top of page

Here's a review from Log 17: Superficial

Superficiality and Superexcrescence

"Superficiality and Superexcrescence" - a group exhibition at Otis College of Art and Design’s Ben Maltz Gallery curated by Christopher Bedford, Kristina Newhouse, and Jennifer Wulffsun (summer 2009) - unites thirteen contemporary Los Angeles-based artists whose works engage various manifestations of exteriority as vital strata for the cultivation of affective sensibilities. Through film, painting, photography, and sculpture, a menagerie of eery lacquered fawns, feral ferric lawn animals, and libidinally charged portraiture combine to create a pervasive aura of coy mischief. Cerebrality and viscerality fuse in an amalgam reflective of a contemporary sensorium attuned to atypical materializations of bodies and the bodily. 

It is a safe bet that a contemporary audience would not refute the curators’ assertion that the works disturb essentialist dialectics of image expounded by theoreticians like Frederic Jameson, adequately reminding that privileging depth over surface makes for shallow cultural comprehension. So, at first blush, the premise seems anachronistic, especially given the paradigmatic shifts in artistic practice, criticism, and audience reception since that anti-postmodernist paean of the 1980s. Moreover, the catalog’s emphasis on the inverse casting of surface as a hermeneutic playground ironically reemphasizes the reductionist significations it sought to dislodge. Fortunately, the exhibition's strength emanates from the complex ambience of the commingled artifacts: it is ‘across’ and ‘among’ the multiplicity of their enigmatic surfaces where oppositions of exteriority and interiority are most elasticized. Visual ricochets between them produce a psychosomatic web amplifying parts and reverberating into vital, relationally fluctuating wholes. 

In a sense, Edward Said’s idea of ‘filiation’ merges with Hans Georg Gadamer’s ‘Fusion of Horizons’, going beyond common grounds towards inspirational, uncommon horizons. Here, one recognizes the exhibition in toto as a slice of early 21st century life. Urbane subjects, objects and contexts co-exist in a familiar and de-familiarizing place redolent with ambiguities and contradictions of Angeleno inflection. Of the group, Elad Lassry’s nuanced letter-sized photographs and collages present a microcosm of the exhibition. Working over found images, old covers of LIFE Magazine, and still lifes, quotidian matters of fact meld with matters of fiction to upend archaeological and binary logics of representation. Elsewhere, Kurt Kauper’s muscular Divas in stately gowns recall classical portraiture and simultaneously commemorate the domestication of previously taboo behaviors. Nearby, beneath glossy, chromatic sheens, Amy Adler’s laconic paintings evoke the ennui and pensiveness of Joan Didion’s Maria Wyeth in Play It As It Lays, while Joel Morrisson’s exquisite metalized objet trouvés resituate Finish Fetishism’s sensational qualities in contemporary convulsive mash-ups. Landslide, Elliot Hundley’s mixed media pentaptych, contaminates and invades ideas of 1960s West Coast Minimalism, producing an overwhelming effect trapped between condensation and efflorescence. 

Overall, the uncanny physiognomy of some works fuses with the disciplinary trespasses of others to create a strangely seductive medley, which - despite the liability of its sensationalist X-rated title - conflates assumptions about need and desire in mature, sophisticated ways. In between and on the face of things, the exhibition’s ethereal, suggestive atmosphere eschews shock value, evoking empathy with devilishness instead of "Sympathy for the Devil."

bottom of page