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The ultimate self-portrait? Identity through the lens of Kim Abeles

The ultimate self-portrait? Identity through the lens of Kim Abeles
Kim Abeles 1990 self-portrait at PØST in Los Angeles. (Courtesy PØST)

In one of the terrifically droll photographs in "Kim Abeles: Portraits and Autobiographies," the artist appears draped over a stack of folders and newspapers as tall as she is. She looks impaled by the messy column, exhausted by it. The accumulation of reviews, lists, plans, and files from her exhibitions -- a palpable pile of career "longings and laurels" as she puts it -- constitutes a sort of equivalent self, another bulky body to contend with.

Abeles has been poking at the material residue of identity and extensions of the self for nearly 40 years, in tandem with her work relating to broader social and environmental concerns. The show at PØST -- operating from a new downtown space -- thoughtfully surveys this more introspective strand of the L.A. artist's spirited practice.

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A few sculptures here are based on other figures (St. Bernadette, Carmen Miranda) but the most searing, witty works are the performative photographs of Abeles altered, revealed. The earliest date from 1979, the crest of a wave of artists' investigations into the socially-constructed female -- think Eleanor Antin, Lynn Hershman and most famously, Cindy Sherman.

In "Experiment for Myself as Other," Abeles uses a broom and a yardstick among other objects as surrogate hands, to release the shutter. In a 1983 photograph, she stands hilariously over-armed with the tools of her trade, a ventilator mask on her face, a drill, an iron and several other bulky items strung around her neck. A canny self-portrait from 1990 captures Abeles the image-maker as pure recording device, one camera strapped to her ear, another with its bellows jutting out in place of her chin, and two more replacing her own eyes.

PØST, 1206 Maple Ave. #515, Los Angeles, through May 21. Open Thursday through Sunday and by appt. www.postlosangeles.org

Follow The Times' arts team @culturemonster.

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