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
Nowhere is this shift spelled out more emphatically than in the most recent work in the exhibit, Rickety (2007), a fully functional stage supported by an accumulation of castoff furniture. Sporting artificial foliage and penetrated by passageways to its cluttered domestic underworld, the theatrical platform offers up the same portions of darkness and light that delineate Kersels’ entire oeuvre but steps back from imposing any sort of narrative. Instead, the maze of cabinetry and the brightly lit performance arena are offered as equally navigable, interdependent realms — still fraught with potential danger but less certain of the outcome.
If the SMMOA show had been combined with Kersels’ 1997 Madison (WI) Art Center survey “Commotion” (which included Twist and Flame Speaker) — plus a few stray works, such as his early Tear Drawings — in a larger venue like oh, say, MOCA or LACMA, the complex ambiguities of the work would have been better served, allowing the artist’s ambivalence toward social interaction, humor and entertainment, and the power and fragility of the human body to unfold in a more deeply persuasive manner.
But ultimately, “Heavyweight Champion” serves to ratify my early assessment of Kersels as operating as much in the tradition of experimental modernist theater and populist genre entertainments as those of contemporary sculpture, photography or performance. The sweet brown stain turns out to have been expendable in the interest of an expanded frame – a big-picture kind of thing. Kersels’ work has moved from successfully contained explosions of pathos to three-dimensional challenges to art’s complicity in the modern world’s potentially fatal social retardation. Letting the others in can ruin your perfect little world ... or save it. Physically present or not, Martin Kersels patrols that border.
Martin Kersels: Heavyweight Champion | Santa Monica Museum of Art | Bergamot Station G1 | 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica | through Dec. 13