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William Powhida, usually a force, has surprisingly thin show at Charlie James

William Powhida, usually a force, has surprisingly thin show at Charlie James
A painting by William Powhida at Charlie James Gallery. (Michael Underwood / Charlie James Gallery)

William Powhida's snappy, engrossing work of the last decade has made it clear that when it comes to the contemporary art scene, there's a fine line -- if that -- between parody and brutal honesty.

His lists, diagrams and maps are self-conscious in the most exquisitely critical way, performative chronicles of an artist whose work revolves around the political, moral and economic dimensions of being an artist (particularly in New York) today.

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Powhida is part invention, part consequence of the world he satirizes, a force to be reckoned with, a thrill to eavesdrop upon.

Intentionality and self-scrutiny are so integral to his enterprise that the thinness of his show at Charlie James comes as a surprise. Each work, whether painted on canvas, panel, paper or crumpled aluminum, consists of a single line of text. ("I should write Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari apology letters," reads one, aptly.)

Some are pithy declamations he tweeted over the years. Some seem trolled from a stream of anxious, determined, confessional, admonishing and resigned self-talk: "The crushing pressure to do something new fills me with abject terror"; "I would still say no to Gagosian."

Compared with the visual complexity and critical acuity of the artist's work of previous years, these are simplistic billboards slapped with one-liners, Powhida-lite. He can be excruciatingly funny, but even a joke at his own expense -- a painting with the mind-reading caption, "Is that a painting or an annoying thing?" -- falls flat.

Another piece states, "You had to KNOW it would come to this." It's tempting to imagine that he's addressing us and referencing our disappointment, but he could be talking again to himself, about something else entirely.

Charlie James Gallery, 969 Chung King Road, (213) 687-0844, through Dec. 5. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays. www.cjamesgallery.com

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