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Art review: Drew Heitzler at Blum and Poe

December 25, 2009 | 12:00 pm

400.floor2-f Drew Heitzler's new triptych of three appropriated Hollywood films re-edited and transferred to video is an elaborate, highly stylized bit of historical theater. Think of it as mass-media kabuki.

The piece was originally planned as part of the Focus series for the Museum of Contemporary Art, a show canceled in the wake of last year's fiscal crisis. In the second-floor gallery at Blum & Poe, the work is projected on a wide wall, its three parts layering the subtle shifts between the Beat Generation and the Pop era as the early 1960s unfolded. Hollywood B-movie shockers form the melodramatic raw material.

"The Wild Ride" (1960) has Jack Nicholson as a tragic troublemaker at the dirt-racing track. Dennis Hopper is obsessed with a carnival mermaid in "Night Tide" (1961). And Warren Beatty pursues mercurial Jean Seberg at a sanitarium in "Lilith" (1964), as fellow patient Peter Fonda commits suicide in despair. Heitzler's multiple screens, choice of black-and-white pictures and youthful movie stars together seem meant to recall Andy Warhol's films, which he began to make in 1963.

In the jumbled, fragmented, radically condensed narrative, love on the rocks bleeds into insanity, interspersed with postwar American car culture. Oil, the gasoline fueling the crazed American dream whose nightmarish underside is on syncopated display in the weirdly mesmerizing triptych, oozes into view in adjacent galleries.

A small room shows a short, 46-second video loop of a pumping oil derrick in Ladera Heights, briefly cut with a brilliant sunset sky punctuated by palm trees. A large room is lined with scores of inkjet prints of archival photographs of 20th century Los Angeles, both factual and fictitious.

Celebrities, tabloid news and civic corruption are prominently featured in found photographs that chronicle everything from the Black Dahlia murder mystery to the black gold of the campy "Beverly Hillbillies" television show. Oil seeps into several pictures, filling up a suburban swimming pool or running into the street, courtesy the artist's application of dense black ink.

A large drawing connects these disparate photographic subjects, including the Keystone Kops, zeppelin warfare, the Ku Klux Klan and Patty Hearst. Each is tied to one of three locations:  Baldwin Hills' oil fields, Venice Beach and the La Brea tar pits. A cross between a police detective's chart of criminal suspects and a conspiracy theorist's flowchart, with shades of a film director's elaborate scenography thrown in for good measure, the drawing provides the perfect, loopy star map to a spectacular era of stunning dissolution.

– Christopher Knight

Blum & Poe, 2754 La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-2062, Jan. 5-30. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Image: Frame from "Lilith." Image credit: From Blum & Poe.