Clinging to the Magic Hour

CES Gallery
Feb 18, 2017 12:48AM

A text by Hyunjee Nicole Kim

a devil to pay 

Ghost of a Dream at CES Gallery

 January 28 to March 5, 2017 

 711 Mateo Street, Los Angeles, CA 

Installation view of a devil to pay

Bold color, raucous shape, rushing line, and flashy light dominate the skyline of the late capitalist desert oasis that is Las Vegas. The kinetic gaudiness creeps into the interiors, where individuals cling to hope amid machines and bodies that deal in stand-ins for cold hard cash. Landscape. Dreamscape. Hellscape. The foggy, fluid exchange among the various states realizes the nightmarish fantasy into which so many bodies plummet. In a devil to pay, Ghost of a Dream culls from the tattered heart of the American casino, utilizing materials from its dark, anxious core to produce an installation that pulses with the myriad aspirations that reverberate in these spaces.


The sources require a second glance, as the collective juxtaposes the tawdry with the art historical and the social, introducing questions of intention and design through painterly techniques and vertiginous composition. The collages, hung haphazardly along the walls of the gallery, are homages to Op art and canvases by Frank Stella, as clipped playing cards are neatly fanned and arranged on panel to trick the eye. But the grid of the casino floor is also echoed in a tidy compartmentalization of space: poker there, blackjack here, slots around the perimeter, and roulette in the center. 

Installation view of a devil to pay

Upon closer observation of bettin’ on a loser, I’m gonna have a devil to pay (2015–16), one notices that the cards were obtained from the Flamingo, the Vegas Strip’s longest-running casino, the New Orleans-themed Four Queens, the off-Strip Lucky Club, and the Ho-Chunk Nation’s Black River Falls casino in Wisconsin. These tired establishments do not host the high rollers who glide through games with unerring confidence, catering instead to a weary clientele caught in a dubious fever dream of probability and chance.

Ghost of a Dream
bettin' on a loser, I'm gonna have a devil to pay, 2015
CES Gallery

Discarded carpets, cheap and bristly, which once lined casinos in Las Vegas, are sliced up and affixed to the wall in deliberate disarray. These coverings have absorbed the sweat, tears, and cigarette smoke of desperate dreamers and lucky losers. The smudged floral patterns are reminiscent of ornate designs by William Morris and Charles Burchfield. If décor is compulsory—and faintly recognizable—in these environments, what atmosphere are the gambling halls attempting to stage? Ghost of a Dream uses the repeating motifs both to disorient and reorient. A diagonal swath cuts through the main gallery space, mimicking the swoop of the hallway into the smaller gallery. Smoke and Mirrors (2013), a two-panel collage and mirror work, anchors the line at one end, and draws the viewer to their own reflection.     

Installation view of a devil to pay

The configuration of the installation rearranges expectations, carpets curving and floating above the concrete floor, serving as a reminder of how one moves through this space. Exposure and concealment lurk beneath all surfaces. When playing cards are taken out of circulation in casinos, prison inmates process the decks to be redistributed and sold to the public. Perpetually dashed hopes mingle with structural inequities. It seems no one wants to halt and give up on the magic hour.

Hyunjee Nicole Kim is a writer & editor residing in Los Angeles.

CES Gallery