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Review: Bettina Hubby's uncanny creations infused with sensuousness

September 24, 2013|By Sharon Mizota
  • An installation view of Bettina Hubby at Klowden Mann gallery.
An installation view of Bettina Hubby at Klowden Mann gallery. (Klowden Mann )

Strange, hybrid creatures populate Bettina Hubby’s first solo gallery exhibition at Klowden Mann.

Pasted directly on the wall or floating just in front of it, the larger-than-life vinyl cutouts are uncanny amalgams of fashion and advertising imagery. Both familiar and disorienting, they mine the psychosexual undercurrents of everyday visual culture to create uncanny monsters.

A slinky dress — most of Hubby’s figures are faceless or headless — extends an arm that ends in a boxing glove. A headless man grips the legs of another man like a pair of garden shears. A lightning bolt composed of various pieces of clothing is topped with a storm cloud of fur. More than the sum of their parts, they are elegant and powerful new animals.

They often also have a sexual or emotional charge. Hung low to the ground, a row of leather cushions forms a lumpy appendage that extends from under the carapace of a bike helmet. Although its constituent pieces are recognizable and benign, the image is unavoidably (and somewhat comically) phallic.

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Nearby, a pair of ballet slippers “snuggle” intimately atop a pair of women’s heels. Everyday objects seem to take on human qualities and sentiments. Traditional erotic fetishes — shoes and hair — recur throughout the show.

The works have a dream-like logic, like Surrealist collage, or perhaps Rorschach tests. One could spend a great deal of time describing their various parts without really conveying a sense of their overall effect. Discrete images merge into one another with the seamlessness of dreams, making familiar textures and shapes feel strange.

As if to underscore this point, Hubby has included the original paper collages side by side with their corresponding vinyl blow-ups. In some cases, this is helpful in delineating where one piece ends and another begins, but it is mostly distracting. Seeing the images doubled in this way lessens the impact of the large creatures that are so beguiling and mysterious on their own.

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Another dubious inclusion appears in the gallery’s back room, which Hubby has transformed into a lavishly decorated bedroom. The spread and pillows are covered with prints of 19th century erotica in which all of the bodies have been removed, leaving only the surrounding textures of fabric, hair and décor. The installation underscores the erotic subtext of the works in the main gallery by serving as its visual opposite: Whereas the figures in the front room are composed of various textures on white grounds, the figures in the back are empty white spaces against textured grounds.

The contrast elucidates the fetishistic act: the displacement of erotic investment from bodies to objects. However, the overly literal bedroom scene, complete with nightstand and decorated electrical outlets, belabors the point.  

Still, Hubby’s collages are deftly constructed, invoking the sensual impropriety of Meret Oppenheim’s furred teacup and the startling, serendipitous juxtapositions of Robert Heinecken’s X-ray-style photos of magazine pages. Like those classic works, they call forth unspoken drives and desires that lurk beneath the surface of everyday life.

Klowden Mann, 6023 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 280-0226, through Oct. 19. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.klowdenmann.com

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