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Art review: 'The Loop Show' at Beacon Arts Building

December 21, 2011 | 12:15 pm

Institute for Figuring, "Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef"
Broken furniture, empty cigarette packages, auto parts, old magazines, used aluminum foil, plastic cups, tattered clothing -- cast-off materials have been a staple for artists ever since industrial manufacturing, mass production and planned obsolescence began to leave growing piles of refuse along society's myriad thoroughfares. Along the way, artistic uses as diverse as metaphoric death, surrogacy for social marginalization, incisive formal analysis of creative singularity and even a simple do-gooder impulse for recycling have come into play.

Conceptual art in the 1960s partly proposed that enough objects already exist in the world, eliminating the need for artists to make more. Trash to the rescue. At the Beacon Arts Building, a wide-ranging exhibition titled "The Loop Show" seems to propose -- at least indirectly -- that the Conceptual dictum is now second nature to artists working with throwaways.

The show is a bit all over the place, without the sharpest curatorial focus. But a range of sculptures, installations, paintings, photographs and collages by 19 artists has been assembled by artist/curator China Adams, and all of the works hinge on a particular capacity of cast-off materials to engage.

In the most extravagant case, Dustin Shuler "skinned" a Mercedes Benz. Its once sleek, now flattened body parts are laid out on the floor like a Bavarian bear-skin rug, the ultimate trophy bagged on an Industrial Age safari.

Some are as simple as John Luckett's straightforward photographic "portraits" of tattered chairs left for trash collection on city streets, although the images don't exude much personality. Adams' own suspended "tumbleweed" of shredded scrap paper is laminated for durability, yielding a wry take on vacuous materialism. (The shredded scrap paper takes the form of closed curves -- or, given the curatorial title, "loops.") Amy Drezner has fashioned a meditation circle of vocally chanting dolls, creepy for its reference to the socialization of children, while Elisabeth Higgins O'Connor contributes a larger-than-life puppet figure composed of textile scraps, related to the lumbering creatures in her current Chinatown show at Charlie James Gallery.

Don Suggs builds tall, skinny, Brancusi-style "endless columns," one of alternately stacked plastic ashtrays and drinking cups that thrums with the long, slow repetitions of mundane contemplation over cigarettes and drink. Cigarettes in the form of hundreds of discarded Marlboro packages, cut and pasted into the industrious form of a sprawling honeycomb pattern, animate Robert Larson's big, lacerated red collage.

A forked tree branch wrapped in gold lace and adorned with florid finials and flamboyant tassels by Alexis Zoto simultaneously mocks and marvels at the urge to treat art as a social dowsing rod, leading to hidden treasure, when the reward is actually right before your eyes. Likewise, the activity of drawing with crumpled aluminum foil, glitter and pipe cleaners yields everything-on-the-surface pleasures for Mark Dutcher. And William Ransom holds a gilded but ordinary little walnut a few feet off the floor in the tension between bowed and weighted slats of wood -- potential energy made humble and witty.

Works by seven more artists -- Miyoshi Barosh, Thomas Deininger, Doug Harvey, Anne Hieronymus, Nuttaphol Ma, Stephen McCabe and Ann Weber -- complete the sizable presentation. The tour de force that steals the show, however, is a pair of elaborate constructions by the Institute for Figuring, a collaborative group led by twin sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim.

Institute for Figuring, "Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef" Like Mardi Gras costumes shaking their bon-bons atop pedestals, the crenelated sculptures virtually demand attention. One primarily black, the other mostly white, the densely worked sculptures are intricately ruffled mounds of crocheted plastic bags and cellophane interwoven with twist ties, soda can pop-tops, medicine blister packs, drinking straws and other flotsam. Trash never looked so elegant and sparkly.

The result is a slab of artificial coral reef, those ecosystems of remarkable efficiency and diversity that are today threatened by pollution and warming temperatures in many of the world's oceans. (The Wertheim sisters grew up on the Australian coast along the Coral Sea, near the imperiled Great Barrier Reef.) The sculptures are like force fields drawing you into their orbit, catalysts for a network of social interactions that mimics a reef's. It's as if tiny chunks of the immense Great Pacific Garbage Patch -- that huge, swirling mass of debris that formed in rotational ocean currents north of Hawaii -- had been reconfigured for constructive rather than destructive purposes. Gorgeous, absurd and socially productive, these are rare works of art that you long to see ceremoniously dumped into the ocean.

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— Christopher Knight

@twitter.com/KnightLAT

Beacon Arts Building, 808 N. La Brea Ave., Inglewood, (310) 419-4077, through Jan.15. Closed Mon. through Wed. (check holiday hours). www.beaconartsbuilding.com

Photos: (top and detail) Institute for Figuring, "Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef," 2011, mixed media. Credit: Beacon Arts Building

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