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Although it takes its title from a 1994 James Cameron Film, the exhibition True Lies is ostensibly about our current political miasma—where fictions are peddled as fact, while veteran media outlets are disparaged as “fake news.” To this end, it features a diverse group of artists who challenge the veracity of official messages while exploring what Rene Magritte referred to as “the treachery of images.”
The most compelling works in the show are those that walk the line between authenticity and fabrication. Cynthia Daignault’s series History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake (2017) features grayscale painting based on photographs ranging from the mundane (suburban houses, landscapes) to the extraordinary (bigfoot and UFO sightings). Removed from their original contexts, these images are free to be recombined to tell new, and equally spurious, narratives. Heji Shin’s photograph Baby 9 (2017) scales-up a baby’s crowning head at the moment of birth to monumental proportions. It purports to be a depiction of unvarnished naturalism, though the black background, intimate perspective, and studio lighting imply a degree of staging. Ian Davis’ painting, Inland (2014), portrays a dystopian landscape: a cloverleaf freeway exchange is subsumed in pink floodwaters, while trucks full of militiamen patrol this purposeless cul-del-sac. Painted with exquisite detail, it is an ecological nightmare where normal citizens have been replaced by indistinguishable sentries.
True Lies falters with the inclusion of works that either don’t fit with the curatorial focus on language, truth, and resistance, or cling too literally to its premise. Among a few abstract works, Andrea Marie Breiling’s Kentucky Rain (2017) stands out—a churning maelstrom of black, white, blue, brown brushstrokes that channels the vitality of Joan Mitchell—but seems, at best, cursorily connected to the show’s conceit. On the other end of the spectrum are outrage-fueled works dominated by oblique (Jesse Harris’s hand-painted protest signs tacked onto baseball bats), or clichéd (“Speak Truth to Power” scrawled on a painting by Christine Wang) sloganeering, both of which end up defanged in their relocation from the street to the gallery. True Lies’ is most engaging when it avoids facile notions of authenticity or truth, and wallows in the gray area of dubious reliability.
True Lies runs from June 30–July 29th, 2017 at Night Gallery (2276 E. 16th Street, Los Angeles CA 90021).