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Lawndale! It's almost too much. With not one, not two, or three or four shows on, I practically never have to go anywhere else to get my fill of iffy, exciting contemporary art, the local kind that I particularly like to write about. In the interest of spreading the love around, getting something into print, yet covering all the bases, crossing the t's and dotting the i's, I'll try to summarize the current crop of Lawndale offerings.

Little Known Facts, in the main gallery is a showcase of five artists' personal collections, but in retrospect, everything boils down to "Andrew Groocock's got an amazing collection of toy robots". A must-see.


There are many, many, many more

Here's a snapshot, taken in the dark with a handheld camera, from Operaskia, a thirty minute puppet opera by Julie De Vries and Heather Shore.




Notice how sharp the focus is in this photo? That's because nothing is moving. The puppeteers held these two figures like this, twitching them a little from time to time, as they sang a five-minute aria. It went on like that for half an hour, shifting from one more or less static tableau to another with little expressive action, as if waiting, as we in the audience were, for the musical score to unroll and be mercifully done with.

Being a cross-disciplinary experiment, sponsored by UH's Mitchell center, you've got to give them credit for trying, and you've got to be ready to tolerate unevenness. But Operaskia missed too many bets. What's the point of having a trained singer in the room, then listening to a recording? What's the point of creating a shadow puppet stage that mimics the format of widescreen TV? Judging by the three operas I've seen, the singing seemed professional, and completely at odds with the clunky visuals and amateurish puppeteering.


Elaine Bradford filled the mezzanine gallery with her usual
crochet-encased woodland creatures. Bradford's work elicits a mild,
creepy shudder by taking taxidermy's already shocking disrespect and
objectification one step further. Her best pieces are ghoulish jokes:
No Legs, a deer with a body like a chicken McNugget and a pair of
Conjoined Squirrels that share a single, hose-like tail are disturbing
and funny at the same time. The crocheted stockings that cover their
deformed bodies like a parasitic sheath.



No Legs, 2007

Other pieces, like this head with extended, tentacle-like antlers, or another with a very long neck like a striped scarf are too polite, settling for an aimless Dr. Seuss-style surrealism.


Untitled (Shed Antlers), 2007


Perhaps Lawndale's best offering this round is Lily Hanson's Differentia in the third-floor project gallery.


Differentia, installation view


A cross between soft sculpture and architectural modeling, the piece remixes vaguely retro design elements to suggest a well manicured suburban project. Long tables in the shape of Manhattan await the placement of little pastel beanbags. The three plywood boards standing against the back suggest maps, turned on their sides. The piece creates a pleasantly unpleasant utopia, full of soft shapes and soft colors like an infant's nursery. Superficially cheery, the piece contains a deeply pessimistic vision of a bland, over-planned future.

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