For a show that purports to be about still-life, the group exhibit at Century Gallery is an awfully lively party. The gallery teems with the likes of Mickey Mouse effigies, junk sculptures and images of severed animal heads.
Then again, the show's title tips us off: "The Observed Object: Fidelity and Irreverence in Recent Still-Life." This is art about concrete things, but armed with eccentric attitudes. No matter how unusual the work, though, there are strong connections to the still-life tradition: Objects are appreciated for their cultural or existential resonance; their meanings are open to interpretation.
Pushing the definition of still-life into the 3-D realm, the show includes assemblages by Maddy Le Mel, who pieces together found objects in bizarre and ingenuous ways. "Still Hot III" blends a sleek vintage toaster, a hand crank, and rusty ice skates into a nostalgic construct. "Homage to Marks" is a scrappy contraption, half sewing machine and half seismograph. It is simultaneously a comment on the fragility of science and a paean to domesticity.
Speaking of childish things, George Tapley shows more of his Mickey Mouse images, as seen in a witty show at the Orlando Gallery last year. As Tapley paints him, the small stuffed Mickey casts a huge cultural shadow. The trick lies in the context. He taps into both the charm of all things Disney and the subversiveness of contemporary art.
There is Mickey in a sweet predicament in "Mickey Belly-Up," surrounded by slices of cake, but in a painting style that mimics the way Wayne Thiebaud would depict thickly iced cake.
Most relevant to this show's concept is the painting called "McShadow," in which a plate of fruit, viewed from below, casts an illusory silhouette of Mickey. It's as if Mickey has an Orwellian presence: He lurks around every corner, waiting to pounce with giddy cheer.
While Stephen Linsteadt's observations of fruit would seem to embrace still-life conventions more straightforwardly, the results are still skewed, conspicuous by their half-finished quality.
Luis Serrano pulls back to expose his own artistic role and the creative process. Between the objective overview of his "Self-Portrait with Aron Goldberg Painting Sheep's Head" and actual watercolors of said severed animal head, Serrano lays bare the act of considering and then realizing a still-life subject, be it animal or vegetable.
Serrano's work amounts to a neat example of how the twin values of the show's title--fidelity and irreverence--can peacefully coexist.
"The Observed Object: Fidelity and Irreverence in Recent Still-Life," through March 22 at Century Gallery, 13000 Sayre St., Sylmar. Mon-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, noon-4 p.m.; (818) 362-3220.