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Art review: Michele O'Marah at Kathryn Brennan

January 15, 2010 |  5:00 pm

400.1Triptych Over the last half-decade, a new genre of art has emerged: videos that would look better on YouTube than in galleries. Before then, this category was occupied by art that would be better as a book than as an exhibition.

Michele O'Marah's raucous yet unsatisfying exhibition at Kathryn Brennan Gallery @ Cottage Home has one foot firmly planted in each of these genres.

Her three video vignettes, projected on three walls, have their moments, particularly the scene in "The Death of Barb Kopetski" that could be a U.S. military recruiting advertisement gone horribly wrong, and another in "Don't Call Me Babe," chronicling a campy shoot-out in a rundown apartment. On the whole, however, O'Marah's videos make B-movies seem to be unattainable ideals, too polished and professional to be worth the trouble.

Her tongue-in-cheek send-ups would be just as engaging on a monitor. And the sculptural components of O'Marah's exhibition– including props, sets, digital prints illuminated by light-boxes and gobs of fake blood –are flat-out forgettable.

400.Barb-Medium_email More interesting are the sources she draws on. Her videos re-create scenes from "Barb Wire," a 1996 film based on a graphic novel and starring Pamela Anderson. Set in the future, in the aftermath of a second civil war, the critically panned box-office flop features revolutionaries, neo-fascists and nudity – sex and death and not much else. This is the part of O'Marah's overblown installation that might make for an interesting read, an essay if not a book.

Kathryn Brennan Gallery @ Cottage Home, 410 Cottage Home St., Los Angeles 90012, through Feb. 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays. (213) 628-7000. www.kathrynbrennan.com

– David Pagel

Images: Three Barbs (Amber, Emily and Trish), 2010 (top). Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer.   And detail from "Resistance and Charlie are Killed," 2009. Both courtesy of Kathryn Brennan Gallery.

Comments () | Archives (5)

Woah David,

I really feel like you missed the boat here. I really loved this exhibition.

You totally don't account for the fact that the 3 videos in this show run simultaneously, playing off each other in the space, and fit into long histories of video art in galleries grappling with the medium itself, and installations attacking ideals of modernism.

Most importantly, visitors to this exhibition are confronted with many incarnations of ur-femality, and although brutal and (possibly) run amok, a multi-faceted experience of FEMININITY NOW! is clearly constructed and presented.

I also feel like it's important to say here that youtube doesn't distinguish between high & low forms of art, production quality, and now (with newer technology) methods of presentation itself.

As a huge fan and supporter of Michele O'Marah's work, I find this review to be disappointingly under-researched. It is fine for Pagel to have a negative reaction to the exhibition, but this writing comes across as weak and reactionary, with no thought given to the broader context of the project or O'Marah's practice, which merits much more than a casual examination. Further, if Pagel wants to dismiss a "new genre of art" as better suited for YouTube, at least give some examples of other artists to give this assertion a context.

I love how the intelligent comments posted here offer a foil to David's review. Most illuminating.

Now I am spurred to see the exhibition and decide for myself, which makes this a successful critique.

To criticize O'Marah's work for low production values, as Mr. Pagel does when he writes, "O'Marah's videos make B-movies seem to be unattainable ideals, too polished and professional to be worth the trouble," is a bit like criticizing dance music for emphasizing rhythm over melody. The cobbled-together qualities of the work, the mimicry of spectacle with whatever materials are at hand are amateurish to be sure, rather than professional. But what amateurish really means is that the work is made for love, rather than for money.
Pagel presupposes that "polish" is an "ideal" that the work fails to achieve, rather than deal with the work on its own terms. Taken on its own terms, this show proves that something can be made out of nothing, and it can be more beautiful and entertaining than the industrially produced schlock on which it's modeled.

I had never heard of Michele O'Marah until I stepped into Cottage Home yesterday (Saturday) and loved this show. I had to go back and see it again today (Sunday) before it closed.

There is a grand scope and ambition that is truly admirable. Sort of Quixotesque (sp?). Doing the project is much more important than the project itself.

The video is unpretentious and its motives seem straightforward enough. I thought that was quite refreshing. I also like the sets. Rather low tech but visually memorable.


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