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The Art Galleries

Wilshire Center

October 02, 1987|COLIN GARDNER

Donna Dennis is a New York-based painter and sculptor who constructs reduced-scale architectural installations as a means of exploring psychological and feminist issues. Her subjects revolve around interior and exterior journeys, exploiting the metaphors of transient hotels and bars, underground subway stations and decaying stairway passages to suggest the outward passage of time and create some form of self-awareness through inner discovery.

Thus "Skowhegan Stairway" is a two-thirds-scale re-creation of an enclosed staircase actually located on the side of a building in Skowhegan, Me. By tearing it from its site, Dennis has transformed it into an autonomous "building" in its own right. With its silver-painted bricks, patches, inaccessible entrances and stark lighting, the edifice exudes dreamlike mystery and ominous intent, much like one of Ed Kienholz's alienating slice-of-life tableaux or Michael McMillen's ghost houses. Its ambivalent function (is it a private entrance, or an emergency exit?) simply adds to its enigmatic aura.

Accompanying maquettes reinforce this sense of fringe psychological existence. A fragment of a New York subway station, with its labyrinth of stairs, I-beams, grills and tiles, once again seems both impenetrable and self-contained, as if Dennis were bringing the world of Dostoevski's underground (wo)man to the stark light of day. One could read in, as Dennis suggests, a less-than-obvious allusion to feminist consciousness germinating quietly in an artificial space of its own making. However, the works are perhaps best appreciated in broader terms as fragments of a universal, albeit repressed human narrative. (Richard Green Gallery, 830 N. La Brea Ave., to Oct. 19.)

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