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Review: Tear apart, assemble, repeat. Peeling the layers of Zhou Yilun’s ‘Ornament and Crime’

Review: Tear apart, assemble, repeat. Peeling the layers of Zhou Yilun’s ‘Ornament and Crime’
Zhou Yilun, "Ashamed for Our Incompetence," 2018, mixed media (Nicodim Gallery)

Raw and brutish, paintings by Zhou Yilun are assembled from scraps.

For his second show at Nicodim Gallery, some bits are physical, as in collage; others are imagistic, as in layered pictures. He’s a bricoleur, puttering about with whatever comes to hand.

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Zhou shows 10 recent paintings, most assembled from painted canvas glued to large sheets of thick, foil-covered, foam-board insulation. Two free-standing sculptures are similarly built — totemic, loosely figurative cutouts collaged with athletic gear.

Installation view of Zhou Yilun's mixed-media sculptures and painting.
Installation view of Zhou Yilun's mixed-media sculptures and painting. (Nicodim Gallery)
Zhou Yilun, "Fourteen Sports Bracelets," 2018. Oil, spray paint resin on canvas.
Zhou Yilun, "Fourteen Sports Bracelets," 2018. Oil, spray paint resin on canvas. (Nicodim Gallery)

Throughout, the imagery looks vaguely familiar — shadowy people, often loosely spray-painted, assembled like figures in Old Master European paintings or action photographs from a newspaper’s sports pages. Several works are composed from multiple panels, like altarpieces. Sometimes, the hazy scene is interspersed with sporty products — hipster watches, racing bikes, basketballs and tennis balls — or fragments of cheap wood veneer. Art drowns in blizzards of debris.

Zhou is based in his birthplace of Hangzhou, China, south of Shanghai. He was born in 1983, heyday of the still-controversial Neo-Expressionist juggernaut that brought Western painting back from what was once claimed to be the brink of extinction.

Titled “Ornament and Crime,” the show comes with a lengthy printed explication of the work’s relationship to the famous essay on superfluous decoration by Modernist architect Adolf Loos, but it doesn’t really need the crutch. A variant of Neo-Ex is all over Zhou’s energetic if not yet fully confident work, albeit in a suitably shabby, tattered and intriguing way.

Nicodim Gallery, 571 S. Anderson St., L.A. Through Feb. 17; closed Sundays and Mondays. (323) 262-0260, www.nicodimgallery.com

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