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Art Review: Brian Bress at Cherry and Martin

September 25, 2009 |  5:00 am

Not all that long before the Internet made instantaneous communication a regular part of everyday life, people seemed to be a little less rushed and a little more patient. Stories unfolded a little more slowly, sometimes meandering all over the place before getting to the point, if they even had one.

 Brian Bress takes visitors back to those glorious moments of storytelling — to a time when communication was not cut-to-the-chase message-mongering and the texture, tone and tempo of whatever was being conveyed mattered as much as what was said, written or, more commonly, typed.

At Cherry and Martin, Bress’ second solo show in Los Angeles begins by creating a dreamy, down-to-earth atmosphere: a scrappy, do-it-yourself fantasy world that traffics in enchantment and generosity rather than in the over-dramatized self-satisfaction so prevalent on the Internet.


Visitors enter an extremely dark gallery in which a video is projected on a wall. The same actor, Bress, plays all the main roles, which include an astronaut, a boxer, a coal miner, a variety show host and a puppet. Several dancers, dressed in fabulous camouflage costumes, back him up, bounding around like human wind-chimes against an abstract landscape that resembles a souped-up version of Cubist collage.
 The story is circular, so it doesn’t much matter when you walk in. Bress’ video intrigues from the get-go, exciting the imagination and drawing you into the lolling, singsong rhythms of its scenes.
 Its costumes and props are homemade, not much more sophisticated or expensive than those crafted by third-graders for a school play. The dialogue is earnest, pedestrian, no-nonsense. And the acting is unpolished, not as slick or aggressively stripped bare as many tell-alls on the Internet, but warmer and more endearing, like home movies from the 1970s, before digitization made editing and reshooting so easy.

Think Pee Wee Herman meets Paul McCarthy. That gets at the fresh-eyed innocence and wondrous delight of Bress’ 19-minute video as well as its firsthand knowledge of life’s dark side, society’s ugly underbelly and the very real possibility that, even on good days, things can go very wrong.

Titled “Status Report,” Bress’ pointedly loopy story interweaves seemingly unrelated vignettes to describe the ways curiosity and knowledge pull and tug against each other, sometimes leading to big insights and at other times leading to even bigger questions.

And that’s just the first gallery.

In the second are props, drawings and spinoffs from “Status Report.” The best are three fantastically detailed inkjet prints and a primitive mask collage. All capture the quirky vivacity of the video.

On a small, wall-mounted monitor, a second video plays, its audio available via headphones. Titled “It’s Been a Long Day,” the two-minute quickie has a lovely light touch that efficiently generates a sense of impending doom. It’s as smart as “Status Report” and far more ominous. Its silliness intensifies its effect impact.

Both of Bress’s videos stick in your craw long after you leave. He shows himself to be an artist worth watching, a storyteller whose evocative works cannot be summed up quickly but are best when allowed to simmer slowly in the mind’s eye.

Cherry and Martin, 2712 La Cienega Blvd., (310) 559-0100, through Oct. 24. Closed Sundays and Monday.

--David Pagel

Above: Brian Bress, "Status Report" Photo credit: Courtesy Cherry and Martin