Ted Soqui, "Cruiser Burning, 4/29/1992," RC paper continuous… (Ted Soqui and Blum & Poe )
In the tide of group shows that has inundated the art world this summer — as it does every summer — “No Person May Carry a Fish Into a Bar,” at Blum & Poe, stands out not only for its fantastic title but for having been conceived with the sort of great idea that seems obvious only after someone else has thought of it.
Curated by artist Julian Hoeber and filmmaker and television writer Alix Lambert, the show explores the nature of crime through its relationship to art, by effectively bracketing the intersection between them and illuminating the many, often lurid points of crossover. (The show’s title refers to an apparently still existing California law.)
The 46 works assembled in the show include examples of art that documents crime, art that imitates crime, art that has committed or been directly involved in a crime, and crime that has generated works of art, such as those of professional forensic sculptors.
Noting in a statement that “what constitutes crime is nearly as broad a question as what constitutes art,” the curators draw no particular distinction between these gradations, nor are the lines necessarily self-evident.
It takes a fairly sharp eye, for instance, to catch the one comic detail that distinguishes Les Krims’s 10 bloody crime scene photographs, which are fake, from the four belonging to the collection of Luc Sante, which, though they look far more like art than evidence, are real: a tall stack of pancakes that Krims has cheekily inserted in the vicinity of each corpse.
No such visual determination is possible when comparing Elmyr de Hory’s copies of a Renoir and a Modigliani to Mike Bidlo’s copy of a Warhol Brillo Box, because the difference is purely circumstantial: De Hory, working in the 1950s and '60s, passed his works off as forgeries, while Bidlo, working in the 1980s and '90s, passed his off as appropriation. Neither was ever prosecuted for it.
In many of the best works, art becomes a vehicle for exploring the nature of violence, whether by way of documentation, as in John Divola’s haunted photographs of broken windows in abandoned buildings, or some more involved form of conceptual engagement. These include T.R. Uthco and Ant Farm’s video reenactment of the Kennedy assassination, two works by Lisa Oppenheim involving photographs of smoke from a riot that the artist has exposed using the light of a flame rather than an enlarging lamp; and a brilliant piece by Kori Newkirk in which newspaper photographs of crime scenes are strung together so the yellow tape that runs through each image forms a single line across the wall.
In these works, the potency of the art can subjugate the question of veracity altogether. Ana Mendieta’s “Untitled (Self Portrait With Blood)” would be chilling to encounter whatever its origin, as would Hirsch Perlman’s “Layman’s Practical Guide to Interrogation,” a series of sardonically casual drawings featuring hand-written descriptions of interrogation techniques. In moments like these, the line between art and crime begins to look very thin indeed.
— Holly Myers
Blum & Poe, 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 836-2062, through Aug. 25. Closed Sunday and Monday. blumandpoe.com