Entertainment & Arts

Review: John Baldessari-Rirkrit Tiravanija works perplex

Even viewed with low expectations in a week that easily qualifies as the creative nadir of the gallery season when most L.A. galleries are wrapping up their languid summer offerings to prepare for the back-to-school launch of early September, John Baldessari and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s dual exhibition of text-based work at 1301 PE is a perplexingly slack affair.

Baldessari’s contribution is a four-color, poster-sized screen print in which the phrase “Learn to Dream” is repeated in the same thick, chunky font across six horizontal registers. Given the many brilliant turns Baldessari has taken with language over the course of his long career, one is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and concede some degree of ironic resonance between the words “learn” and “dream” — but it’s a stretch. (Nor is the print especially interesting to look at.)

Still less defensible are Tiravanija’s half-dozen enamel-on-steel paintings featuring limp riffs on the language of protest: “Murder and Mayhem,” “All You Need is Dynamite,” “Police the Police,” and another involving a less printable term. Is he endorsing the fervor of protest culture, critiquing it or poking fun? It isn’t clear, and the murky middle ground is problematic.

With so many examples in recent memory of sloganeering employed to pointed, playful or empowering purpose, whether by artists like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer on the one hand, or the Occupy movement on the other, Tiravanija’s lazy, morally indeterminate approach is at best dismaying and at worst irresponsible.


1301 PE Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 938-5822, through Sept. 15. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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