Housed in a partly subterranean modernist Al Beadle-designed building, Lisa Sette Gallery’s physical space is a study in angles and lines; the real estate website Curbed has referred to Beadle structures as “beautiful boxes.” A serene exemplar of a “white cube” gallery space, Lisa Sette’s expansive gallery is a cool white square angled around a central, altar-like alcove made up of right angles, into which brilliant desert sunlight pours from above.
In this setting, however, form is not an extension of content; denizens of Lisa Sette Gallery know that its curatorial adventures are anything but square. This summer the gallery celebrates the paradox with Circle / Squared, a group show featuring works that revel in concentricity, bending the straight line toward experimentation and aesthetic gyration. Included in the show are the delicate ceramics of surreal objects by Li Mingzhu; eerie photographic portraits by Bettina von Zwehl and Tami Bahat; fantastic and phantasmagoric photo constructions by Luis González Palma, Kahn/Selesnick, Liu Xiaofang; stunning industrial landscapes by Yao Lu; and portraiture mementos in the form of glass cameos by Charlotte Potter, among others.
One of Circle / Squared’s more conceptually startling works come in the form of Yao Lu’s landscape photographs, which in color, theme and composition somewhat resemble the Japanese 18th Century Ukiyo-e (or “Floating World”) genre of paintings and prints. Lu’s landscapes, however, are photographs documenting vast topographies of industrial detritus. The photographs’ circular form is a subversion, as the viewer arrives expecting a quaint historical work: Lu’s images instead show in shocking beauty the toxic material of human industry--mountains of rubble and boundless fields of soot, billowing and undulating before our eyes.
The works of von Zwehl, Bahat, and González Palma hearken to nostalgia in a more ornate and atmospheric mode, presenting timeless figures or images in round or oval compositions. González Palma’s theatrical portraiture shows a deep play between presence and absence while expressing complex emotions and melding them with public and private symbolism. Von Zwehl’s mysterious, close-up portraits of people and animals are circumscribed by a heavy black frame, while Bahat’s disturbing tableaus present figures in gothic or medieval garments as though they were still-lifes, caught posing for eternity within their gold-leaf frames.
Also referencing aspects of nostalgia is Charlotte Potter, who makes explicit the inextricable connections between glass and photography, as well as the applications of these media toward an essential form of memory: the portrait. These small, glowing identities are the obvious descendant of an ancient form of personal memento carved in glass or shell—the cameo.
A circular view may suggest eyeglasses, telescopes and microscopes, binoculars, or peepholes: intimate methods of viewing scenes that may otherwise be beyond our sight. Kahn/Selsnick's staged photographs portray a post apocalyptic world in which humans--unchecked by societal expectations--pursue their own odd social and creative impulses. The viewer becomes time-traveller/voyeur as Kahn/Selesnick’s Truppe Fledermaus, a group of travelling performers, engage in mystical antics among the overgrown landscape, and the circular images come to resemble unsettling specimens in a textbook on human behavior.
The camera’s-eye view is used to much different effect in the photographs of Liu Xiaofang. Composed nearly completely of blue sky, Xiaofang’s works present distant figures, often children, in stark settings and simple poses. Portraying an essential, ever-receding view of the past, Xiaofang’s work captures nostalgia in heartbreaking clarity.
The works in Circle / Squared often relate back to past portraiture and landscape as well as the circular form found throughout art history.