Every year for the last 10 years, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, known as LACE, has held its "Annuale," an exhibition of new work by artist-members selected by a notable out-of-towner who ostensibly brings an unjaded perspective to such things.
Routinely, however, the "Annuale" has had the feeling of a ritual, which is to say a grueling inevitability, something that, in all good conscience, must be endured. This year--thanks in no small part to guest curator Suzanne Ghez, executive director of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago--it feels quite relevant.
Ghez clearly has a soft spot for Los Angeles (she recently organized a group show for Chicago called "persona," which is stuffed full of the pick of our recent art school grads). Yet her choices here--Eric Saks, David Patton, Susan Lutz, Vally Mestroni, Catherine Brennan, Margaret Morgan, Jennifer Bornstein and Daniel Marlos--in no way constitute a local school, nor does their disparate work cohere into any kind of thematic unity. This is all to the good.
Marlos, for example, is the only artist to show work that bills itself as political, though, interestingly, it is barely so. "Hot Topics" consists of a series of small photographic portraits of people expounding on such issues as white supremacy, censorship and bioethics; all we see, however, is a series of mute figures, some of them gesturing self-importantly, others preening like catalog models.
Morgan and Saks also go for parody. Morgan offers a 3-D version of Alfred Barr's famous modernist flow-chart, cobbled together out of dislocated plumbing fixtures. Saks offers what appear to be do-it-yourself pipe bombs made of shrink-wrapped stuffed animals. These devices are, of course, nonfunctional and, in the end, mischievous, like Morgan's flamboyant assemblage, but far less so than Marlos' heretical icons.
These latter works couldn't be more different in temperament from Lutz's highly aesthetic take on the "space" of art (she showed a rather haunting painting of Edgar Allan Poe's room, along with footage of the painting and the actual room). Brennan's "painting" of overlapping layers of Plasticine shares some of this self-reflexivity.
Mestroni's ethereal wire apparatus, suspended from the ceiling and draped with transparent sheets of marked-up drawing paper, likewise bears traces of personal obsession and is certainly the most dramatic piece on view. Like Patton's small paintings--whose unvarnished surfaces, diffident palette and tentative marks entirely eschew drama--this object marries formal concerns to psychological ones.
Regardless of some stiff competition, however, "Public Libraries and Basketball Courts," Bornstein's wonderfully coy series of self-portrait photographs, steals the "Annuale." Each of these pairs the artist with an adolescent boy and in the process, confuses all ordinary distinctions between age, sex and physical size.
These seemingly straight images are as crooked as they come and wildly disruptive. They scramble the usual art world discourse on desire and subjectivity until it becomes illegible, which is to say wildly interesting and miraculously brand-new.
* Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 6522 Hollywood Blvd., (213) 957-1777, through Nov. 10. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.