A Frayed Knot at Jancar Jones

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A Frayed Knot features three Los Angeles artists who are thinking about humor in their work, and serves as a culmination to a discussion and reading group they held together.  It makes sense that they’d need to get together and talk about humor; being funny isn’t something many people who “speak for” art talk about, nor is humor something we seem to expect art to “go for.” Try telling an artist their work is hilarious. It’s really hard to convince them you mean it as a compliment.

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Lucky for me, I have a weakness for pratfalls and puns. The first appeal of this show is its goofy directness, right from the punning title.  It’s tremendously satisfying to see ideas that seem like absurd brainstorming concepts carried out, and actually work. (Like realizing that someone thought up the word “Snuggie” and ran with it.  It’s ballsy.) The reason they work here is because absurdity is a primary concern for all of the artists.

David Gilbert, Roman Figure with Lucky Charms, 2013-2014

David Gilbert, Roman Figure with Lucky Charms, 2013-2014

David Gilbert takes play, detritus and decoration – three  empty “fillers” of our time and space, respectively – and treats them to the spotlight.  He frames a large, dark inkjet print with a wide, delicate border of studio bric-a-brac.  The frame is charming, and draws you close for inspection, inverting the purpose of framing to discreetly protect and emphasize the artwork inside. Across the gallery, the same colorful junk dances, printed like calico, on curtains in the gallery window. Gilbert’s work is sweet and silly, but it also feels like a sincere entreaty to value throwaway materials and moments, to find freedom in things no one else has structured for us.

David Gilbert, Design For Living, 2014

David Gilbert, Design For Living, 2014

David Gilbert, Design For Living, 2014, detail

David Gilbert, Design For Living, 2014, detail

The next thing striking thing about this show is its moments of deadpan. Deadpan is facing the absurd and taking it seriously.  Deadpan can be for comic effect, if everyone but the deadpanner is in stitches, as when Pete and Dud recall unlikely trysts with starlets, or it can evoke a moment of gravitas, the gasp as the house falls on Buster Keaton, or the queasy sympathy for Lucy, trying to eat a never-ending parade of chocolates. Deadpanning is a classic comedic technique that doesn’t come up enough when we talk about art, but Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen and William Wegman’s early videos are part of my comedy cannon along with the Marx Brothers. Their hilarious performances tell us something about what we are willing to endure, performer and audience, as humans, and the ways in which we break, by laughing, by flinching, by breaking character. Samantha Roth and Cameron Crone both deadpan hard.

Cameron Crone, Scratcher B4, 2011-2013, and Scratcher A3, 2011-2013

Cameron Crone, Scratcher B4, 2011-2013, and Scratcher A3, 2011-2013

Crone’s clean, formal photographs have all the cool appeal of brutalist architecture, until you notice the textures and tiny pops of color.  They’re elegant compositions of wrecked cardboard cat toys, arranged on carpet swatches. Incidentally, the carpet is the same color as those fuzzy cat apartment apparatuses. On the floor, two sculptures describe the arc of an opening pizza box in speckled terrazzo; terrazzo and pizza being, as the press release points out, two of America’s favorite Italian imports. For Crone, the joke seems to be an in, a leveling point to take us with him toward his formal concerns.

Cameron Crone, Quarter Open, 2012-2013

Cameron Crone, Quarter Open, 2012-2013

Samantha Roth, The Cover Up, 2014

Samantha Roth, The Cover Up, 2014

Roth’s work catches your eye with its bright, welcoming prettiness before quickly jarring you. Concerned with drawing as a process and structure, her drawings cannibalize themselves into collages, and run off the paper and onto the wall. Next to The Cover Up, a drawing of a blouse that at first glance is frilly and nostalgic, a pink hand mark smudges the wall.  It’s not cute, it’s awkward, and I spent some time fretting about the drawing not being pretty, about the mark being a mistake.  I felt worried, not only because the artist is a friend.  It felt wrong for work that felt genuinely beautiful, in what might seem like a feminine way, not to wink at me before doing something ugly.  But it’s not wrong, not at all.  The joke’s on me and I’m better for it.

Samantha Roth, Bad with Boundaries, 2014

Samantha Roth, Bad with Boundaries, 2014

A Frayed Knot is at Jancar Jones in Los Angeles through February 15, 2014. All images courtesy of the artists and Jancar Jones.

 

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