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Sean Duffy at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

Also: Zhi Lin, Noah Sheldon and Tomoo Gokita

November 27, 2009|By CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT | Art Critic

Sean Duffy ramps up his familiar garage-band aesthetic in a large new body of work that contains a few surprises. It's the final exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects' current space, before the gallery moves four blocks west in January.

The show includes two of Duffy's patented "hybrid record-players," in which several turntables are cut apart and reassembled into one working machine. Put on a vinyl album by Dusty Springfield or, appropriately, the soundtrack to the 1961 Ingrid Bergman film "Goodbye Again," which tells of the entanglements of May-December romance, and the turntable does the rest. Multiple needles play the songs at more than one place simultaneously, creating bleary melodies from a layered, time-lapse narrative.

Duffy mashes together serial repetition, familiar from the mass-production ethos of Pop art, with plain old recycling. Social and cultural distinctions between high art and low art disappear.

Row upon row of square pieces of funky plywood are silk-screened with off-register album covers, Warhol-style, creating visual slippage akin to the layered aural tracking found on the turntables. Both are variants of a dog chasing its own tail -- or, given pop music's capacity to encapsulate a moment in cultural time and social space, its tale.

Duffy has crossed one altered turntable with a mechanic's shop cart and a painter's palette. This he used to paint a Chevy car engine suspended from a hoist -- not a painting of an engine, but an actual engine cleaned of grime, painted over in oil paint and suspended like Rembrandt's carcass of flayed beef. The gallery is also ringed with a narrow shelf that does double duty: Beer bottles on top, evoking the sociability of a gallery opening, and glass jars suspended below, filled with garage leftovers (nails, toothpicks, buttons, extension cords, etc.) and fragments of materials from Duffy's earlier exhibitions.

One of the show's nicest features is a group of magazines, which Duffy has taken to with a pair of scissors like Matisse making paper cut-outs. Old copies of Artforum, Frieze and Modern Painters are deftly reconfigured into music magazines, their covers transformed from pictures of art into collages of 45s and LPs. Duffy shows them casually strewn on a homemade coffee table, like something salvaged from a college dorm.

This lack of pretension, merged with the fervent ardor of a fan, gets pushed to a whimsical place in "The Void," a sculpture that is the show's standout. Twenty shop fans are tied into a sphere with colorful plastic twists, surrounding a big lightbulb at its center. This party bauble -- an unlikely disco ball -- hangs from an industrial-strength engine hoist, its fans furiously spinning. The over-built hybrid seems designed to cool the heat from the bright light shining within, giving function to a form that has sheer joy as at its driving force.

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 5795 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (323) 933-2117, through Dec. 19. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Transcontinental railroad drawings

Thirty-five drawings from 2007 by Seattle-based artist Zhi Lin fuse long traditions of Chinese and American landscape art. Given their subject -- construction of the transcontinental railroad, in which Chinese labor was both essential to success and horribly abused -- the combination is at once revealing and poignant.

At Koplin Del Rio, most of Lin's landscape drawings are made on sketch-pad-size paper using pencil and thinned Chinese ink. Their modest scale and simple materials yield a sense of the artist sketching on site, as if taking pictorial rather than written notes of what he sees -- a method employed by countless 19th century artists from the American East traveling through the Western frontier. Lin could have used a camera (period photographs of the Chinese laborers at work are not scarce), but drawings connect eye to mind to hand in a powerful and thoughtful way.

Born in Nanjing, China, Lin is approaching these sites from a different direction than 19th century painters such as Thomas Moran or Albert Bierstadt -- and with a different purpose. Instead of surveying Northern California and wilderness Wyoming to cobble together heroic images of Manifest Destiny back in the studio, he is memorializing the High Sierra landscapes where Chinese workers blasted tunnels and laid wooden ties. (To skeptics of the laborers' capacities, Central Pacific's Charles Crocker reportedly said, "[They] made the Great Wall, didn't they?") The drawings are as skillful and workmanlike as the laborers were, and they bring a slow, ground-level feel of thoughtful concentration to the subject.

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