On ViewMartos Gallery
Lost & Found
February 5 – March 27, 2021
The title Lost & Found brings to mind a miscellany brought together by chance, and at first it is hard to find a thread that connects the works in this show. The differences between the artists’ practices make for a study in contrasts: Kayode Ojo’s elegant readymades referencing fashion and consumer culture versus Arthur Simms’s ramshackle assemblages of twine, wire, tinfoil, discarded bottles, and other trash; Alexandria Smith’s dark, erotically charged images versus Arnold Kemp’s abstract canvases and works on paper. A total non sequitur to the rest, Jessica Diamond’s wall piece, Is That All There Is? (1984/2010), eschews object status altogether. It is a wall painting of a world map, with the ironic title hand lettered above. The map has no political markings or natural details, apart from the outlines of the land masses. Looking at it, the viewer has no place to home in on, a feeling that—at first blush—could apply to the entire show. But, that feeling of being at loose ends has its uses. Lost & Found is an invitation to stop, take a breath, and engage with these artworks sans an agenda, perhaps to discover the unexpected.
Ojo’s and Simms’s works, superficially so different, engage in a deep conversation on class, particularly in their choice of found objects and materials. Ice Queen (2020) gives a laundry list of materials loaded with well-known brand names: Zara, Victorinox, Ikea. Everything is white, metallic, or clear—chilly indeed. The Victorinox Swiss Army Knife, blades out, hangs like a pendant on a chain linking two armchairs that, covered with sequin dresses, look like two fierce divas air kissing. Overdressed (Blush) (2018), looks like a hilarious fashion scarecrow in a blond wig, waving one arm, and dressed in a pale pink faux fur coat. In addition to the wig and dress, there are gold and crystal necklaces. As noted above, Simms’s materials are the opposite of glamorous. A towering, totemic construction, Ego Sum, Portrait of Arthur Simms as a Junk Collector (1994), lists humble, workmanlike materials such as rope, glue, and wire, as well as art materials such as charcoal, markers, pen, and pencil. Rope, wood, glue, and screws come together in Portrait of an Angry Man with a Gun (1992), which resembles both a sailboat and a recumbent human figure. Whereas Ojo animates his work by placing the right objects in just the right way, the power of Simms’s pieces comes out of his obsessive winding of rope, or in the case of Stupa (2008), wire, around and around their armatures. As extensions of his will, his works are invested with a life force.
Complementing the totemic impulses in Ojo’s and Simms’s work, Smith’s eight-foot-high canvas Meeting of the Minds (2018), has a central figure that looks like Brancusi’s Endless Column but with an eye at the center of each module. Her other works are more figurative. tit for tat (2018), has two nude women opening their legs towards each other in a more sensual encounter than the two “divas” of Ojo’s Ice Queen. Kemp appears to be the only abstractionist in the group. NUT-FREE I (2021) and cc (2021) , a pair of two large square canvases, do look resolutely non-objective, even process-based, as they consist of black paint allowed to dribble in all directions on the canvases. Three darkly glittering works on paper by Kemp, all with the same title, INDEX (2021), also seem to follow the process-based playbook, made from ink rubbed onto crushed antique paper. Yet, each one has what looks like a generic face: two eyes, a nose, and sometimes a mouth. Is Kemp playing with the viewer here? Faces are of course the easiest gestalts to make out in any abstract design, but the faces here look too deliberate to be accidental. In Peeking (2016), Smith moves in the opposite direction from figurative to abstract, with shapes that could be young girls’ pigtails, or just a series of diminishing spheres, laid across a set of stripes. Smith further upends expectations by cutting grooves into the panel, accentuating the surface over the image. In fact, the longer one stays with her paintings, the more non-figurative elements stand out, for example the odd pale wash along the bottom third of Meeting of the Minds. Lost & Found is the kind of show that has many surprises and novel associations up its sleeve. All it asks for in return is a little dedicated viewing.