By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The most immediately dazzling of MacConnel’s works are his trademark pieces composed from strips of bed sheets painted with brightly colored, loosely rendered patterns borrowed from Third World cultures or invented, as well as cartoonish clip-art images of contemporary American life and technology. Amassing several hundred of these strips, MacConnel eventually began sifting them down into sets of five or more wildly varied patterns. He successfully explored this motif until 1983, articulating the combination of a complex and joyous color sensibility with a subtle interrogation of Western colonialism — MacConnel would be the first to concede that the designs he appropriates were already art to begin with — that typifies all his work.
Around this time, MacConnel started looking for new elements to throw into the mix, or different formulas altogether; one of the best pieces in the show is the straight-up painting Charles Ist (1983), which balances the cheeriness of his children’s-book palette with an ominous sense of foreboding. Other experiments were less successful. MacConnel took to incorporating painted picture frames — often within a larger composition — as well as commercially printed tourist post cards, both of which resulted in awkward compositions whose intrusive jumbles of off-kilter rectangles, with their built-in art-historical and global political significance, stray into the realm of the just plain ugly.
I would say that these decisions were missteps if MacConnel hadn’t persisted, pursuing the combination of snapshots and painted frames to an exquisite resolution in work seen last year at Rosamund Felsen, where pieces like Silk Embroidery Factory Worker and Local Labor Al Dafar (both included in “Parrot Talk”) paired large-scale original photos of indigenous craftspeople of China and Yemen with painted decorative frames. By jettisoning P&D compositional strategies in favor of an iconic Modernism, MacConnel finds an elegant formal solution emphasizing his political insights. Hey, whatever works.
This goes for the rest of “The LAPD Project,” too. There are plenty of awesome pieces, none of which needs an elaborate critical apparatus to prop it up; few if any demonstrate ways of seeing that haven’t been inherent to art making since art making began. While P&D may be underrecognized as a historical moment, its triumph was all-encompassing — opening a window to the world, returning artists to their senses, and redefining the function of high Modernist abstraction as just another category of “mere” decoration.
PARROT TALK: A Retrospective of Works by Kim MacConnel| SANTA MONICA MUSEUM OF ART | September 13 through November 15
Panel discussion “NYPD Plaid: A Gathering of Renowned P&D Artists” Saturday, September 13, 3–5 p.m., followed by opening, 5–7 p.m.
NYPD| SHOSHANA WAYNE GALLERY | Through October 4
LAPD| ROSAMUND FELSEN GALLERY | Through October 4
All at BERGAMOT STATION, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica