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Review: Stylish photographs by Alex Prager at M+B

April 27, 2012|By Leah Ollman
  • Alex Prager's "Eye # 3 (House Fire)," part of a diptych.
Alex Prager's "Eye # 3 (House Fire)," part of a diptych. (M B )

Alex Prager's recent work at M+B has the proper look to be taken seriously these days. The photographs, in vivid color, are large, self-consciously contrived and assertively cinematic. They are displayed in groupings, mostly pairs. In each set, one big picture depicts a staged accident or disaster of some sort -- a burning or flooded house, a woman caught in power lines, a man hurt in a car crash. The smaller image, hung alongside, tightly frames a single eye, usually a woman's, elegantly made-up, theatrically lighted and generally impassive.

 The L.A.-based Prager titles her series "Compulsion," after our insatiable desire to watch, but the work is more irritatingly superficial than dramatically gripping. It has little to do with witness and its attendant emotional and sociological ramifications. Instead, it glosses over the surface of tragedy, not by way of generating a penetrating critique but only a slick, sanitized product, hybridized technicolor noir.

Prager has also produced a film, "La Petite Mort," similarly steeped in artifice and pretension, but just strange enough to carry its six-minute length. Its protagonist, a woman, styled out of the '50s, steps in front of an oncoming train. In the instant of her death, a visionary sequence unspools that touches, somewhat hauntingly, on both judgment and release.

M+B, 612 N. Almont Drive, (310) 550-0050, through May 12. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.mbart.com

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