LOS ANGELES — Cathy Cooper’s sculptures, displayed in the lobby of Craft Contemporary, look like they’re lined up for curtain call. The amorphous fabrics — all but one seeming to levitate — drape, wrinkle, and curl in lively ways despite the absence of a body.

Cooper has been working for decades in costuming, and while the pieces in Dramatis Personae were not created for the stage, they draw the spotlight with their grand presence and intricate details. Playing with fashion tropes from different periods, especially the 17th and 18th centuries, the sculptures fan out with hoop skirts, oversized cowls, and long bustled trains. 

Each piece embodies a character that doesn’t exist, but Cooper invites viewers to envision narratives that speak through her silhouettes. In the center, “CANGUE” (2017) could be our protagonist. Her square, crinkled collar gives her a regal stature, diminishing any demureness interpreted by the long mustard sleeves folded in front. Behind her, “Dramatis Personae (Burgundy)” (2018) and “Dramatis Personae (Purple)” (2018) lurk like villains, their heavy robes splattered in paint and beeswax, perhaps stains from battle.

By introducing the illusion of fluids — created from acrylic, dye, wax, and wood — Cooper makes her beautiful sculptures grotesque. In Craft Contemporary’s built-in niches, she presents four smaller figures, which are more abstract than those on the main stage, but still read as living creatures. The way their fabric is draped puts them into vulnerable positions, states of agony and despair. “Bloodsport” (2020) has red netting protruding from its center, a fatal wound. “Leatherhead” (2020) sweats from the head and twists its body, experiencing pleasure from pain.

Most of the exhibition can be seen, from the rearview, from Craft Contemporary’s front window. Two sculptures face the street, luring you in. Accept their invitation and invent the story for their next performance.

Installation view, Cathy Cooper, “CANGUE” (2017) (front); “Dramatis Personae (Burgundy)” (2018) and “Dramatis Personae (Purple)” (2018) (back)
Cathy Cooper, “Shame” (2020)
Cathy Cooper, “Parasite” (2020)
Cathy Cooper, “Dramatis Personae (Green)” (2018) as seen through Craft Contemporary’s front window

Cathy Cooper: Dramatis Personae continues at Craft Contemporary (5814 Wilshire Boulevard, Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles) through September 12.

Renée Reizman lives in Los Angeles, where she is a research-based interdisciplinary artist and writer who examines cultural aesthetics and their relationship between urbanization, law, and technology....