Review: Jennifer Dalton’s aphorisms cut many ways at Charlie James

Jennifer Dalton's "Party Favors (Elitism)," made in 2013, is at Charlie James Gallery.
(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)

For more than a decade, Jennifer Dalton has made interactive art in a vein -- often varicose -- long opened by artists such as Edward Ruscha and Erika Rothenberg. The circulation system doesn’t seem swollen or knotted at first, but it becomes so the longer you linger. In works designed expressly for the purpose of social interaction, a sense of perpetual yearning happily trumps final closure.

At Charlie James Gallery, the New York-based artist shows sculptures, paintings and mixed-media objects. One is a pair of questionnaires that recalls the “takers versus makers” rant from the last presidential election, here cleaned up into an earnest request for participants to describe how much they have given to or received from others.

Deposit your anonymous answer, written on golden or violet paper, into receptacles and select a button to describe yourself as “guilty,” “a patsy,” “resentful” or “a jerk.” Disappointments lurk, but the choice is always yours.

CHEAT SHEET: Fall arts preview

Children’s colorful backpacks are adorned with the hopeful legend, “Hi, I like you,” in big bold letters -- a sentiment that seems destined to attract rather than repel bullies. “Sometimes I forget to remember to fear hope,” reads the whiplash line on a conflicted message board -- the kind one might find in a church meeting hall.


Dalton has an ear for aphorisms that can go both ways, obliterating an accepted general truth but somehow invoking an unexpected one in the process. “I hate elitism but I distrust mainstream tastes,” says the wrapper of a candy lovingly painted on a small canvas. The best part is the jagged black shadow that runs down one side of the shrouded sweet, a sawtooth blade ready to rip open your tongue.

Charlie James Gallery, 969 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (213) 687-0844, through Oct. 19. Closed Sunday through Tuesday.