BioPerversity at Nicodim Gallery
through April 28, 2018
By Shana Nys Dambrot
We tend to use anthropomorphized animals as proxies in metaphors and morality plays, fairy tales and Freudian projections, tattoos and illuminated manuscripts. Old myths are full of half human, half animal creatures, often gods or at least demigods. Minotaur, mermaid, centaur, Anubis, wood nymphs, Dracula. Human children Romulus and Remus suckled at a wolf’s breast and went on to found Rome. Planet of the Apes, Beauty and the Beast, Leda and the Swan, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For god’s sake, The Shape of Water now. But also Black Panther, so that’s cool. In classic mythology, psychoanalysis, and children’s fairy tales, the porousness of borders — between past and present, human and animal, fact and folklore, dream and reality — is important for coming to terms with harsher experiences like death, disease, injustice, heartbreak, and the war for survival. For some people, especially artists, the use of these displaced symbols only deepens with time, expanding to include nostalgia, wisdom, irony, political and social commentary, mind expanding drugs, all kinds of personal dysfunctions, and an impressive array of inventive sexual variations.
For some artists, relationships to the natural world bypass metaphor and pop culture altogether and go straight for the raw, abstract foundations of how life comes to be. We are talking bacteria, rust, lava, blood, fly shit — some nasty primordial dangers in which the impulses toward growth and entropy are not merely rendered, but directly enacted in material ways. Death, while stipulated as inevitable, is treated with a range of stances from the esoteric to the necrophiliac, mocking, fetishistic, chic, and worshipped. There’s a lot of sex the whole time. And consumerism, and materialism, and oh yeah, species extinction and organized religion. Just about every one of the assembled 60+ works celebrates some form of physical mutation and/or soft-core bestiality. There really aren’t that many humans, per se. Which is ultimately why, though the show presents itself as a bit of a freak show or at least a cabinet of curiosities, in the end, it’s the human audience that is out of our element, and are left questioning who are the true perverts — those who flaunt their proclivities, or those who deny freedom to their own true selves. I should probably mention, it’s also frequently hilarious.
So there are two basic ways to curate a group show, especially one on this scale. Either by shared formal or material attributes, or thematically, to examine an idea. If you’ve got an idea, you might actually want a literary, eclectic array, mixing emerging with a-list, international with local; and of course all the mediums, all the perspectives of identity, all the categories of imagery and processes, materials and messages, historical and avant-garde. It’s exciting. But it still has to look good in a room. Guest curator John Knuth (whose own art in the show involved fly puke, naked men, and live snakes, in no particular order) worked with the gallery’s Global Director (and man having all the fun at work) Ben Lee Ritchie Handler to flesh out the aspects of this self-evidently manifest premise. In a nutshell: It’s all wrong, but it’s alright.
The best way to experience the installation is to dive in and wander through, take a meandering path through this Boschian garden, making your own connections. The whole point is to do whatever you want and follow your instincts, even the dark ones. There is literally not one piece of bad or even mediocre art in the whole place, and there are frequent flashes of brilliance. If there’s one word of direction to offer however, it is to stay vigilant and be watchful for the show’s quieter, less attention-grabbing moments — those who linger and look closer will be rewarded. Read the playlist on the Otterson jukebox, peer into the painting within the painting in the 10×12 inch Savu, decide if the guy getting fucked by a frog in the Boadwee series is enjoying himself, appreciate what it might mean that the Andres Serrano is the most meditative, reverential work in the show. Ask what the Inoue boxes contain (hint: it’s alive), what the Cichocki “paintings” are made of (hint: it’s not paint), or why the Hansen “geodes” are more miraculous than the real thing. Decide for yourself if the Ballens are staged, if the knives will cut you, or what the holes in Mitchell’s ceramics are for. Go ahead, you might just surprise yourself.
Nicodim Gallery Los Angeles
571 S Anderson Street Ste 2
Los Angeles, CA 90033