Art Insider Mar. 3: Surrealist wallpaper, connecting past and present, exploring childhood psyche

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William N. Copley, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (Revisited) (installation view) (2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Dawn Blackman.

This week, a gallery reexhibits a pop-surrealist artist’s installation, an exhibition of historical artworks finds resonance in the present, and an artist stylizes childhood. 

William N. Copley at Nino Mier Gallery


William N. Copley, The Family (1977-2012). Mirrored acrylic, 62.5 x 90.5 x 2.5 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Dawn Blackman.

Behind a red curtain at Nino Mier Gallery, a wallpaper of squiggled brush strokes on a mottled yellow background sets a particular scene. Within this, eight mirror-cum-drawings are hanging about, each one a delicate line drawing, depicting a female nude at a piano, or a man dancing with a bowler hat. Yet the faint figurative outlines meld with reflections of both the wallpaper and the viewer’s own reflection, making the drawings difficult to see clearly. 

William N. Copely, who first made these works in 1978, ran a gallery in Beverly Hills for one year, where he showed renowned surrealists like Man Ray and Magritte. Copely himself spun a surrealist style with a pop sensibility, which is apparent in this installation that is both playful, sensual, and self-reflective.


William N. Copley,
Drawings 1964–1991 (installation view) (2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Dawn Blackman. 

Copely signed his works CPLY (“see-ply”), and as such created a sort of alter-ego. An ARTnews article described his trademark motif as “a randy, buttoned-up everyman who pursues life, liberty, and zaftig blonds while being pursued in turn by angry wives and policemen.” 

Copely had a whirlwind upbringing. He was abandoned as a baby, adopted by newspaper tycoon Ira C. Copley and his wife Edith, went to Yale, and fought in WWII. After finding art and being introduced to surrealism, Copley reflected that the genre “made everything understandable: my genteel family, the war, and why I attended the Yale prom without my shoes.” 

Copely was 30 years younger than many well-known Surrealist artists. Still, in 1951, he moved to Paris alongside Man Ray, where he mingled with the likes of Duchamp and Magritte, adapting their style to suit a younger more pop-oriented sensibility. 

In an exhibition catalog for Copley’s retrospective at The Menil, Tony Kamps writes, “Refusing to intellectualize Surrealism, Copley borrowed aspects of its interest in humor, sexuality, and psychology. But he replaced the movement’s uncanny with his own sense of the carnivalesque.”

On view: February 15 – March 13, 2020
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Jellyfish at Kohn Gallery


Eddie Martinez,
Winter Long (detail) (2014). Oil paint, enamel, and collaged paper on canvas, 72 x 60 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Kohn Gallery. 

At Kohn Gallery in Hollywood, the roster for the group show Jellyfish reads as a bit scattershot: artists are plucked out of art historical movements. In the back gallery, Cy Twombly’s expressive and idiosyncratic line work is displayed near a minimalist fluorescent Dan Flavin sculpture. In the main gallery, a large print by Andy Warhol shares space with a text work by Christopher Wool and a minimalist cinderblock floor sculpture by Carl Andre. 

One wall, however, feels much more in-tune: two George Condo drawings of preening women (who are given ghoulish mask-like faces) are flanked by artists from a younger generation. Austyn Wiener and Eddie Martinez’s colorful abstractions filled with twisting curves and bold luscious forms find communion with Condo’s stylized and cubist abstract figuration, forming a clear lineage of how the past influences the present. 

On view: January 29 – March 13, 2020
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Claire Christerson at AA|LA


Claire Christerson,
Through Angel’s Eyes (video still) (2019). HD video with sound, 24 minutes and 6 seconds. Image courtesy of the artist and AA|LA.

At AA|LA in Hollywood, Claire Christerson's dreamlike exhibition instantly places you amidst a sinister yet playful childhood psyche. A toy piano soundtrack emanates from an unseen video behind a patchwork curtain. Across a set of drawings, cartoonish figures (some with wings or cat ears) can be seen prancing up stairs or sitting atop ladders, while other figures move in and out of open windows or follow behind parallel sets of stairs. 

Christerson's child-like colors, patchwork gingham and checkerboards feel overly stylized — somewhere between Raggedy Ann and Wes Anderson. In Through Angel’s Eyes, Christerson's characters come to life via live-action and lo-fi vignettes, in which her ragtag cast roll around with an oversized cat toy, squirm in unison, or simply stare at the camera. 

On view: January 25 – March 21, 2020
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Rotting fruit sculptures made of thousands of beads


Kathleen Ryan,
Bad Melon (Moldy Slice) (installation view) (2020). Image courtesy of the artist and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles. Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber.

Huge pieces of rotting watermelons and grapes don't scream fine art. But artist Kathleen Ryan shows that if you take a closer look at “bad fruit,” you might find something beautiful. Her new exhibit is on view at Francois Ghebaly gallery in downtown LA. Steve Chiotakis and I discuss what the artist is trying to say with these oversized watermelons and rotting grapes. 

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