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Art review: Merlin Carpenter at Overduin and Kite

February 24, 2011 |  7:15 pm

Carpenter-Install-08-web
According to the press release for Merlin Carpenter’s latest exhibition, the London artist gave away a “generic abstract” painting on the condition that the recipient create 20 copies of it. That is exactly what is on view at Overduin and Kite: 20 modestly scaled abstract paintings that, upon a cursory glance, look exactly alike.

However, the show is not a simple retread of Warhol’s factory-like production; each of these paintings is actually unique. While the banal elements — a metallic gold oval surrounded by squiggles of red, turquoise, purple and green — are consistent from painting to painting, they are executed a little differently each time. What emerges is a jibe at the immediacy and uniqueness associated with Abstract Expressionist painting, but also, strangely, an affirmation of its irreproducible individuality.

In other words, the exhibition asks: What does it mean to make a copy of a gestural painting? Creating an exact, visual duplicate would mean an illusionistic rendering of each brushstroke, an act that would likely take all the life out of the painting. It seems Carpenter’s approach — a series of linked but somewhat subjective variations — is more true to the energetic spirit of such works while still creating “copies.” Oddly, these reproductions actually reinforce rather than detract from the uniqueness of the original.

By contrast, the signature on each of the works — typically an indicator of authenticity — is stenciled rather than painted. This cheeky nod to mechanical reproduction is echoed by the presence of several sleek, electronic treadmills in the center of the galleries. While there is certainly a connection between the repetitive act of copying and the self-reflective exertion required by a treadmill, the combination is a stretch and a bit of a head-scratcher.

-- Sharon Mizota

Overduin and Kite, 6693 Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 464-3600, through March 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.overduinandkite.com

Image: Installation view, "Merlin Carpenter," 2011, Overduin and Kite. Credit: Brian Forrest.

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