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Art review: Daniela Comani at Charlie James Gallery

April 21, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Comani_10-hi

In her first solo exhibition in the U.S., Berlin artist Daniela Comani presents three projects at Charlie James Gallery that exploit the malleability of digital imagery to reveal shifting definitions of gender and history.

The most facile is a series of 52 book covers that Comani has altered, substituting feminine subjects for male ones. Some are relatively subtle—“Mr. Dalloway,” “L’étrangère” (the feminine of Camus’ “The Stranger”) — while others are heavy-handed: “Queen Kong” ... and you can imagine what "Moby Dick" became. The works hint at entrenched assumptions about what is properly “masculine” and “feminine,” but they do little more than skim the surface, coming across as merely cute.

More successful is the series “Happy Marriage,” a sequence of black-and-white photographs depicting a married couple cooking together, brushing their teeth, holding hands on the beach. Despite the popular notion that couples, over time, begin to resemble each other, these two look uncomfortably alike. Even a cursory inspection reveals that both roles are played by Comani, differentiated only by dress and a five o’clock shadow. This quiet dissonance doesn’t blow gender roles out of the water, but it does create playful ripples.

The show's standout, however, is "It Was Me -- Diary. 1900 - 1999," a running list, printed on a mural-size banner, of historic moments recounted in the first person. Beginning on Jan. 1 ("I founded the Communist Party of Germany in Berlin."), there is an entry for every day until Dec. 31 ("During a New Year's party I flee Cuba. Thus ends my regime."). The list eschews conventional chronology, imposing the days of the year as an ordering device on moments plucked from throughout the 20th century. By listing them as if they all happened in the course of one year and recounting them in the first person, Comani not only gives history the intimacy of a diary, but reminds us how it continually re-surfaces in the present.

-- Sharon Mizota

Charlie James Gallery, 975 Chung King Road, L.A., (213) 687-0844. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. Through June 4. www.cjamesgallery.com

Photo: Daniela Comani, "Happy Marriage #10," 2008. Credit: Courtesy of Charlie James Gallery

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