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Review: Chema Madoz at Duncan Miller Gallery

December 11, 2008 |  6:00 pm

'Thermometer, 1995'

Chema Madoz’s first L.A. show, at the Duncan Miller Gallery, is a simple pleasure. The Spanish photographer is first of all a sculptor, manipulating objects into clever visual puns and double-entendres that he then records straightforwardly, in black and white.

Substituting one familiar material for another, he flirts with the surreal, impossible and contradictory. He depicts a pipe whose stem has fingering holes like a musical instrument, evoking Magritte’s famous “Treachery of Images” — “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” It is and it isn’t, like the rest of the amusing contrivances: a rose with fish hooks for thorns, a bird cage built of barbed wire, a shopping bag with a strand of pearls as handle.

Madoz does with inanimate objects what his compatriot Joan Fontcuberta did in the 1980s with flora and fauna, creating marvelous, sometimes ominous hybrids that exist only in convincing photographs. Madoz’s efforts are a bit slighter, whimsical one-liners that play with the relationships among an object’s nature, function and appearance.

The substitution of a burnt wooden match for the slender mercury bulb of a thermometer is a smart, concise twist. Using a switchblade as the accent mark on letters spelling the familiar “tú” is similarly devious. Adopting the coolly elegant format of advertising photography, Madoz makes even the unlikeliest of conceits an easy sell.

-- Leah Ollman

Duncan Miller Gallery, 10959 Venice Blvd., (310) 838-2440, through Jan. 17. Closed Sundays through Wednesdays.

Above: Chema Madoz's "Thermometer, 1995." Credit: Duncan Miller Gallery