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June 21 - July 18, 2008 at Gallery 825, West Hollywood

by Suvan Geer

It’s impossible to view Arlene Bogna’s “Safari Americana” photographs and not sink into a nostalgic reverie. Her color saturated images of hulking man-made bovines standing like dumb, complacent sentinels in dark R.V. parks or empty dirt lots bring with them a strong whiff of this country’s historic car culture. It’s Route 66, roadside-stands selling local produce and small Western towns with a home grown sense of humorous advertising moxie that her photo safari casts as its exotic locales. She asks us to consider what it is in human nature, or the American psyche, that makes us delight in the sight of painted, three dimensional animals perched atop sign poles or hawking honey from flat bed trucks. Often it is just the familiarity of a sight pulled up from the nation’s fast vanishing roadway past that we think about.

A social anthropologist might want to speculate about why it is that humans craft effigies of animals. Or why Americans, with their agrarian roots and cowboy self-image, might make mental note of some location marked by a bucking horse or metal cow. But for most of us Bogna’s photographic journey, with its lurid colors and cinematic camera effects, feels more like a nostalgic road trip in search of some iconic, small-town past.

“Honey” is a 36” square C print of a bulky, wide-eyed brown and white metal steer standing on a low trailer in the dirt parking lot at a small, out of the way gas station. Like a backdrop from a ‘50s movie that wordlessly gives us a sense of a story’s place, the elongated, painted cow exudes an aura of American whimsy and private enterprise that endures amid tough conditions. An American flag droops against a barren landscape of dry hills. A hand lettered sign leaning against the steer’s chest incongruously touts fresh, pure, honey. But the beast’s true nature as a rolling barbeque is betrayed by the smoke stack peeking out from its rounded shoulders and the two large, hinged doors along its painted flank. The sharp, over processed color lends the scene a bitter edge of dry desert air. It’s a sight from a time and a town we might have passed on our way to the city. The animal is an emblem of a kind of unremitting human persistence and reinvention in a small struggle to survive and be noticed.

Arlene Bogna, “Bronco,” 2008,
digital type c-print, 36” x 36”.

Arlene Bogna, “Jamboree,” 2008,
digital type c-print, 29” x 20”.

Arlene Bogna, “Pornography,”
2008, c-print, 19” x 19”.

Arlene Bogna, “Honey,” 2008,
digital type c-print, 36” x 36".

For all its cinematic stylization Bogna’s camera work feels playful. Made by using a HOLGA and another cheap, Russian knock-off toy camera that intentionally permits different effects like light leaks and blurring, her images connect with an underground film community of camera aficionados that prize happy accidents and light hearted images of every day life. Many of Bogna’s images have the spontaneous feel of snapshots, while the camera’s vignette light effects often suggest that they might have been taken from a confined space. The carefully orchestrated camera angles and the artist’s repeated down-low perspective perfectly captures the sheer naïve exhibitionism of the roadway animal signs she’s taken as road trophies. From that angle her signifying beasts are powerful, tall and totemic. No wonder they remain in the public memory.

Barbara Blatt, "A Rose is a Rose," seed
beeds, acrylic on wood, 4 x 4 x 3 1/2".

Barbara Blatt, no title, seed
beeds, acrylic on wood.
Also on view are Barbara Blatt’s thickly encrusted, confectionary sweet, palm-sized paintings and objects made of seed beads and hot glue. If colorful beads could be whipped into a light, foamy froth or grown like giddy, decorative coral on crisp wood supports, they would look like this.

Blatt’s enthusiasm for crafty materials and opulent ornamentation results in organic, almost liquid looking decorative abstractions that seem to bubble with exuberant energy or sag luxuriously atop sharp wooden cubes and squares. They are somewhat reminiscent of the large 3D pearl, glitter and crystal encrusted floral paintings and collages of Miriam Wosk. Blatt, however, puts her focus on materials rather than image. Her small works, like the bubbly, minty green “Summer Snow” exude a concentrated, cheerful kind of opulence that often feels as playful as it is intimate.