The Eclectic Company

In the late 1960s, Sister Corita Kent's Vatican II-inspired messages and supergraphics style started an ecclesiastical craze that led to a plethora of mod church banners using felt shapes. I seem to recall making one in Vacation Bible School.

More than 30 years later, L.A. native Martin Kersels riffed on that idea to create his own felt banners. But instead of scripture citations, they spell out song titles from Lynyrd Skynyrd. With subject matter ranging from the gods of redneck rock to illegal immigrants, Inman Gallery's latest show, "ACME. @ Inman," presents art with a decidedly diverse range of inspiration, all from artists represented by the Los Angeles gallery ACME.

Kersels's large felt rectangles hang salon-style in the gallery's entryway. He originally created them for a show that took place a year after 9/11. He wanted to create an homage, but one that was not specific to the tragedy. Kersels latched on to the airplane crash that killed members of Lynyrd Skynyrd as a vehicle of mourning and remembrance.

The symbolism of Kersels's Devotionals, #1-5 (2002) is purposely hokey and heavy-handed, as is the execution. But the works tap into the kind of earnest naïveté that inspired those church banners. "Freebird" has a yellow birdcage with an open door set against a blue background. "Searching" has a melting candle against a red ground. "That Smell" has white specks raining down over a green tree on a black ground. The central, simple forms smack of enthusiastic amateur craft projects. You can read multiple entendres of mourning into the images and the song lyrics, all laced with a pop-cultural earnestness. A carved blue ear hangs high on the wall next to the banners, which seem to float up to heaven, from Lynyrd Skynyrd's lips to God's ears.

Carlos Mollura's "chandelier" shares the gallery vestibule. Mollura's inflatable sculptures create volumes out of thin air. His chandelier is a massive, suspended cluster of clear, inflated PVC cylinders with translucent blue bottoms. Light passes through the forms, creating blue-tinged shadows on the wall. The piece feels simultaneously substantial and light.

In the same way Mollura's floating inflated forms subvert the traditional weightiness of sculpture, John Sonsini's painted portraits subvert the assumed dynamic between subject and artists. Sonsini hires day laborers as models. He gives them lunch and pays them an hourly wage. If a painting sells, he gives a portion of the proceeds to the model. It seems to be an equitable contract -- something uncommon in the world of day laborers. The sitter also signs the back of the canvas, along with Sonsini, creating a record of himself.

Lorenzo & Gabriel (2003) is thickly painted and slightly reminiscent of the work of Lucian Freud, but the solid strokes of Sonsini's brushy figuration are chunkier and more matter-of-fact, his colors cleaner. Sonsini exaggerates the hands and clunky tennis shoes of his slightly blocky figures. "Lorenzo" confronts the viewer and we try to read his emotions as he stares at us, his small shoulders squared against the world. It is a portrait of an individual who is also one of the anonymous thousands in L.A., as well as in Houston, who leave their homes in other countries to gather on American street corners, looking for, hoping for, work.

The handling of paint in Chris Finley's FGSFSC5 (2003) feels much less successful than Sonsini's portraits. The abstracted forms seem derived from digitally manipulated sources, but the problem lies in the way they are painted. The sign enamel Finley uses sits intentionally thickly on the surface, in paint-by-number fashion. It's the kind of workmanlike, fill-in painting people do with set design; but on a small scale, it is really unappealing.

In contrast, the surface of Darcy Heubler's work is the clincher for her painting of warped vertical stripes in retro '50s colors. The paint on the gessoed wood panel has the luscious matte surface of marzipan. You want to lick it. And the graphic dynamism of the design reminds you of the work of Houston artist Aaron Parazette.

ACME. is best known for representing photographer Uta Barth, and a diptych of her interiors is included in the show. Sunlight enters a room through the panes of a window and strikes a wooden floor and a Danish modern chair. In the first image the light is so brilliant it just blasts out of the camera's lens; the room is almost completely obscured by the dazzle. The second image shows the same scene, but the sun has restrained itself and the spare interior seems to anticipate the day. Barth's hazy images conjure a palpable sense of atmosphere; you feel the quiet of walking into an empty room.

Miles Coolidge's photographs of streets are unpopulated, but their emptiness feels dejected. The commercial buildings and domed capitol seem ill conceived, crudely built and empty. The business signs are convincing, but something about the scale of the place seems off. And it is. The town looks like a bland urban stage set, because it is. Coolidge took his shots at Irvine California's "Safetyville," a Potemkin village constructed to teach kids about traffic safety. Suddenly those too-big curbs and spindly "three-story" trees all make sense. Coolidge gives us something that looks like strip-mall America after a neutron bomb.

The show's bite-sized sampling of work doesn't serve everybody's art well. Katie Grinnan's sculptural assemblage The Hunter and the Falcon (2002) leaves you wondering what the hell is going on here. A chunk of scrap lumber is painted with a super-saturated Williamsburg blue. Wadded-up pieces of paper appear like some kind of shelf moss. The jagged plank leans up against the wall, and angular, pieced-together photographs seem to grow out of it and up the wall. The glossy photographs are of collaged and mirrored images of nature, cast-off cardboard and the neck ribbing from a T-shirt. The sculpture combines 2-D and 3-D in a strange and interesting way, but it's hard work to see as a one-off. I don't get what Grinnan's concerns are beyond the formal qualities and some vague man/nature/architecture overtones. I want to dismiss it, but something about it won't quite let me do that. Seeing more of her work would push things one way or the other.

Overall, this it is a pleasant show that reflects the eclectic tastes of ACME.'s directors. It's a sort of a collection of art souvenirs from that other, even odder coast and a good show for Houston. Our two cities have a lot in common. In addition to battling it out for first place in worst air quality, Houston and L.A. share strong contemporary art scenes. Wow, I wonder if there is some unexplored cause-and-effect relationship there.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer