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Review: Varvara Shavrova at Morono Kiang Gallery

February 5, 2009 | 12:00 pm

Borders. Crimson

Varvara Shavrova’s first U.S. show is plagued by disproportionality. The artist’s background and her intentions for this project are rich and compelling, the work markedly less so.

Shavrova was born and educated in Moscow, moved to England in 1989 (dividing her time between studios in London and Ballycastle, Ireland), and four years ago relocated to Beijing. Borders, shifting landscapes and cultural collision are the stuff of her everyday life as well as her paintings, photographs and video work. At Morono Kiang Gallery, she presents two short video loops distilled from footage shot on or around the border between Russia and China and eight large paintings based on stills from the videos.

Borders. UmberShot from moving trains and buses, the videos are impressionistic records of the border region’s landscape and industry, its gorgeous, frigid stillness and its commercial bustle. As is true elsewhere around the globe, there is no real dividing line between the two nations other than that contrived by politics and culture.

This unstated truth packs the imagery with social and economic significance, but it doesn’t give it any visual heft. Southern Californians are fluent in the ironies choking our own border with Mexico, but the subtle signs and symbols of the Russia-China divide are mostly lost in translation.

The paintings are underwhelming too. Edged on top and bottom by solid stripes to mimic the video format, they reduce the landscape to mosaics of shaggy, monochromatic forms. Some of the scenes are blurred, Gerhard Richter-style, to suggest the motion of the train. All have some tactile appeal (the surfaces alternately smooth and gluey-thick) but little of the energy latent in such a charged subject.

-- Leah Ollman

Morono Kiang Gallery, 218 W. 3rd St., L.A., (213) 628-8208, through March 28. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Top: "Borders. Crimson" (2008), oil on canvas; bottom: "Borders. Umber" (2008), oil on canvas. Credit: Morono Kiang Gallery

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