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Art review: 'Nathan Mabry: Armature' at Cherry and Martin

January 14, 2011 |  9:00 am

Mabry TheWeekofKindnessSix weirdly elegant sculptures by Nathan Mabry at Cherry and Martin play fast and loose — and very effectively — with culture. The L.A. sculptor uses art as a multipurpose tool that scrambles conventional ideas about meaning, identity and humanity as  it rearranges visitors’ relationships to their surroundings as well as to their selves, which suddenly seem significantly more malleable and at home in a world that was once unfamiliar, alien and other.

At first glance, Mabry’s steel, aluminum and bronze sculptures appear to be gags, cheeky jokes that nod knowingly to famous artists, like Picasso, Rauschenberg and Judd, famous movements, like Primitivism, Assemblage and Minimalism, and famous works, like “Monogram,” “Tete de Femme” and “Untitled.”

The humor provides real pleasures. It also paves the way for more serious considerations without letting the art get heavy-handed or pedagogic.

Most of Mabry’s hilariously jerry-rigged sculptures begin with stuff he finds online: a kitschy knockoff of a statue of she-wolf-suckling Romulus and Remus, Baga D’mba shoulder masks made for the tourist trade, novelty sausages for market displays and an industrial-strength transformer box. To these he adds a car tire and wicker baskets, all cast in bronze, and homemade pedestals, one with a mechanism that pumps tears through the eyes of its weeping fertility figure.

Mabry Tete de Femme 2The results are taut, formally refined sculptures that are more than the sum of their sources. Mabry’s rich, user-friendly fusions demonstrate that meaning migrates more freely and unpredictably than anything  else out there; that all forms of culture are part of the mix; and that individual identity never sits still.

Think of Mabry as a master of giddy globalism. His hybrids transform everything they touch into a generous invocation of worldly civility.

-- David Pagel

Cherry and Martin, 2712 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 559-0100, through Feb. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Images: Top, Nathan Mabry, "The Week of Kindness." Bottom, Nathan Mabry, "Tete de Femme." Credit for both: Courtesy of Cherry and Martin.