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Review: The scenes of a crime: Kota Ezawa revisits the Gardner Museum theft

Kota Ezawa, installation view, "Gardner Museum Revisited," Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica.

Kota Ezawa, installation view, “Gardner Museum Revisited,” Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica.

(Kota Ezawa and Christopher Grimes Gallery)

We should be bored with Kota Ezawa by now. For more than a decade, the Japanese German artist has reduced familiar photographs and videos to arrangements of flat, simple shapes. Everything he does looks like a Flash animation from the late ‘90s, yet Ezawa always finds a way to make this technique seem, if not new, then relevant.

His latest exhibition at Christopher Grimes looks at the unsolved 1990 theft of $500 million in artwork from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It is surprisingly emotional.

For the first time, Ezawa applies his signature style to paintings and three-dimensional objects, creating scale images of each of the 13 stolen artworks. Displayed salon style in lightboxes on the wall, they include works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Degas, as well as a Napoleonic flagpole finial and a Chinese vase.

Glowing faintly, the abstracted images appear to hover on the wall. These “ghost works” are clearly not replicas, but they look just enough like the originals to evoke what has been lost. The public may never see these masterpieces again; Ezawa’s work becomes a kind of memorial.

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Accompanying this tableau is a black-and-white two-channel video. It is based on security footage released by the museum in hopes of identifying the thieves. Here, Ezawa’s reductive technique eclipses that possibility, but it reminds us just how little we know about what really happened.

Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 587-3373. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.cgrimes.com


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