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Michael Henry Hayden's 'Knock Knock' is a portal to mystery

Michael Henry Hayden's 'Knock Knock' is a portal to mystery
An installation view of Michael Henry Hayden's "Knock Knock." (ACME Gallery)

Thirteen recent painted wall reliefs by Michael Henry Hayden exploit a gimmick, mixing real objects with painted illusions. But they do it in thoughtful and ultimately engaging ways.

At ACME Gallery, the repeated format for "Knock Knock" is straightforward. Each work is a diptych with a section of a wooden door on the right and the door molding and wall adjacent on the left. A light switch is on the wall and a brass chain door lock is attached to the door and its molding.

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The format has some variations -- a double door, multilayered doors, one of the chain locks hanging loose, etc. But the primary variation is in the way the reliefs are painted.

Some seem to have bright sunlight streaming across them. Others are striated, as if a sunset or dawn was coming through Venetian blinds. (Also on view are two imitations of battered paper window shades.) A gradation between red and purple is perhaps a changing stoplight out the window, or maybe it's a reflected blaze from a cozy fire.

Another is mottled in spots of hazy white and dark bluish-gray -- nighttime with the interior lights turned off and a streetlight unseen outdoors. Because these are reliefs, actual shadows mingle with painted ones.

It takes a moment to realize that Hayden has surreptitiously inserted intimations of windows into his theatrical scenes -- a window on the world being a hoary metaphor for what a realist painting should provide. These knock-knock jokes instead show locked doors, with whatever is on the other side an eternal mystery. Colored light is key to the encounter.

ACME, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 857-5942, through Feb. 6. Closed Monday. www.acmelosangeles.com

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