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Nick Angelo’s solo exhibition at Stanley’s, Reality Becomes a Playground, is a series of paintings inside of paintings depicted within intricate interior sound stages. These artificial scenes are devoid of protagonists, though the looming representation of video production equipment that frames the interior paintings becomes a character in itself. Moving from one painting to another, the viewer is confronted with a continuous flow of cameras, lighting, rigs, tripods, and microphones, portraits of intimate spaces hinting at complex lives and the barren stages which contain them. Within these sterile depictions of broadcast media culture, Angelo’s paintings nonetheless offer points of emotional contact, leaving space for intimacy and escape while depicting the oppressive nature of a hypermediated world.
Throughout the exhibition, Angelo questions the role of artists, making direct references to specific artists within his painted tableaus. The works contain nods to Julie Becker, Mike Kelley, and David Wojnarowicz—a miniature version of a mouse plushie, referencing Kelley’s Test Room (1999), can be found within the painting featured in Stage Painting (Self) (2021), a dense composition which includes a plastic Twister mat, a white coffee table, and a water dispenser. The referenced artists dealt with mental and physical health issues, including addiction, creating a continuum between their narratives and Angelo’s own struggles with addiction. After many years of volunteering with a needle exchange program in Los Angeles, Angelo took a full-time position in the program in 2019, during the height of the opioid crisis. Drawing from this layered personal experience, Angelo critically juxtaposes dingy interiors with art world fare, interrogating the ongoing relationship between the two (and recalling the ongoing co-option of the art world by nefarious entities such as the Sackler family). In Stage Painting (I Try Not to Think About it) (2022), we see a rendition of Picasso’s Guernica (1937) skewed at a dramatic left angle and set within a museum space that is itself contained within the media apparatus that characterizes the series. With this gesture, Angelo questions the role of emancipatory politics within the arts, echoing critical works like Nizan Shaked’s Museums and Wealth (2022).
Other artworks pull from pop culture, juxtaposing mass media alongside artist references. Stage Painting (Me and Julie B., Julie B. And Me) (2022) references works from Julie Becker’s 2018 exhibition I must create a Master Piece to pay the Rent (2018) alongside Fight Club (1999), a popular film that explored toxic masculinity, mental health, and violence. Using the protagonist’s living space as a backdrop for the artwork’s internal painting, Angelo inserts objects from Becker’s exploration of the American psyche, such as a sleeping bag and a fireman’s pole, into the crowded scene. Here, Angelo creates a dichotomy of public and private worlds—one reference belonging to mass media and the other to an artistic practice, projecting both public and private spheres into the same space to be broadcasted to an imagined audience.
Angelo developed two of the paintings in the show, Stage Painting (Self) and Stage Painting (Empowered and Confined, Adulterated) (both 2021), into miniature 3-dimensional models. Rendered in an uncannily high level of detail, these models grant the viewer access to new and various viewpoints of the painted scenes without further elucidating the situations depicted. In this way, these two forays into sculpture deftly complete Angelo’s exploration of such closed systems. Nonetheless, daily objects such as an empty bag of chips appear as touching signs of life at the core of Angelo’s meta-game. Questioning the trappings of a mediated world defined by privilege gaps in a hypermediated world of enclosed reference, Reality Becomes a Playground invites its viewers to find lines of liberation between the enclosed and suffocating intimacies contained within.
Nick Angelo: Reality Becomes a Playground runs from March 26–April 23, 2022 at Stanley’s (944 Chung King Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90012).