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Awful aquariums, a dollhouse of horrors: One artist's disturbing worlds, in miniature

Awful aquariums, a dollhouse of horrors: One artist's disturbing worlds, in miniature
Max Hooper Schneider's "Genesis," 2018, consists of a live freshwater ecosystem, fish, modeled landscape, glass aquarium, steel base and custom LED panel. (Michael Underwood / Jenny's)

In his engrossing show at the L.A. art gallery Jenny's, Max Hooper Schneider mimics hobbyists mimicking God: Four ornately constructed installations are based on familiar attempts to create a world in miniature — aquarium, model railroad and dollhouse.

But these are no saccharine wonderlands, no idealized versions of seascape, landscape or homescape. These are leisure pursuits gone rogue.

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The L.A. artist twists our culture of abundance into a freakish dystopia. Those moved by the dark pageantry of Adrián Villar Rojas’ “The Theater of Disappearance” a year ago at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary might also connect with Schneider's show. It too is a marvel of critical cultural anthropology, but writ small — and with a better sense of humor.

Tiny fish dart among heaps of cheap treasure in one aquarium, and little crustaceans skitter across a kelp bed of lingerie in the other.

Fish dart around a graveyard of personal adornment in Max Hooper Schneider's "Genesis."
Fish dart around a graveyard of personal adornment in Max Hooper Schneider's "Genesis." (Michael Underwood / Jenny's)
Detail of "Lady Marlene," 2018, another unsettling aquarium in the Jenny's show.
Detail of "Lady Marlene," 2018, another unsettling aquarium in the Jenny's show. (Michael Underwood / Jenny's)

“Genesis” hints not at any sort of beginning but at a final resting place for junk. Two mountains of costume jewelry rise above the waterline — beads, pearls and pendants, bracelets and watches. This polluting graveyard of personal adornment reeks of trite optimism and faith; crosses, peace signs and happy faces punctuate the piles. Fake fish, butterflies and turtles, plus leaves and flowers all look ridiculously bereft in this shrine to the unnatural.

In "Lady Marlene," stiffened bra straps and lacy gloves form another sort of consumerist topography, creepy and comical, whiffs of desire scenting the underwater debris.

Detail of "Utopia," 2018. Resin cast landscape, model train, metal base.
Detail of "Utopia," 2018. Resin cast landscape, model train, metal base. (Michael Underwood / Jenny's)

Schneider calls his model train setup “Utopia,” but it's hard to imagine anyone longing for this fictive spot cast in queasy pink resin. Globs, spires and sea-anenome-like orifices line the track, where a little engine, pulling a few cars loaded with more pink goop, makes continuous loops. There's a gully of thorns, a grove of phalluses and a few ears and hands embedded in the surface, which reads at once as prolific and lifeless, an orgiastic desert of skin.

Schneider revels in extremity, but “Mommy & Me,” a torched haunted house, tips into the overwrought. A hoarder's haven, it's stuffed with the paraphernalia of violence and so much more. The attic, encrusted with dark, spiny ooze, is a horror story all its own, a house of despair. The heavy-handedness detracts little from the cumulative power of the show, titled "Tryouts for the Human Race."

Max Hooper Schneider's "Mommy & Me," 2018, modified dollhouse, mixed media, miniature lighting system, custom metal base, 48 inches by 33 inches by 32 inches.
Max Hooper Schneider's "Mommy & Me," 2018, modified dollhouse, mixed media, miniature lighting system, custom metal base, 48 inches by 33 inches by 32 inches. (Michael Underwood / Jenny's)

Schneider has fashioned each of these microcosms with equal parts precision and abandon, and each reads doubly as fantasy and fate.

Jenny's, 4220 Sunset Blvd., L.A. Through Dec. 29; closed Sundays-Tuesdays. (323) 741-8237, Jennys.us

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