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Figuring Things Out

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Mike Kelley, "Odalisque," 2010, foam coated with Elastomer, wood, aluminum, wig, found objects, velvet, cotton batting, 56 x 115 x 30", at Gagosian Gallery.

Marlena Donohue observes in her review of Charles Garabedian's retrospective, "we return to the figure to figure things out."

This is more than clever wordplay, it's an unspoken bond between artist and audience that brings together existential and social continuity. Art being what it is, I prefer that such investigations undertake fresh propositions rather than confirm established assumptions. Garabedian has been, in a very different way of course, a West Cost Cy Twombly, embracing a deeply classical mythos in a manner that subverts our visual expectations. His vision leaves grand narratives intact while permitting us to bring them down to our level. Laura Macklin comes to a surprisingly similar point of realism from a nearly opposite direction, the quotidian video of a family member who was an inveterate shutterbug whose home movies and snapshots span more than a half-century. Her formal devices and editing compress time so as to allow the viewer to presume the vision of a life as though it is we who are living it. There is an underlying tension between the quasi-eternal quality of a sunset and the evolution of her subject's surroundings that is unsettling without browbeating us.

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Carolina Silva, "Against Gravity (or the Oddity of the Flooded Land)," at Lawrimore Project.

Time-based imagery is familiar enough when the medium is film, but Carolina Silva drops sand falling like rain so as to turn a table into a canvas -- or more accurately, a screen. If you are mesmerized by the constantly shifting images and associations, you may wind end up staring at this tabletop for many minutes. That's a pretty ridiculous image, but how different, really from staring into a campfire? As a vehicle for self-absorption and reflection, this is wonderfully offbeat comfort food. Rock 'n' roll informs, no directs, the colored pencil and collage works of David X Levine. These are far from being illustrations to song lyrics, their ambition is to personify them. Titles provide the reference to (mostly) familiar songs that the images would never conger up on their own. The game, then, is how the images entice you to play Find the Connection.

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David X Levine, "Carol Mountain Green," 2009, colored pencil and graphite on paper, at Eight Modern.

For Rusty Scruby the central premise is to break up his personal narrative in order to reconstruct it. The formal technique conveys a feeling of the passage of time, but this has a completely different meaning for us than the artist, for whom this is built on revisiting his personal past. There is a distinct element of nostalgia or longing lodged firmly in this gracious work that turns abrasive in the hands of Mike Kelley. Whether revisiting Superman's home town together with our childhood fascination with superhero comics, or more adult engagement with Ingres' odalisques and other art historical icons, Kelley slaps down any temptation to settle into those fond memories. He rescues them only to place them, charred, on life support and throwing in small but jarringly apparent details that are about as warm and fuzzy as the point of a needle. The point of such looking backwards turns our hunger for the familiar on its head, not what most folks want during historically tough times. But this is just what I prefer over the snake oil of false feel-good histories that so many political and media narcissists peddle in order to line their pockets or expand their power. And it's how art, real art, helps us to "figure things out."

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Rusty Scruby, "Between Two Worlds," photographic reconstruction, 48 x 48", at PYO Gallery LA.