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In an undated journal entry from 1851, Thoreau postulated about his contemporaries in bustling 19th Century America—these men who talk in self-congratulatory tones about the advances of the industrial age. “It is the hip-hip-hoorah and mutual-admiration-society style”—you can feel Thoreau rolling his eyes as he pounds out these words. This month, Susanne Vielmetter has mounted a show in collaboration with Chicago’s Corbett vs. Dempsey. The title—despite Thoreau’s implications—here feels like sincere admiration. In L.A., we see the work of Corbett vs. Dempsey artists Arlene Shechet, Margot Bergman, and John Sparagana.
The first gallery houses a thrilling pairing of Berman and Shechet’s work. Shechet, who trades in asperous ceramic forms, each roughly torso-sized and embodying a different energy than the last. Unnamed, Unknowable, and Impossible (2017), rests abjectly on a powder-coated stool; its organic and patchily-colored form erupts into a mop of stringy, snake-like squiggles. The personification that Shechet’s objects insist on is mirrored in Berman’s paintings of female faces which flank the gallery, staring blankly and dumbly ahead; rendered with an unsettling mix of care and disregard. Labored over—eyes drawn, painted out and redrawn—the faces exist in the murky terrain of between being the butt of the joke and the muse of the artist.
John Sparagana’s work feels a bit outcast, cordoned to the second gallery it is insular even as it visually delights. Sparagana hand slices large-scale photographs sourced from comics into petite ⅛ inch squares, then sets about rebuilding the image. The resulting effect reduces Superman or Dick Tracy into shimmering blurs, thought bubbles and narratives rendered illegible.
Later in the same journal entry, Thoreau writes, “nothing makes a deep and lasting impression but that which is weighty.” While singularly, each artist’s work in Mutual Admiration Society manifests a conceptual weight that is certainly worth lingering upon (and Berman and Shechet’s installation gets close to presenting a cohesive thesis), an exhibition based solely on mutual admiration between two galleries is an airy concept that leaves little room for the viewer. Though, perhaps in the midst of overly-conceptual summer group exhibitions and the weightiness of daily life these days, mutual admiration is enough.
Mutual Admiration Society runs from July 13 – August 19, 2017 at Susanne Vielmetter (6006 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232).