LOS ANGELES — It was 4:20pm when I walked into Depression and encountered Andrea Ursuta’s piece “Stoner” (2013). A batting-cage ball-throwing machine creaked on, spun once, and died before it could eject anything from its quarantined-off belly. It is located inside a larger batting cage. There is no entrance. There is no bat to play with. Stones are scattered across the floor. A tiled wall is positioned across from the machine, ready to receive pummels. It did at one point get hit hard with something — either the stones on the ground, or the artist’s hammer. Either way, it got stoned. It’s in a Depression, but it may not be depressed. There’s a difference, you know.
Depression is the name of a group exhibition on view at François Ghebaly Gallery, which recently relocated from Culver City to a warehouse-heavy section just southwest of the Fashion District, Arts District, and Skid Row. Cars zoomed up the 101, edging into a freeway crisscross where they would have to make a decision to take the 5, 10, or 60, or attempt to stay on the 101 only to realize that it has turned into the 60. I scuttled past the highway entrance, and noticed a fried, dead cockroach — one of many that I keep seeing scattered along sidewalks in Los Angeles — and walked in the shadow of one-story buildings. This is not the gallery-lined Culver City district I originally thought I would be visiting.
The doorway to Ghebaly Gallery is not visible from East Washington Boulevard; I had to slip around the building, down a driveway, and into a nook behind where not as many cars were parked. There was no gallery attendant to greet me as I wandered into Depression. I was relieved in a way — those greetings are always formal, slightly staged, mandatory. I’d rather walk into Depression alone.
The show, organized by New York gallery Ramiken Crucible and featuring a few of the artists they represent, reminded me that sadness can be funny, especially when it comes from the perspective of the sardonic, ever-fussy art world. And the work on display here is not depressing at all. It cheered me up with its quips and one-liners, its annoyances that allow for temporary laughs yet never linger in a way that is bothersome.
Gavin Kenyon’s life-size costume “Pimpin’” (2008–2014) stands directly in front of Ursuta’s “Stoner” piece; it is a human form covered with a red suit top, cream-colored slacks, boots with claws protruding from the backs, and a giant rooster head complete with beak. Appearing performative at first in front of “Stoner,” it stands motionless, like what a wax sculpture of Jay-Z after he threw down with Marina would look like.
Margaret Weber’s two industrial carpet installations “What’s Left Behind the Green Door” (2014) hang out in front of the rooster pimp, covering ground where a green screen could stand for this character-filled part of the installation. Dan Finsel’s “affective memory cage” (2014), which is what a Matryoshka doll would look like it it were made of mesh wire instead of painted wood, reminds of our ability to remember the emotional moments that trap us. Like depression does, you know.
A host of paintings by Borden Capalino suggest the ease of transposing mundane photographed objects from photographs, some with date stamps, onto canvases, coming out with a product similar to Brendan Fowler’s date-stamped embroidered photographs. In another room, Bjorn Amre’s deadpan, eight-foot-tall vinyl plates with words such as “Motor Paralysis” and “Ideal Pole” are reflective enough to shine back the viewer’s image, yet on their own they are more like doors left ajar, reminding of the nuisances that have passed through unsuspecting.
In yet another room, Charlotte Hammer’s “Fe” (2013), which looks like a surfboard that could have been a killer shark, fin and all, is sharply inscribed with the text FUCK EVERYONE #1 2013. This is the most apt description of an artist’s depression — one that silently communicates its conceptual premise through detailed observation of a beautiful object flipped on its side. I caught the depression wave on Hammer’s “Fe,” and then nearly tripped over Ursata’s “Ammonite – 65 million years old,” which just looked like an oversized, flattened conch shell that someone accidentally dropped on the ground. Then I scuttled away before one of the gallery attendants appeared and noticed my afternoon malaise.
Depression runs through May 10 at François Ghebaly Gallery (2235 E Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90021).