Review: Alex Da Corte set Pop aflame at Art + Practice
With its vivid colors, direct appeal to commerce and jaunty emphasis on diversionary amusement, Pop is not often regarded as one of the dark arts. The work of Alex Da Corte seems to be an exception to the rule.
A thread of deep, disquieting despair runs through the seemingly cheerful environment and eccentric theatrical props of “A Season in He’ll,” an elaborate installation at Art + Practice that forms the Philadelphia-based artist’s solo debut in Los Angeles.
Organized by out-going Hammer Museum curator Jamillah James, the three-room environment is illuminated from above by fluorescent lights in such candy colors as pink, orange and green. Yet, the candy is like something suspicious dropped into a kid’s Halloween trick-or-treat bag.
Da Corte builds an atmospheric narrative, and it’s bleak. Emotional razor blades lurk inside the shiny apple.
A tall black cone resting on a wide black circle in the entry room forms a Minimalist witch’s hat, while a nearby stained-glass rose portends a hidden thorn. Behind the hat on the wall, a sprinkling of pink neon stars and the word “night” in script is backed by a photographic blow-up: A weeping girl embraces a woman.
The ensemble of neon and photograph is not specific. Perhaps it’s merely a child scared by a ghost story. Yet, the general scenic design can’t help but also recall Marsha Norman’s “’Night, Mother,” the 1983 play that infamously opens with a daughter casually telling her unfeeling mom of her imminent plan to commit suicide.
Projected videos in the second room feature a man manipulating a pair of table-top assemblage sculptures like the ones placed on an emerald green pedestal behind an observing viewer. A conjuring magician, he performs a brief variety of self-lacerating rituals in slow motion, such as injecting a vein with soda pop as if it were an addictive narcotic.
The third room is entered by passing through a chain curtain that pointedly recalls the homoerotic 1990s beaded-curtain sculptures of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Da Corte’s is vaguely imprinted with the satanic flames that rise from Bald Mountain in the Disney animated movie “Fantasia.” (One weakness: The painted flames are nearly impossible to make out beneath the colored fluorescent light, but a gallery attendant helpfully pointed them out.) That big Minimalist witch’s hat back in the first room suddenly echoes the one Mickey Mouse wore as the sorcerer’s apprentice.
Half a dozen slipcovered ottomans masquerade as hamburgers, providing playful seating on a carpet striped in black and blue. Another slow-motion video projects a mummy-wrapped man in flames. He falls through darkened space on a repetitive loop.
The title of Da Corte’s show adds an apostrophe to Arthur Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell,” a Symbolist prose poem written in the midst of his tumultuous, volatile relationship with fellow poet Paul Verlaine. “Hell” becomes “He’ll.” Da Corte’s elegy for shattered love is written in unexpected, often surprising visuals pieced together from the cheerily indifferent language of pervasive popular culture.
Art + Practice, 4339 S. Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles. Through Sept. 17; closed Sundays and Mondays. (323) 337-6887, www.artandpractice.org
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