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Review: Joseph Kohnke's mechanical gadgetry hit and miss

October 17, 2013|By Sharon Mizota
  • Joseph Kohnke's "Sleeper," 2013.
Joseph Kohnke's "Sleeper," 2013. (Brian Forrest / From the…)

“Kinetic art,” or art objects that move, sometimes skates too close to the cheap thrills of the circus sideshow or boardwalk carnival.

Joseph Kohnke’s exhibition at Angles Gallery purports to challenge this notion, lacing cleverly constructed mechanical devices with all manner of social commentary. However, with a couple of stellar exceptions, the works fail to rise above the level of gimmickry. 

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In “At Sea,” a painting of a sailing ship is attached to a motor so that it dips and floats in its frame as if it’s really on the high seas. There’s also a candelabra whose flames are tiny, revolving windsocks. They both would be right at home in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. But perhaps worst of all is a miniature railroad that runs around and through the bodies of two baby dolls. It’s surreal in the most obvious, heavy-handed way.

Yet when the gadgetry works, it works. Black metal lunchboxes open and lift Thermoses like rockets ready to launch, making a connection between domestic labor and missiles trained on faraway shores. “Sleeper” hangs from the ceiling like a car engine about to be lowered into its chassis. Holding two accordions gripped by claw-like “fingers,” it emits a long, haunting, resonant tone. It’s a machine playing an instrument that is typically stretched across the belly from hand to hand, bellows expanding and contracting, as if drawing breath.

Angles Gallery, 2754 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 396-5019, through Oct. 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


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