“Another Kind of Vapor” @ White Flag Projects

As you open the door to White Flag’s gallery space, first the smell, and then the sight, of peanut butter hits you.  The group show, featuring nine artists and work from 1965 to the present, is full of surprisingly pleasing twists like this.

The first work on the right, William Pope L.’s Commercial Work (2011) is a large canvas, leaned up against the wall, and propped up by liquid detergent bottles, and is thickly smeared with the stuff, along with paint and coffee, outlining block letters that read ORANGE PEOEPLE ARE DETERGENT.  While the peanut butter lends a kind of nostalgic Americana to the work, making it both approachable and loveable, the words alert us to something darker, something akin to racism.  If orange people are detergent (a statement made based on the color of the orange detergent bottles), what, if we are purely going by the color of mass-produced objects, ‘are’ white people or black people?

 The artworks in “Another Kind of Vapor,” carefully curated by Jenny Gheith and John McKinnon, address a variety of artistic and cultural themes, but the artists are linked most by their ambitious experiments with non-traditional materials and their rejection of objectification of art by purposefully making works where the concept is just as or more important than the piece produced. The works presented here do not have to be read as difficult and obscure conceptual works; rather, they are democratic in their approach to material, making the art more accessible and more inviting to a deeper reading than an obviously more elite (and often alienating) approach.  Medium and subject are often compliments, as in Ed Ruscha’s screen-print Pepto-Caviar Hollywood (1970) where the infamous Hollywood sign on the print fades with time (because of the materials use to print it, evident in the title) as do the stars that filter through the town year after year. 

 At the center of the space is a case containing official, formal documents from the Los Angeles County Health Department and letters to three art museums in regard to Dieter Roth’s Untitled (Invitation for Staple Cheese (A Race)) (1969/1980).  Here, Roth exhibited suitcases full of cheese in a Los Angeles Gallery until, due to the smell and insects (the flies that died for the sake of art in this project are exhibited as well) the whole thing had to be shut down, leaving only photographs, letters from the Bureau of Environmental Sanitation, and a sort of legend, left behind as ‘the work.’

 Do not leave without seeing:

– Jennifer West’s short film, Regressive Squirty Sauce Film (2007), a 16mm film leader squirted and dripped with chocolate sauce, ketchup, mayo, and apple juice, shots quickly changing but, because of the intriguing colors and texture created by the materials, there is a calming quality rather than a restless effect. 

– Robert Heinecken’s four Vanishing Photographs (1973), small, bluish, haunting photographs, unfixed silver gelatin prints that are reminiscent of the lithe quality of experimental early nineteenth century photography, but with a deliberate sophistication.

 “Another Kind of Vapor” continues at White Flag Projects at 4568 Manchester Avenue until 23 July, 2011. See www.whiteflagprojects.org for more information.

While you are there: Walk or drive 0.5 mile west on Manchester and check out Boogaloo, a Cuban/Caribbean/Creole restaurant: www.boogalooswings.com

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