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Art review: Danica Phelps at Kathryn Brennan Gallery

November 6, 2009 | 11:45 am

300.Install 2 It may seem self-indulgent to create an exhibition about one’s own pregnancy, but Danica Phelps manages to tie it to a larger sense of life’s transience. Her exhibition of drawings and video at Kathryn Brennan Gallery explores motherhood in a way that feels honest without being overly sentimental.

She records pregnancy’s inevitable physical changes in a 6-second video comprised of still shots, taken over several months, of herself standing naked in a bedroom. Her belly grows, but the room undergoes an even more drastic change, transforming from a cluttered work-space to a stately boudoir, complete with four-poster bed and dark wooden armoires. “Growing up” is figured as both a temporal and spatial transition.

Time and space are also intertwined in a group of spare pencil drawings of Phelps and her son. Executed in a thin yet confident line, each depicts a variety of everyday scenes whose contours overlap and intersect. In previous works Phelps used this effect to convey the subjective passing of time, but here the layering takes on an added dimension, connoting an intense, almost claustrophobic closeness between mother and child.

This kind of condensation is reflected in the show’s title, “Drawings About the Present Quickly Become Works About the Past,” which is written on the wall in letters made alternately out of scrap paper, drawings and real flowers. While these ephemeral materials illustrate the meaning of the phrase, they are also a little clichéd — dying flowers are an over-used shorthand for the impermanence of life.

But Phelps makes an interesting connection between drawing and those moments (like becoming a parent) when we are conscious of time passing. Both are transitions between the present as we know it and the past as we choose to remember it.

– Sharon Mizota


Danica Phelps, Kathryn Brennan Gallery, 955 Chung King Road, Los Angeles. (213) 628-7000, through Nov. 14. Closed Monday and Tuesday. www.kathrynbrennan.com

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