Art review: Alejandro Diaz at Happy Lion
Alejandro Diaz’s cardboard and neon signs at Happy Lion earn an immediate, reflexive laugh. The thinnest of them stop there, one-liners with modest bite. The best of them, however, linger on, leaving a rich, residual discomfort.
The centerpiece of the Texas-born, New York-based Diaz’s uneven show is the "World’s Largest Cardboard Sign," a freestanding, 10-by-12 foot exercise in simple, self-declarative humor. Far more provocative is the blank, rough-edged, faux-cardboard rectangle that hangs on the wall near its own museum-style label, designating its title as "Homeless and Speechless." This piece is also simple in form, but its muteness resonates; the empty sign sends a complex, contradictory message about disenfranchisement on one hand and the entitled pretense of art-like behavior on the other.
Diaz mixes idioms throughout vernacular signage, social and political commentary, self-reflexive art wit, but the combinations don’t always generate interesting friction. The commercial-style neon signs recall Bruce Nauman, but lack his work’s metaphysical heft. In one of the show’s more absorbing pieces, Diaz spreads a Mexican blanket on the ground and covers it with a collection of handwritten signs on cardboard scrap, the kind commonly held by people seeking a handout. Diaz appeals not to our wallets but to a self-mocking sense of humor with signs reading "beg to differ," "By disappointment only," "The Filet Mignon of affordable conceptual art." In this humble form, his puns and savvy jabs feel a little like slumming, but they also point to a basic connection between art, resourcefulness and hunger.
– Leah Ollman
The Happy Lion, 963 Chung King Road, (213) 625-1360, through Nov. 28. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. www.thehappylion.com
Photo: "World’s Largest Cardboard Sign," 2009. Photo Credit: Kyle Wong.