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LA CIENEGA AREA

In her latest series of diptychs and triptychs, Sabina Ott continues her ongoing juxtaposition of literary images, attempting to set up open texts of association and disassociation through timeless, frozen symbolism and narrative allusion. This might be metaphorically literal--as in “Surveillance,” in which a painting of two planets is butted against that of a large microscope (contrasting macro and micro views of the universe)--or obtuse and seemingly unrelated, such as the tumbling coins/crashing waves of “Undertow.”

Ott’s objective equations build upon a rich heritage. One thinks of Surrealist paeans to “the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table” (Lautreamont), Proust’s exploration of automatic recall through the trigger mechanism of objects and words (the famous madeleine), and more recently, John Baldessari’s conceptual photo essays on received information. Ott continues this discourse within the traditional narrative mode of the story, yet the tale consists solely of romantic literary tropes, linked and imbued with significance by the subjective response of the viewer.

Superficially, Ott’s oeuvre is about the gaps between things, and the relationships that result when these spaces are removed. On closer inspection, however, the work is more concerned with reiterating the aura of painting itself. Instead of employing found photographs or anonymous texts, whose relative neutrality would enhance and encourage interpretation, she prefers to root her work in the loaded expressionism of the gestural stroke. Somber hues give an impression of museumlike Victorian propriety, while homogeneous brushwork and tactile, impastoed surfaces enclose her subjects within the rhetoric of painterly effusion. Rather than opening up the ambiguity of her subjects, Ott closes them down within the hermetic self-reflexiveness of her medium. She exploits the historical integrity of painting while simultaneously questioning its viability as representation, a contradiction that eventually cancels itself out. (Davies Long Gallery, 8906 Melrose Ave., to May 10.)


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