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Deftly playing with art history

March 13, 2009|David Pagel

Elliott Hundley's fantastic exhibition takes visitors on head-spinning trips that go every which way. Stopping off in such unlikely places as Dumpsters, thrift stores and ancient Greek stages, the young artist's paintings, sculptures, collages, photographs and odd combinations of all these media transform forlorn leftovers into stunning tableaux. A blood-drenched tragedy from 2,000 years ago is brought up to the minute, its heartless vengeance and searing anguish making a month of the nightly news look like a walk in the park.

Titled "Hekabe," after a wildly violent tragedy by Euripides, Hundley's solo show at Regen Projects II -- his second in Los Angeles -- plays so fast, loose and deftly with recent art history that it conjures the formidable spirits of Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly without getting lost in their shadows. The gritty dreaminess of their richly inventive mixes of everyday stuff and soul-expanding fantasy are made even more focused, loaded and potent by Hundley's art without losing any of their scope or generosity.

Hundley's installation makes a virtue of the phrase "begged, borrowed and stolen." The recycled objects and dramas in his work raise pointed questions about the relationship between the individual and the growing mass of humanity that seems to be filling the globe to bursting.

In the entryway, Hundley has hung seven midsize light boxes that illuminate photographs of his friends pretending to be characters in "Hekabe." There is "Josh as Agamemnon," "Teddy as Polydoros" and "Ivan and Daniel as the Sons of Polymester."

Their costumes are improvised. Some would fit into high-end fashion shoots. Others look as if they were made for a school play. The settings are even more casually adapted: simply the chaos of Hundley's jampacked studio, where he stores his secondhand stuff.

The lighting is charged -- campy, melodramatic, effective. The characters' expressions are unforgettable, suffused with so much pathos, doubt and honesty that the trappings of playacting fall away to expose the reality of emotions.

And that's just the prelude. In the main gallery, Hundley has installed three wall reliefs, three big sculptures, two huge landscape paintings and a backlighted photograph.

From a distance, the reliefs appear to be gestural abstractions, dramatically composed whorls of color, texture and form. From up close you see that Hundley's pieces are made up of thousands of tiny elements, each stuck with a pin as if part of a misbegotten butterfly collection.

Individual sequins get the same treatment as beads, bangles and all sorts of mini-ornaments. The same goes for snapshot-size pictures of Hundley's friends, sometimes dressed as characters, sometimes nude and always meticulously cut from the photo so that no backgrounds are visible.

Images of chairs, wheels, trees, lamps and umbrellas make for a mix of things that sustain endless interpretations. Individual letters, clipped from magazines in the manner of old-fashioned ransom notes, spell out lines from "Hekabe" as well as the instructions for Method actor training exercises.

Hundley's 3-D pieces allow him to strut his stuff with greater muscularity. Amid dense layers of dangling, earring-like ornaments, he has crafted idiosyncratic networks of drinking straws fastened together with pins and spray-painted gold. In another piece blusters a windstorm of tiny gold leaves, recycled from piles of costume jewelry.

An actual scythe anchors "Polyxena's Sacrifice," alongside a few interlocked sets of deer antlers, a weighty ceramic vase and a shelf carved from a tree trunk. The facade of Hundley's mongrel mobile resembles several paper kites that have crash-landed.

The show is a hallucinatory treasure hunt. Filled with sorrow and redemption, fragility and strength, anonymity and intimacy, it's among the best of recent memory.

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Regen Projects II, 9016 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 276-5424, through April 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.regenprojects.com

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Bold works in the fabric of L.A.

As a piece of historical scholarship, "Gallery 32 and Its Circle" is first-rate: an informative time capsule that gathers about 50 works by 20 artists who visited or exhibited at the gallery Suzanne Jackson ran out of her modest apartment in the Granada Building near MacArthur Park from March 15, 1969, to Aug. 30, 1970.

As an art exhibition, it's even better. An impressive number of the works installed at Loyola Marymount University's Laband Art Gallery by director Carolyn Peter and guest curator Damon Willick have not faded with age but are as bold and evocative as they were 40 years ago, when many were first exhibited at the upstart gallery.

Standouts include three haunting body prints by David Hammons, five enchanting pieces by Betye Saar, a solid figurative assemblage by John Outterbridge, a melancholic drawing by Charles White and four crisp prints by Emory Douglas, who was the minister of culture for the Black Panther Party.

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