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Art review: Karen Sargsyan at Ambach & Rice

December 15, 2011 |  2:40 pm

Karen Sargsyan, installation view, "Prisoners of Conscience"
Karen Sargsyan cuts and pastes paper with aplomb, virtuosity and humor. In the old days, that was the province of collage. Cubists, Dadaists and Surrealists employed collage to tear the veneer of normalcy off everyday perceptions. Times have changed, but Sargsyan does something similar in the digital phase of the Information Age.

Crafting three-dimensional figures that make Dr. Frankenstein’s monster seem quaint, even cuddly, the Armenia-born, Amsterdam-based artist draws visitors into a world where everything is fake and all the more frightening for it. The madness of modern life takes pointed shape in “Prisoners of Conscience,” Sargsyan’s first solo show in Los Angeles.

At Ambach & Rice, the larger of two galleries is jam-packed with small-, mid- and life-size figures, all made from paper. One strikes the pose of a haughty butler, his serving tray spilling tuxedo-clad elves. Another recalls the Wicked Witch of the East, her legs protruding from the gallery wall as if she just crashed through it.

Most of Sargsyan’s figures resemble samurai, as they appear in the battle scenes of ballet-inspired movies. Their postures and expressions are so exaggerated they seem to belong to an ersatz kabuki troupe or in the showroom of an origami master whose specialty is death throes. Low-budget Transformers also come to mind, as do homemade marionettes and disposable Halloween costumes.

In the center of the smaller gallery stands a single sculpture of a stylized acrobat catapulting over a prancing animal. On the wall, a small monitor plays “Putin: Stupidity or Mistake,” a nine-minute video of a conversation between former Russian Parliament member Konstantin Borovoy and political dissident Valeriya Novodvorskaya.

At first, Sargsyan’s video seems to come from left field. But it’s no more absurd an inclusion than any other of the freewheeling associations that swirl around his wild works, which form a perversely apt style: viciously silly Realism.

-- David Pagel

Ambach & Rice, 6148 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 965-5500, through Dec. 28, Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Image: Karen Sargsyan, installation view, "Prisoners of Conscience." Credit: From Ambach & Rice