Art review: Anthony James at Patrick Painter
Titled “KO” for kalos thanatos (Greek for “beautiful death”), Anthony James’ first show at Patrick Painter is certainly a spectacle — if not a knockout. In 2008, the artist set fire to his own Ferrari in a birch forest near the Hudson River, invoking ancient religious sacrifices. He then entombed the charred and twisted carcass in a display case made of one-way mirrors lighted from within by fluorescent tubes. This exceedingly sleek ensemble, accessorized with a few birch branches, is somewhere between Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde tanks of animal corpses and the pristine, encased vacuums of Jeff Koons. And like those works, the piece is theatrical and a bit crass.
Although destruction as an aesthetic strategy has a venerable history, in this case it seems to encapsulate the wasteful irrelevance that runs rampant in the upper price brackets of the art market, turning an expensive car into an even more expensive work of art.
That said, the carcass is itself a fascinating document of ruin, an effect enhanced by the one-way mirrors, which create a seemingly infinite series of reflections in all directions. The viewer’s presence never interrupts this tableau; the car is alone in a solipsistic hall of mirrors. James puts this technique to less bombastic use in a trio of smaller cases that contain only birch branches. They are of course finite minimalist volumes, but gazing inside, one is drawn into an illusory space in which the trunks vanish into the distance. This contrast between what we know and what we see asks us to constantly negotiate the gap between physical reality and visual perception. It’s both engrossing and frustrating — a bit like the scene in "Alice in Wonderland," in which Alice peers through the keyhole of a tiny door onto a beautiful garden only to realize that she is unable to enter.
-- Sharon Mizota
Patrick Painter, 2525 Michigan Ave., B2, Santa Monica, (310) 264-5988, through Dec. 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.patrickpainter.com
Images: "KΘ" (top) and installation view of "Birch," "Birch Wall Mounted" and "Birch Cube." Credit: Scott Chu.