Art

Strange and Subtle Portraits of Artists’ Hands

Karl Haendel’s large drawings of artists’ dominant hands are an unexpected portrait of the Los Angeles art scene.

Karl Haendel, “Double Dominant 12 (Jenny Bornstein)” (2019), pencil on paper, 103 x 84 inches (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

LOS ANGELES — At first glance, Double Dominant, a solo exhibition of new work by Karl Haendel at Vielmetter Los Angeles, appears technically masterful if somewhat predictable. The large-scale drawings of artists’ hands (in Haendel’s words a “portrait of an artist, by another artist, as an uncanny personified appendage”) seem like foreseeable choices for slightly alternative versions of classic portraiture. Upon closer inspection, however, the portraits become stranger through a series of subtle decisions you could miss in the blink of an eye.

Karl Haendel, “Double Dominant 1 (Emily Mast)” (2019), pencil on paper, 103 x 84 inches
Karl Haendel, “Double Dominant 2 (Miljohn Ruperto)” (2019), pencil on paper, 103 x 84 inches

The main intervention is alluded to in the exhibition’s title — the portraits do not contain the artists’ “hands” per se; instead, they contain two versions of their dominant one, the one with which they make art. In an almost primal way, one senses that the contorted positions on view could not have been made naturally with a right and left hand. The series began with a portrait of his former wife Emily Mast’s hands, and quickly expanded to include other artists whom Haendel knew and admired personally, such as Candice Lin, Walead Beshty, and Kerry Tribe. Haendel would meet up with them socially or drop by their studios and take a few quick pictures while catching up, reworking the images together digitally later. In this sense, his work can be seen as record-keeping — a documentation of artists working in Los Angeles around the same time, in the same network.

Karl Haendel, “Double Dominant 18 (Kerry Tribe)” (2019), pencil on paper, 103 x 84 inches
Karl Haendel, “Double Dominant 14 (Candice Lin)” (2019), pencil on paper, 103 x 84 inches

Another equally impactful decision lies in Haendel’s lack of preciousness with his materials. The drawings contain small smudges, tears, and are stapled directly into the wall rather than framed, a strange choice for artworks so meticulously crafted they practically scream out how long they must have taken to make. Haendel states in the press release, “I don’t make my work for curators or collectors, I make it for other artists.” In Double Dominant the documentation is two-fold, much like the hands. What we see is both a portrait of the Los Angeles art scene and of Haendel: who interests him, whose company he’s keeping, and what his artistic priorities are.

Karl Haendel, “Double Dominant 20 (Rafa Esparza)” (2019), pencil on paper, 103 x 84 inches

Karl Haendel: Double Dominant continues at Vielmetter Los Angeles (1700 S Santa Fe Ave #101, Downtown, Los Angeles) through March 7.

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