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Art review: Alejandro Diaz at Happy Lion

November 13, 2009 |  1:55 pm

Worldslargest_300 "Homos welcomed!" "Does this sign make me look fat?" "No shoes, No shirt. You’re probably rich."

Alejandro Diaz’s cardboard and neon signs at Happy Lion earn an immediate, reflexive laugh. The thinnest of them stop there, one-liners with modest bite. The best of them, however, linger on, leaving a rich, residual discomfort.

The centerpiece of the Texas-born, New York-based Diaz’s uneven show is the "World’s Largest Cardboard Sign," a freestanding, 10-by-12 foot exercise in simple, self-declarative humor. Far more provocative is the blank, rough-edged, faux-cardboard rectangle that hangs on the wall near its own museum-style label, designating its title as "Homeless and Speechless." This piece is also simple in form, but its muteness resonates; the empty sign sends a complex, contradictory message about disenfranchisement on one hand and the entitled pretense of art-like behavior on the other.

Diaz mixes idioms throughout vernacular signage, social and political commentary, self-reflexive art wit, but the combinations don’t always generate interesting friction. The commercial-style neon signs recall Bruce Nauman, but lack his work’s metaphysical heft. In one of the show’s more absorbing pieces, Diaz spreads a Mexican blanket on the ground and covers it with a collection of handwritten signs on cardboard scrap, the kind commonly held by people seeking a handout. Diaz appeals not to our wallets but to a self-mocking sense of humor with signs reading "beg to differ," "By disappointment only," "The Filet Mignon of affordable conceptual art." In this humble form, his puns and savvy jabs feel a little like slumming, but they also point to a basic connection between art, resourcefulness and hunger.

– Leah Ollman

The Happy Lion, 963 Chung King Road, (213) 625-1360, through Nov. 28.  Closed Sunday through Tuesday.

Photo: "World’s Largest Cardboard Sign," 2009. Photo Credit: Kyle Wong.