Artful Illusions and Serial Masquerades Spring to Life


Even if you take into account the art world’s tolerance for pathetic gestures of one sort or another, there’s something quite odd about Vik Muniz’s little line drawings at Dan Bernier Gallery.

Ditto for his fuzzy charcoal portraits of smiling children, his romantic landscapes sort of in the mode of Corot, not to mention a soiled mitten abandoned inexplicably on the floor.

However, if you spend more than a moment with these things--and you will, because the eye is always drawn to that which is off-kilter--you will notice that things aren’t exactly wrong, but rather merely not what they seem to be. With the exception of the mitten (which is indeed a mitten, though it has six fingers), these are all photographs.


The “drawings”--of a chair, a bed, a drawer, a bucket--are photographs of wire sculptures; the “chalks” are photographs of sugar arranged on black paper; and the “landscapes” are photographs of artfully tangled lengths of black thread.

It’s possible that Muniz stages these serial masquerades to conjure photography’s origins. In its beginnings, that is, the photograph struggled to adopt the myriad codes of painting. Here, Muniz orchestrates a repetition of that history--all the more wry for the fact of photography’s current ubiquity.

But this take assumes a greater degree of criticality than the work actually bears. Muniz is far more enamored of tomfoolery than critique, which is not to say that the two can’t go hand in hand, just that here they don’t. It may be even more accurate to say that Muniz is enamored of the kind of magic art can make happen--thus, the excruciating attention to detail that enables Muniz’s illusions to take place and his reverse logic to triumph.

* Dan Bernier Gallery, 3026 1/2 Nebraska Ave., Santa Monica, (310)264-4882, through April 12. Closed Sunday and Monday.

One-Liner Parody: In Dani Tull’s new installation at Special K Exhibitions, hundreds of rejected scripts (with killer titles like “Mystery Man” and “Afterworld Affair”), culled from the trash heaps of CAA, ICM and other big-deal talent agencies, are painstakingly arranged into a thigh-high replica of Richard Serra’s famously rejected public sculpture, “Tilted Arc.”

Certainly, there are several ways to look at this piece, but at first glance, it looks an awful lot like a one-liner. Of course, one-liners being Hollywood’s stock-in-trade, Tull would seem to have a sure-fire hit here--especially once you take in the “treatments” paper-clipped to the scripts by professional readers, in which the terror of the convoluted idea comes across with crystal clarity.


Yet Tull seems to be after something more than a comparative analysis of the art world and show business, in terms of their respective standards of success and mechanics of rejection. This work is also about the felicity of the found object, something Tull has engaged with before, transforming children’s wallpaper from the saccharine to the twisted, and sunset-soaked travel posters from the romantic to the perverse.

Of course Hollywood has its own version of such Duchampian high jinks, and it’s called parody. But though it has a long history, film parody is notoriously difficult to pull off: Hollywood, though it peddles make-believe, is addicted to authenticity.

Tull, like all fellow appropriation aficionados, acknowledges the impossibility of authenticity. Though this doesn’t mean he’s hellbent on insincerity, it does mean he struggles to reject illusions--about the nature of his own work, and other people’s besides.

* Special K Exhibitions, 928 N. Fairfax Ave., West Hollywood, (213) 656-8694, through April 12. Closed Sunday and Monday.

On the Map: Tiffanie Morrow’s coolly attenuated sculptures wreak havoc on Minimalism in unpredictable ways, playing up its closet penchant for metaphor and covert elegance.

Much in the manner of earlier work, Morrow’s latest piece at Newspace, made of wood, canvas and gleaming-white acrylic paint, resembles an architectural floor plan extruded into three dimensions. With its large rectangular base, a host of vertical elements extending either several feet or several inches into the air, not to mention a canvas plane propped up like a drive-in movie screen, precisely what kind of place is being articulated remains mysterious.


No matter, for Morrow is not interested in precision, but rather in evoking the messy and often contradictory ways we map things--in particular space and language. This turf belongs to Robert Smithson--to whom, indeed, Morrow refers directly, along with his contemporaries--in a series of photographs included here.

These photos depict elements of Morrow’s own sculpture placed in various landscape settings: a parking lot along the Angeles Crest Highway, a mud puddle on Franklin Canyon Drive, a trailer court in Onion Valley. Despite the dystopian locales, the images are self-consciously romantic. They evoke installation shots of well-known Earthworks (such as Walter de Maria’s “Lightning Field”), though the spindliness of Morrow’s forms deflates the pomposity of their achingly heroic antecedents.

More crucially, Morrow’s photographs function in the manner of Smithson’s non-sites, in which rocks and debris taken from quarries and abandoned building sites in New Jersey were transported into the pristine setting of the art gallery. Morrow’s images likewise create a dialectic between here and there, transgressing borders and muddying genres. That they do so in a form language uniquely their own makes this artist’s achievement all the more stunning.

* Newspace, 5241 Melrose Ave., (213) 469-9353, through April 26. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Fantastic Scenarios: Fred Stonehouse’s devotional paintings at Koplin Gallery are curious hybrids. They don’t inspire one to faith, but they pose the very question. And if they go the way of camp, they do so with a certain degree of restraint, which means that they reserve the right to do an about-face at any moment.

Their caution could render them uninteresting, but Stonehouse’s works are anything but. Borrowing from Mexican retablos, Latin American magic realism, Renaissance altars, Freudian psychology, Indian miniatures and more, these fevered tableaux picture fantastic scenarios, including a deviant baby boy in jockey shorts presiding over a bubbling caldron with a lone webbed foot sticking out of it. There’s also a lame chicken with a saint’s head strolling through a garden-tenement.

Tearful eyes hover, tattooed babies blow bubbles, eggplant-headed people sweat, and monks sport devil’s horns. Words emblazoned across the antiqued surfaces in multiple languages don’t offer narrative clues so much as punctuate the incongruous imagery with further incongruity.


If all this adds up to a visual sumptuousness that is all too uncommon, there is still something unsatisfying here. Perhaps it is that Stonehouse succumbs to fashion, in fact to all sorts of fashions--for religious iconography, Surreal juxtapositions, cross-cultural pastiches and so on. More likely, however, the dissatisfaction comes from the fact that he doesn’t succumb enough.

* Koplin Gallery, 464 N. Robertson Blvd., (310) 657-9843, through April 27. Closed Sunday and Monday.