The paintings of Ahmed Alsoudani, at L&M Arts, are packed with everything that big, expensive paintings should, by some market-savvy measure, be packed with: strong colors; muscular gestures; requisite homage to painters like Picasso and Guston; and dense, ambiguous imagery — contorted, vaguely ghoulish figures, fragments of furniture and other objects — that flouts the boundary between abstraction and representation. What’s more, they tackle the classic big subject: war, namely the war in Iraq, where Alsoudani was born. (He left for the U.S. 15 years ago, went to college on the East Coast and got his master of fine arts at Yale. He now lives in New York.)
For all that, however, the work is surprisingly lackluster. Alsoudani’s handling of paint, while perfectly capable, is uninspired. The paintings read more like references to the work of other war painters — several directly mimic the compositional energy of "Guernica" — than expressions of any deep, emotional conviction. They’re not, as a result, especially disturbing. Indeed, they’re kind of jaunty — not cheerful exactly, but lively to look at, and certainly difficult to imagine being shaken by. In flirting with the carnivalesque (in the spirit, one suspects, of the German Expressionists), he stumbles into the cartoonish and holds on to it, as if hedging his bets against too great an agitation.
Alsoudani was one of six artists to represent Iraq in last year’s Venice Biennale — the country’s first showing there in 30 years — and there’s no reason to doubt to sincerity of his concern, whether for Iraq specifically or the atrocities of war generally. The approach, however, is lacking teeth. One is unlikely to be moved in any substantive way by work that’s trying so hard to be liked.
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-- Holly Myers
L&M Arts, 660 S. Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 821-6400, through March 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.lmgallery.com
Photo: Ahmed Alsoudani, installation view. Credit: Joshua White/JWPictures, from L&M Arts, Los Angeles.