Hallowed Forms and Toroidal Treats
A text by Santi Vernetti
Orr Herz & Brian Robertson at CES Gallery
October 22 to December 11, 2016
711 Mateo Street, Los Angeles, CA
The pairing of Orr Herz and Brian Robertson in CES Gallery’s show Hollowforms is a curious one. Robertson’s grey-scale works are at initial glance in keeping with the concerns of traditional modernist painting. Paint on panel in classy walnut frames (made by the artist) depicting imagery that deftly brings surrealist landscape history into conversation with geometric abstraction and mid century still life. In abrupt contrast you have Herz’s Sleep Handlers series and the undeniable contemporaneity of its materials and its imagery. Here the MDF stretcher bars of a painting have not only been painted in shocking neon colors, they have literally been stretched and pulled all the way around to to meet themselves edge to edge. A digital print skin wraps the drums with vector based sketches in black-and-white depicting, among other things, hands dangling yo-yos, playing cat's cradle, and mimicking telephones while Shaka signing. These appear to be paintings mid-morph, and in their strangeness, are also indebted to surrealism.
Installation view of Hollowforms
I often think about the
legacy of surrealism. Chalk it up to my love of martinis (thanks a lot, Buñuel)
and doughnuts (we’ll get there). Also, I guess it has a lot to do with one of
my first visits to the Philadelphia Museum of Art when I was in high school.
Imagine yourself as a South Jersey teen wandering through the sacred halls of
culture and suddenly stumbling upon Salvador Dalí’s Soft Construction with
Boiled Beans. Imagine that you just learned about the Spanish Civil War in
history class. Now imagine a young and chipper docent approaching you with
bright enthusiasm, shouting, “YOU KNOW, the shape of the hole that grotesque
and tortured body forms is the shape of Spain! Isn’t that neat?! ISN’T THAT
SUCH A FASCINATING HOLE?!” Holes are, indeed, interesting. Perhaps that same
year in physics class you learned about the Three-Torus Model of the Universe
officially proposed by Alexi Starobinski and Yakov B. Zeldovich 1984 at the
Landau Institute in Moscow. This model’s static three dimensional rendering is
after all (that’s right, you guessed it) the shape of a doughnut. Breakfast
would never be the same.
Both Herz’s and Robertson’s works “hang loose” in different ways, but it is how they assist each other that I find most interesting. Within surrealism, many of the concerns about holes have to do with holes in our consciousness that burrow into the unconscious mind. The body is indeed a hole, and it is no wonder why form is as much indebted to its absences and “negative” spaces as to its materially present stuffs. There are plenty more holes to find in the works. Many of Robertson’s images are of vessels, windows, or other objects that have holes in them as in Off Center In The Wheel. And then there’s the most curious Race Track Man by Herz, a large digital print where a humanoid shape is formed by the hole in the middle of an electric toy race car track. All the works in the exhibit suggest physical or interior holes and the journeys and passages through them. These vessels, hollow forms, and portals also highlight how the exhibition seems to travel through time back to the basics of modernist painting (as in Roberston works), or into the future where the traditional canvas somersaults into itself (as in Herz works). The contemporary here is a space where the past and the future temporarily meet, making the gallery into a sort of time hole. I’ll let you go down that particular rabbit hole yourself though, and tidy up these meandering thoughts by pointing out what is surely one of the exhibition’s main strengths. It successfully brings together works by two very different artists to illustrate how seemingly disparate practices can have meaningful and vibrant conversations about contemporary aesthetics and art history while demonstrating the richness of diversity found in Southern California’s current artistic landscape. As for me? I’m left wondering about the holes, the ones in our society, the ones in our histories, our pockets and personalities, and about an artist’s ability to not only expose those holes, but to create space for us to ponder and provide us with the the energy to fill the ones that need filling. It’s always good to have a couple holes around, and outside a good freshly baked glazed doughnut, these works by Brian Robertson and Orr Herz offer some of the best.
Santi Vernetti is an art writer and curator based in Los Angeles.