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Art review: Robert Cumming at Jancar Gallery

March 17, 2011 |  4:30 pm

CUMMING gap between set and painted backdrop 8x10  1977 Jancar Robert Cumming's 1977 portfolio of 25 black-and-white photographs shot on sound stages at Universal movie studios are like a Hollywood subset of the New Topographics movement. Cumming's landscape was indoors rather than outdoors, where New Topographics photographers such as Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Bernd and Hilla Becher and others mostly worked, erasing conventional aspirations for capturing emotional truths in beautiful places. But the Conceptual art rigor, derived from the fictions inherent in camera work, is the same.

At Jancar Gallery, the photographs in "Studio Still Life," made when Massachusetts-born Cumming was teaching at UCLA, include images of sets for film and television productions such as "Jaws 2" and "Rich Man, Poor Man." Yet they offer not a shred of emotional chills nor sentiment, as those commercial productions did.

Nor do they find fault with Hollywood, in the manner of much tedious pop-culture critique. Instead, a viewer self-consciously injects meaning into pictures of a shark fin perched atop a pneumatic sled or a colossal "marble" staircase of painted wood.

Perhaps the most resonant image is one aimed at the wide, disconcerting gap that separates a painted backdrop of mountains and a snowy field dotted with pine trees. This set was made for a gender-reversal television remake of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," starring Marlo Thomas in the Jimmy Stewart role. Cumming goes, as it were, "behind the scenes" in this photograph, but he doesn't expose a narrative truth about the production or its stars.

Instead, the falsity of all camera images, Hollywood's and Cumming's alike, is neatly framed by a photograph whose inescapable focus is a marvelously empty space. This is Robert Rauschenberg's famous "gap between art and life," captured by a camera. Cumming photographs the yawning void, but it's not the one we generally consider or see.

Jancar Gallery, 961 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (213) 625-2522, through April 2. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.jancargallery.com

ALSO:

Leavitt painted image 1972 Art review: 'William Leavitt: Theater Objects' at MOCA

Art review: 'Gods of Angkor' at the Getty

Art review: 'Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman' at the San Diego Museum of Art

 

-- Christopher Knight

@twitter.com/KnightLAT

Photo: Robert Cumming, "Gap Between Set and Painted Backdrop: Feature Film, "It's a Wonderful Life" Stage #12," May 27, 1977; Credit: Jancar Gallery

 

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