David Lamelas in three shows

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When Argentinian artist David Lamelas began exploring concepts of time in the 1960s, he could hardly have imagined that time itself would become the most bankable of commodities. As an artist who came of age during an era of political instability, he left Buenos Aires to pursue his studies at St. Martins College of Art in London in 1968. The essential absurdity and moral equivocation of government officials has often appeared in the work, especially in exploring their roles in the manipulation of media.

Three exhibitions of his respected but under recognized work now on view provide one of the most significant contributions of the Getty's PST initiative exploring relationships between LA and Latin American art.

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Installation view, David Lamelas, 'Time as Activity'
Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, Sep 07 - Oct 21, 2017
Photography by Robert Wedemeyer

On the upper level of Sprüth Magers Gallery, a survey of Lamelas's films is on view through October 21. Time as Activity (1969-2017) features small films made over the years from Dusseldorf in 1969 to Madrid in 2017. Some are shown on traditional projectors, footage of a particular city quietly presented with occasional intertitles stating the exact time and place being shown. There is no narrative or character development per se but each has subtle implications: his footage of people looking at Picasso's painting of Guernica, a symbol of resistance, intercut with a view of the Victory Arch, a symbol of Fascism under Franco. The actual time in the films repeats itself just as history tends to do. Lamelas, however, is never didactic in his approach. His sly and sideways approach has much in common with fellow West Coast conceptualists John Baldessari or Michael Asher.

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Los Angeles Friends (Larger than Life) (1976)
40 drawings (pencil on paper), 35 mm slide projector, and 80 color slides
Drawings, each: 18 x 12 inches
Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Photo by Jason Meintjes

The peripatetic artist has had a long history of living and working in LA since the 1970s. David Lamelas: A Life of Their Own at Cal State University Long Beach is an incisive survey by curator Kristina Newhouse on view through December 10. Evidence is mounted on a large wall in sketchy hand-drawn portraits of art world friends who dropped by his studio to chat: Gemini-founder Rosamund Felsen, artist William Leavitt, curator Hal Glicksman and his dealer, Clare Copley.

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Conexión de tres espacios (Connection of Three Spaces, 1966/2017)
LED light strips, acrylic, wood, and aluminum
Light wall: 86 x 255 x 12 inches; overall dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist, Jan Mot, Sprüth Magers, and Maccarone
Photo by Jason Meintjes

This show offers a broader view of Lamelas by including his 1965 Pop style sculptures of architectural and landscape shapes. Connection of Three Spaces (1965-2017) recreated for this gallery features a wall of white light panels adjacent to a vertical slot that he had cut into a wall leading to the outside and a floor-based metal plank that leads a viewer into an adjacent gallery. The piece defines three separate spaces as opposed to existing within a space. His interest in Pop and Minimalism faded after he moved to Europe in the 1960s.

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Rock Star (Character Appropriation) (1974)
Seven silver gelatin photographs
12 x 15 5/16 inches each
Photographs by Johnny Dewe Mathews
Courtesy of the artist, Jan Mot, Sprüth Magers, and Maccarone
Photo by Johnny Dewe Mathews

Much of Lamelas's 1970s work was influenced by the theories of structuralist film yet he was amused and amazed by the concepts of celebrity that were emerging in popular culture. While living in London, he had himself photographed playing guitar while styled as a rock star. People seeing those photographs, which were only recently rediscovered, confuse this fiction with reality. Did he play in a band? Was he a rock star? The answer is no but his presentation of himself in the roll is enough to suggest the possibility. His interest in the potential of what we are now calling "fake news" expanded after moving to L.A. He is well known for a series of videos that he made with LA-based Hildegarde Duane with a faux-narrative sensibility that referenced serial television and low budget movies. In The Dictator, (1977) Lamelas himself plays the sleazy main character.

In addition to those shows, opening this Saturday, October 14, David Lamelas at Maccarone is a show of two large scale sculptural projects having to do with walls. Walls Are Meant for Jumping is a new piece based on a 1967 sketch that confines a space into which viewers can look but not enter. It embodies some of the issues that have long interested Lamelas, issues that have great resonance today. It will be on view to December 23.

To hear Lamelas himself discuss his work with Newhouse and Jonathan T.D. Neil of the Sotheby's Institute, there will be a talk at Sprüth Magers on October 18 at 6:30 pm.