Brian Piana: Lawndale Has Many Friends

Brian Piana's Lawndale Has Many Friends transforms Lawndale's smaller gallery into a cool, colorful library of hundreds of colored plywood rectangles, hung in severe ranks on a grid of little hooks. Sections of the wall are color coded, like bookshelves. The low-key color selection recalls a rack of paint chips displayed for comparison shopping. Piana clearly intends the swatches as symbols, organized according to some occult schema, but it's incomprehensible until you read about it.

 

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In the interests of art journalism, I'll relay the punch line: according to the leaflet accompanying the show, the composition is "an abstraction of of the Friends section of Lawndale's own MySpace site". The cards represent Lawndale's friends at the time of the opening; the show will be updated periodically to reflect changes in the website's contents.

But you don't see any of this when you visit. As a rationale for a graphic composition, abstracting from web pages is as good as any. Artists have collaged random paper scraps, copied from nature, employed abstruse mathematical formulas or just trusted their feelings to come up with new ways to arrange colors and shapes, but in the end, you have to judge the results, not the method.

Abstraction is the process of extracting significant detail. Usually, the most significant thing about a friend on MySpace is their identity. Piana purposefully drains the web pages of their usual significance, leaving us to focus on the empty framework of void, colored rectangles in place of friend's faces and personalities. The problem is, that without that interest, the pages are uninteresting. As pure composition, they are repetitive and aimless. The oddball decorator colors Piana chooses for his blocks is the most interesting aspect of the piece, but as color field painting, all subtlety is overpowerered by the intense blue borders fencing off one swatch from another. Piana rolls away the clutter of content to reveal the dull grids and boxes one expects, not some startling hidden order. 

also by Bill Davenport

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