The first image you’ll see in Katie Herzog’s exhibition of recent work is her copy of the infamous self-portrait of George W. Bush, the former president of the United States who is now a Sunday painter, taking a shower. Herzog made just one small alteration: Her portrait is painted entirely in a chilly range of blues.
The effect is subtle but inescapable. Bush may appear cheerfully ludicrous in his clumsy original version, naked back to the viewer and blank-eyed face framed in the reflection of a shaving mirror. In Herzog’s adaptation, “blue boy” is now set in cold storage — a man furtively using art in a fraught attempt to cleanse himself, sort of like Lady Macbeth and that damned spot.
Governance, especially of a radical federalist and libertarian sort, is the theme of Herzog’s astringent show of recent paintings and drawings at Klowden Mann gallery. Intuitive memory has long played a role in her work, and here it assumes a pointed function as backdrop to current events.
Individual subjects include the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by armed anti-government militants, with a commemorative rubbing of entrance signage that recalls a technique traditionally applied to gravestones; photographic banners showing tawdry events at Ephemerisle, the “Burning Man on the water” gathering linked to conservative billionaire-activist Peter Thiel; and, most abundantly, paintings of historical events by the far-right John Birch Society, a once-fringe small-government-advocacy group whose extremist, paranoid doctrines have become mainstream in the 21st century.
Herzog’s Birch Society paintings document sloganeering billboards (“Impeach Earl Warren!”), a float from the Tournament of Roses parade (the Statue of Liberty isolated on a barren field) and a dozen book covers from the group’s so-called Americanist Library (“Nine Men Against America,” “Seeds of Treason,” etc.). The books were gathered in a slipcase dubbed “One Dozen Candles” and freely distributed by the hundreds to schools across the country.
Actual candles bolted in a loose target pattern to Herzog’s painted book covers lend an elegiac, melancholic atmosphere. Think of her Birch Society works as history paintings minus the traditional idealizing gloss.
The show’s centerpiece is a Claes Oldenburg-style soft sculpture, paradoxically made from painting materials. A voting booth, assembled from kapok-stuffed canvas and paint, occupies the middle of the room. Since the booth’s spindly, pliable legs aren’t firm enough to allow it to stand up, this humble shelter for individual democratic action is instead suspended from above by invisible monofilament.
Dangled as if by an unseen puppeteer, Herzog’s voting booth is a controlled space of disturbing frailty. The show, which coincided with the impeachment of the U.S. president on charges related to the 2020 election, packs a grim but vital punch.
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Feb. 22
Info: (310) 280-0226, KlowdenMann.com