Gwen Adler: New Work
October 12 - November 9, 2017
Los Angeles Center for Digital Art (LACDA)
104 E 4th St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
By SHANA NYS DAMBROT, OCT. 2017
There about a million ways into the operatic large-scale digital collages of Gwen Adler, whose conceptual travelogues are driven by social critique and animated by personal obsession. But perhaps the most salient is that her source material is entirely her own photography. In other words, what may look like fantasies are in fact the evidence of direct experiences in her surroundings -- Rome, Paris, New York City, Los Angeles. Beyond the personal, it does reflect the meta quality of the current zeitgeist. This onslaught is sublime and a bit terrifying, but not overwhelming, because by now it is familiar, and in this case, because it all came through one woman’s sight. She is all of us, and she’s showing us everything -- seemingly all at once. But we already know how to decode it; we understand the psychic conditions to which it refers. There’s something very NYC (where she lives) about the compositional sensibility of density, gravity, and non-stop motion. Equally, there’s a lot to recommend it to LA (where she often shows, as now) in terms of its appetite for color, kitsch, and candy-colored beauty. Europe (where she frequently travels) has a dead-serious reverence and a glamorous flippancy with its own ponderous history, which makes itself felt in this work as well.
There is a balanced quasi-symmetry to Adler’s pageantry of architecture--both landmark and vernacular, consumer goods from flowers to fashion wigs, souvenirs to gemstones, nature and industry, worship and recreation, politics, toys, pets, dolls, cherubim, seraphim, and kitty cats. Oh, yeah-- and lots of pretty mannequins in vintage makeup, and so very, very many human skulls, crystal-encrusted, catacombed, and costumed. Her spatial engineering owns a regal, art-historical center of gravity around which is arrayed the most cosmic of fidget-spinners, a true universe-size onslaught of information, emblems, and pop culture totems. It’s vertiginous, it’s a gyre, but it’s not threatening; it’s harmonious and infinite, yet manageable. Typically organized around a classical formulation of the central lozenge in the Frankish style, Adler’s gone full Rococo in sheer magnitude, economies of scale, hot and cold palettes, and cultural correspondences. It’s a lot, but there’s a gestalt, a singular point of view, and a storyline within each one. With contemplation, it’s easy to arrive at clarity. Nothing here is ambiguous or ambivalent, only layered.
Her studio process is spiritually identical to old-school scissors-and-glue collage, but it’s executed in software. Truly, though, in terms conceptual, mental, and analogously physical, that’s the methodology that is Adler’s touchstone. It’s still exceptionally labor-intensive and durational; imagining her at work has a performative dimension. This work feels like seeing the inside of her brain, or any modern human brain. An endless accumulation of all the patterns, recurrences, topical news, current moods, and cultural ephemera of the world, her mind is an archive and this apparent explosion is actually a helpful filing system. This is art that fulfills the promise of the digital toolkit, not for its own sake, but because such tools are best suited to the task of characterizing and depicting the complex emotions of persons experiencing the digital age, which in this case is both its context and topic. WM
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Whitehot Magazine, KCET’s Artbound, Flaunt, Fabrik, Art and Cake, Artillery, Palm Springs Life, Riot Material, West Hollywood Lifestyle, Jenkem, and Porter & Sail. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and exhibition catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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