art world, and Kaino plays with the mechanisms by which the content of art is revealed or obscured. In one particularly clever pair of works, he drapes two “borrowed paintings” with woven tapestries that are inscribed with diagrams depicting the components of padlocks. Each tapestry is secured to its canvas by a length of magician’s rope, making it impossible to determine whether there is in fact a painting underneath without dismantling the work altogether.

It is a show that offers much to think about, but leaves a nagging paradox in its wake: for work that decries the construct of the map as a “hegemonic paradigm” (in the words of the press release) and that purports to reject “cartographic knowledge” in favor of free and unbounded creativity, it assumes what has become a fairly conventional category of form: the handsomely fabricated conceptual object, created to be both decoded and enjoyed, and unlikely to appear out of place at an art fair. It is less a criticism than a question: what comes next? What would smart contemporary art look like outside the hegemonic paradigm of the art world itself?


More art reviews from the Los Angeles Times

-- Holly Myers

Honor Fraser, 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 837-0191, through Feb. 18. Closed Sunday and Monday.