Mindy Shapero has become known in recent years for loading her works with long and feverishly didactic titles aimed at cuing viewers in to the esoteric code underlying her seemingly nonrepresentational sculptures and paintings.
The strategy points to a curious struggle at play in the work between mysticism and formalism or, put another way, between the artist's conceptual will and the almost rebellious integrity of her works as objects.
Speaking in Art in America a year after appearing in the Hammer Museum's much-lauded 2005 show "Thing: New Sculpture From Los Angeles," she distanced herself from the show's central conceit, insisting that her work was "not about thingness . . . not object-oriented" but driven, rather, by the narratives outlined in those inscriptions.
Those who've written about the work have been largely unconvinced, however, praising Shapero's formal acumen while dismissing the titles with some mixture of bemusement and irritation. Jerry Saltz concluded an otherwise enthusiastic review in the Village Voice in 2006 with "All she has to do is get more ambitious and stop trying to lead us around with her titles."
That's just what she appears to have done with "Into the Bottomless Pit," her third solo show at the Anna Helwing Gallery. The checklist has dwindled to a basic index of materials and dimensions, with the few one- or two-word titles serving a purely designative function: "Traveling Eye," "Looping" or the almost dejectedly factual "Head."
The works, meanwhile, seem to have grown bigger -- if not literally, then in their energetic command of the room. The show's four free-standing sculptures are strange and wonderful things, buoyantly playful and adroitly engineered, as giddy as they are confident.
Throughout, we see Shapero instinctively testing shapes against one other, balancing delicacy with monumentality, stability with imbalance, centripetal cohesion with explosive propulsion.
The works are filled with clever inversions, most of them exhaustingly labor-intensive. Slender loops of striped fiberglass (hence the title, "Looping") spring from a low, stable black base like ribbons set to flutter in the wind. Hollow rounded pyramids gathered in a compact cluster shoot outward like shafts of quartz crystal, their outsides glittering with gold leaf, while simultaneously collapsing inward, with slender internal stripes leading the eye into the core of each.
"Head" is an egg-shaped sphere, 6 feet tall and 5 feet across, with a face fashioned on four sides. From a distance, it appears as black and dense as a lump of coal, but it turns out to be covered in a sort of fur made from thousands of shards of colored paper, each painted black on both sides and cut to about the size of a fingernail. The color peeks through only along each cut edge.
Surrounding the sculptures are four monumental works on paper, resembling photograms but made with spray paint rather than light. In each, Shapero applied the paint over piles of what looks to have been costume jewelry, leaving a phantom imprint of beads, chains, buttons and charms that she then worked over with intricate daubs of acrylic paint and silver leaf. The forms that result -- composed primarily in black, white, silver and hot pink -- suggest magical insects or swirling clouds of particulate matter.
It would not be much of a stretch to believe that these works are symbolic artifacts from some fantastical narrative, but they're hardly lacking without lengthy inscriptions saying so. Indeed, it's a testament to the power of the brilliantly crafted objects that they probably speak more clearly without explanation.
Anna Helwing Gallery, 2766 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 202-2213, through April 5. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.annahelwing.com.
Sci-fi meets hip-hop culture
"Thinking Cap," one of two sculptures in Robert Pruitt's "Two Tears in a Bucket: Considering the Alcubierre Metric" at the Mary Goldman Gallery, consists of a black Malcolm X cap that appears to hover an inch or two above its pedestal, glowing from within with mysterious blue light. Like most of the works in the show, it is simple but memorable, seamlessly conflating multiple associations -- namely, black power and science fiction, but also hip-hop, custom car culture, street fashion and consumerism's rabid appropriation of all these things.
This and the other works stem, according to the gallery's press release, from an early fascination with science fiction that led the Houston-based artist, as a child, "to the frightening conclusion that there were no black people in the future other than the few portrayed as evil or criminal." (The title refers to a speculative mathematical concept for faster-than-light space travel -- "warp drive" in "Star Trek" terms.)
The show is an unaffected, if occasionally tongue-in-cheek, effort to redress that inequity.