Stop in to Michael Benevento’s gallery on Sunset near the corner of Curson and you may wonder if you’ve mistakenly stepped into a newly opened nightclub. Artist Olaf Breuning has painted every inch of the gallery’s walls, floor and ceiling jet black. And you’re even more likely to make the same sort of misidentification driving by at night, when the gallery façade consists of a roll-down door topped with a light box featuring a photograph of a modern-day reclining Venus, covered 100 percent in black body makeup and posed against a black backdrop with strokes and pours of bright and saturated green, blue, red and yellow running vertically across her horizontal body to give her a tiger-stripe effect, with puddles forming on the plinth beneath her. Inside the blackened gallery, the same colors, and the recurring themes/effects of direct application, runs, smears and residue define the photos, sculptures and paintings that punch and punctuate the darkness. More blackened models turn up in photos, their eyes and mouths highlighted, their bodies covered in what seem like both polka dots and wounds, their paint-slathered arms creating the action-painting equivalent of snow angels on walls. Elsewhere, objects best described as somewhere between sculpture and infrastructure flaunt their status as objects that exist for the sole purposes of facilitating, generating and presenting smears and drips. An odd cloud of association wafts through the space: Ghosts of Duchamp and Rauschenberg are everywhere. The same is true of late Warhol and the era he inhabited; some of Breuning’s photos would have made terrific album covers for Roxy Music or Grace Jones. And the specters of Minimalism, Nouveau Realisme, Actionism and Action Painting are equally present. Added up, Breuning’s output can seem like an in-retro hodgepodge, but it seems more strategic than that, like inviting certain guests to dinner because you know they’ll get along in interesting ways, or maybe hold one another’s more irksome qualities in check. Breuning’s combination seems to neutralize some of the snickering or sanctimoniousness that tend to come along with the precedents he revisits, and what he draws from their combination is an engaging vitality.
Michael Benevento Gallery, 7578 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5p.m., through October 22. (323) 874-6400, beneventolosangeles.com.