Review: The figure in flux, sculpted from scraps


Method is nearly all in Karen Sargsyan’s wall-mounted portraits and tabletop tableaux at Ambach & Rice.

Sargsyan, born in Armenia and living in the Netherlands, sculpts from cut paper, layering planes and curling petals, building dimensionality from flat scraps.

It’s a curious technique infused with character that also seems collaged: a bit of stylized Kabuki; a touch of physical comedy; a hint of costumed, ritual dance, perhaps Native American; and a visual echo of Boccioni’s iconic striding figure, “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” (1913), the body as pure rippling speed and fluid energy.


PHOTOS: Arts and culture in pictures by The Times

Sargsyan’s figures tip and bow. They lean precipitously with a leg and an arm raised. The poses feel exaggerated, theatrical, and their satirical manner clashes with the weightier critique implied by their titles: “Prisoners of Conscience,” “Riot,” “The Origin of Feminism.”

The palette, too, generally feels sprightly, dominated by dusty mauve, pale wheat, ivory and black. The work exploits the uncanny power of puppets and surrogates to probe essential aspects of the human condition--here, most often, a sort of tenuousness, an existential disequilibrium.

One of the most absorbing pieces in the show is an eight-minute video that brings the paper figures to full-scale and to life through an actor/dancer (possibly Sargsyan himself) head-to-toe in black, clad with cut paper.

Vivid and graphically dynamic, the sculptural dance pays homage to “The Nine Muses.” It ends dramatically, freighted with symbolism, when the figure rips off its paper skin, a costume that exposes only anonymous darkness beneath.

Ambach & Rice, 6148 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 965-5500, through Saturday [Feb 15].