DoV-ine Inspiration

Harvey Bott has a system. And Kelly Klaasmeyer has a travelogue.

Platform: Offshore Erectus is another module built from metal erector set-type toys and mounted on swinging hinges, like a Ferris wheel gondola, above a short tower. The sculpture's clear association with the oil industry makes the module seem more than ever like a corporate logo -- but then again, by the 23rd century we may in fact bow down to corporations. Ironically, in these two sculptures, the module itself is more seriously interesting, both for the intricate devotion that's been given to its construction and because the scoop of negative space provides formal tension in these highly calculated architectural versions.

In Plush Ark, by far the weirdest piece in the show, a giant version of the module is set on its side. Made from wire and galvanized mesh, the module is made up of miniature square cages and filled with Beanie Babies, those little stuffed toys that almost instantly became collector's items. Bott, who obviously spends a lot of time at the toy store, has collected 412 Babies he says are now worth $41,000 (the sculpture costs $76,000). In one cage, tie-dyed teddy bears lounge around as if they've just smoked a joint. In others, stuffed frogs and pelicans, turtles and porpoises hang out in little toyland tableaux. A hot pink flamingo sits atop the whole affair, rather like a pet-shop escapee. This DoV dollhouse has little relationship to the sad, metaphor-laden work of other artists who use stuffed animals, such as Mike Kelly.

Instead, like the whole DoV System, it's almost too silly to interpret. Are cute stuffed animals the meaningful "content" Bott claims to have generated from the "abstract context" of the DoV System? Or does Bott put so much stock in the power of the module that he believes it will carry the world's Beanie species through a 40-day flood? When it comes to DoV, it's hard to tell exactly where the goof ends and the system begins.

Like Bott's "Toyzenus," Lawndale's current show is ambitious yet jokey. Kelly Klaasmeyer painted the entire main gallery revolution red for her ambitious solo show "Tales and Artifacts from the 'Evil Empire.' " Klaasmeyer's exhibit is a vast show-and-tell about her 13 months in St. Petersburg, Russia -- a travelogue with a wealth of visual aids. Depending quite a bit on wall labels and other forms of text, the travelogue details the surrealities of life in new Russia and the artist's "own special knack for fiasco," with accounts of ludicrous accommodations, faulty plumbing, encounters with the "ladies auxiliary" of the Russian mafia and a convoluted attempt to correct a visa problem caused by "the evil Andrei." The cast of characters includes stoic roommates, helpful Russians and a crabby, resignedly helpful ex-pat friend named David, who, Klaasmeyer notes, "has been in Russia too long."

What the show lacks in focus it makes up in variety -- check out an odd sculpture here, an array of Russian consumer goods (including shots of vodka in plastic cups with peel-off lids) there, a Foosball-style game in which one tries to successfully "Shop the Universam!" in the middle of the room and a monitor playing tapes of Russian infomercials off to one side. A giant red baroque-style curtain cordons off a video-viewing room in one corner, and across Lawndale's giant storefront windows are strung 360 pakets, plastic Russian shopping bags screen-printed with bizarre images pirated from American popular culture. The show is for the most part entertaining and, for those who don't read the newspaper, instructive.

But for those who do read news accounts of the long lines, rampant sexual harassment, mail-order bride business, debilitating inflation and dizzying mafia wealth in Russia, there is little to discover but Klaasmeyer's admittedly delightful sense of humor (which is reminiscent of the comic strip "Momma"). It's not enough to go to a foreign country, buy the bizarre products one inevitably finds (indeed, one can find bizarre products enough in one's own supermarket) and put them on a shelf in a gallery, which is one of the things Klaasmeyer has done. Wow! Look! Capitalism's quirks! Not to get unnecessarily snobby about what's art and what's not, but much of Klaasmeyer's exhibit seems like documentary pretending to be art. Her representation of an unremarkable Russian kiosk is, for no real reason that I can see, made up of several tiled photographs instead of just one. The story, written directly on the gallery wall, about Klaasmeyer's doomed plumbing and heat in her apartment is entertaining enough, but the large photos of pipes and such that surround the text are less than edifying.

No matter -- I'm willing to accept documentary in an art context. Trouble is, Klaasmeyer's exhibit makes Russia, and indirectly the discarded American culture it appropriates, the butt of a running absurdist joke. The artist is an astute student of the obvious, but even the pieces that she fabricates herself -- a purposefully cruddy replica of a Russian medical implement used to diagnose an ear infection, some felt babushka boots hooked up to a perpetual dancing mechanism that plays Patsy Cline -- fail to go far beyond the obvious. Instead, many of them feature Klaasmeyer playing dress-up Russian. There's a hand-tinted Russian-style portrait of Klaasmeyer in a big fur hat, and a set of those wooden matryoshka dolls with Klaasmeyer's kerchiefed likeness glued to each one. Lacking the subtle critique of say, a Cindy Sherman photograph, these works come off as cheap and easy.

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