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Art review: 'Supernatural' @ Jancar Gallery

August 20, 2010 |  6:30 am
The supernatural was a linchpin for art in every culture since time immemorial – at least until the science-infused modern era said, “Hold on.” The inflation of nature into something super, whether volcanoes as terrible pathways linking the underworld to the heavens, resurrection as a triumph over death or constellations as symbols of heroes and deities, typically served as a means for giving coherent shape to the unfathomable.

At Jancar Gallery, “Supernatural” assembles 36 diverse works by 18 contemporary artists to reinvest the term with rather different meanings. A 2007 Micol Hebron ink-jet photograph is perhaps a touchstone for the show’s wide-ranging viewpoint: A young woman, the sleeve of her T-shirt rolled up to display a prominent tattoo on her bicep, takes aim through the scope of a rifle at a white unicorn peacefully grazing in a bucolic field. The camera-made scene is a plain fiction, the common urge to destroy the marvelous is nonetheless heart-rending, the notion of artists as a slayers of mythologies is pictured and art as itself an arena for exploring the unfathomable is upheld.

Works in the show range from a 1926 vintage nude by William Mortensen, the Hollywood Pictorialist photographer who avoided so-called “straight” photography, to a 2010 diptych by Andrea Bowers, which juxtaposes a romantic pencil drawing of butterflies and a bird with a photojournalist’s blunt picture of a veiled Iranian woman “flipping the bird” at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the startled president.

David Askevold chronicles a near-death mishap in a staged New Mexico snake-handling ritual, which found its unlikely counterpart in the destruction of a camera. The inevitable conflict between worldly experience and pictorial representation informs Dorit Cypis’ “discovery” of the Earth’s curvature, which flips Copernicus upside-down.

Doug Harvey’s five-panel painted peep show hinges on the erotic coupling of vintage cartoons. Taking Duchamp out for a spin, John Baldessari dismantles art’s promise of alchemical transformation with a witty medicine bottle whose potion guarantees the satisfaction of every human desire.

Transcendence doesn’t have to mean something is beyond consciousness. “Supernatural” in fact turns out to be quite down-to-earth.

-- Christopher Knight

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Jancar Gallery, 961 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (213) 625-2522, through Aug. 28. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays.

Photo: Micol Hebron, "I Wanna Know What Love Is -- Part II (The Assassin)," 2007, ink-jet. Credit: Jancar Gallery