Karl Haendel's Informal Family Blackmail

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Just in time for Father's Day, Karl Haendel explores the relationship between fathers and their sons -- generated one suspects by his feelings about his own father -- in a show with the incisive title Informal Family Blackmail at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects in Culver City through June 28.

For over the past decade, Haendel has been celebrated for his extraordinary gifts as a draftsman and the entire gallery has been given over to drawings that often touch on themes of masculinity and the ways in which the family dynamic constructs identity.


Karl Haendel: "Knight #5", 2011
Pencil on paper; 102" x 81" paper size, 103 1/2" x 82" framed
Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
Photo by Robert Wedemeyer


Walking into the gallery, you see that the artist constructed a small reading room where you can sit and read a black-covered book titled Shame filled with confessions of acts that are illegal, immoral or statements of low self-esteem tied to addiction and self-abuse. The artist found these confessions on the Internet and, as a companion installation on the gallery's bathroom walls, he wrote the numbers of various agencies such as alcoholism treatment centers, bankruptcy assistance, food banks, psychologists, synagogues and tattoo removal.

The reading room includes two drawings of a headless man in a suit, each titled J. Edgar Hoover, that bring up the specter of a conflicted authority figure obsessed with control. From inside the room, you can see a large drawing of football players in the midst of heated play, a prototypical manly sport.


Karl Haendel and Petter Ringbom: Questions for My Father, 2011
HD video on hard drive, 12:10 minutes
Edition 1 of 3 + 2 AP
Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects


In addition to drawings, Haendel installed a 12-minute video called Questions for My Father. A number of men including Haendel, all appearing to be in their 30's, ask disturbing, funny and moving questions such as, "Are you embarrassed about your bald spot?" "Did you ever think about going out for a pack of cigarettes and not coming back?" "Why are you so sure I will never meet your expectations?" Others are frankly sexual but the most moving ones are simple: "Do you have any regrets?" The absent father has no answers.


Karl Haendel: Lego White House, 2012
Pencil on paper; 51.5" H x 79" W (130.81c m x 200.66 cm)
Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
Photo by Robert Wedemeyer


The third gallery is painted Pepto-Bismal pink and covered with drawings large and small, mounted high and low, framed and unframed. While there is no literal connection, many have to do with some aspect of masculinity or power from the drawing of the White House made out of Legos to the snarling German shepherd, to a graffiti scrawl over the face of Picasso to exclamation mark shot full of holes by the artist's father.


Karl Haendel: Arab Spring, 2012
Pencil on paper; 59" H x 89" W (149.86 cm x 226.06 cm)
Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
Photo by Robert Wedemeyer


In the final gallery a very large drawing called Arab Spring depicts men in states of exultation and despair after battle while other drawings of newspaper headlines isolate emotions like doubt, fear, hope and change. Gorgeous nine-foot tall drawings illustrate suits of armor worn by the knights of old, conjuring thoughts of chivalry as well as the sense that struggle among men may be an inescapable imperative.

Perhaps a visit to the show will inspire visitors to come to their Father's Day brunch with their own unanswered questions.

Banner image: Karl Haendel: Arab Spring, 2012; Pencil on paper; 59" H x 89" W (149.86 cm x 226.06 cm); Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects; Photo by Robert Wedemeyer