Karl Haendel: Drawing the American Ego
By Sydney Walters
Through February 11th
This month, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects has transformed into a space ripe with sexual and post-election tension. Karl Haendel’s solo show, “BY AND BY,” is a collection of drawings, a video and a sound piece that explore the complexity of indulging the masculine psyche.
Karl Haendel’s large-scale graphite drawings visually leap from the gallery’s prussian blue walls. Four larger-than-life drawings of galloping horses with young female riders hang in the main gallery. Although horses are used today for entertainment and leisure purposes rather than transportation, the focused look in the young women’s faces and the apparent speed of the horses appear as if these women are riding into battle. This subversive language of actions, protest, and change carry on throughout the entire exhibit.
Across the room, hand drawn posters are reminiscent of this past campaign season. On the wall, a sign reads, “NO ON YES’ and “POST-TRUTH.” As Oxford Dictionaries 2016 Word of the Year, “post-truth” is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The spike of post-truth politics is a heavy influence in “By and By.” Haendel questions American trademarks and in the process, he unravels the importance of story.
Made in 2000, though still incredibly relevant, “State Motto Map” is a large drawing of the United States. Instead of writing state names, Haendel labels the states with their respective state motto. For example, Ohio is labeled, “with God, all things are possible.” Nebraska is “equality before the law,” and New Hampshire, “live free or die.” The implications of manifest destiny, unity under law, and good ole American work ethic is steeped in these mottos.
In the center room, a silent video projects extreme close-ups of a middle-aged man. Every detail from cracked heels to wild grey ear hair shifts in and out of focus. This video titled “J,” allows viewer’s to experience the subtlety of stillness. Outside the viewing room, copies of an eighty-page transcript of the artist’s interview with J accompany the video. What unfolds during the interview is a tragic story of a victim turned criminal and who now on the road of restitution and repentance. By allowing space for a sex offender to relay his story of reckless abuse and masculine expectations, Haendel‘s raw handling of image and interview is a platform for gender expectations to be examined.
Echoing in the last room is a recording of the artist’s three-year-old daughter as she recites the first name of the forty-four presidents of the United States. After “Donald,” she begins again: “George, John, Tom…” A huge portrait of Hillary Clinton, the largest drawing by Haendel in his career, is a two panel drawing. On the right, Clinton looks pointedly skyward with her lips pursed in fortitude. On the left is a panel layered with dark graphite. Her singular presence accompanied by the recital of “Bill, George, Barack…” reminds us that history has yet to recognize a female president.
“By and By” readily acknowledges flaws with American arrangements of gender and social systems. Haendel facilitates a conversation about representation through propaganda, visual play and stillness. This allotment of space allows viewers to reckon with an armory of prejudice and preconceptions.
Exhibit open from January 7-February 11
Gallery Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm