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Flagging Interest: Renée Petropoulos at Rosamund Felsen Gallery

Renée Petropoulos, From England To Sudan (2008-09)

At a moment when so much of the interaction between cultures and nations gets described with terms like “clash” or “versus,” Renée Petropoulos’ current show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery takes time — and asks us to take time to consider blends, weaves, grafts and splices, as well as the odd circumstances, implications, harmonies and discords they involve. Taking her cues from the likes of Piet Mondrian and Jasper Johns, and cultural theorist Edward Said, but also resonating with contemporaries ranging from abstract painter Mary Heilmann to the English-born, Nigeria-raised, London-based conceptualist Yinka Shonibare, or, for that matter, Ralph Lauren, Petropoulos has produced a series of flaglike paintings, all horizontal rectangles of flag-ish proportions, rendered in oil on linen, with compositions inspired by pairings of national flags. Neither arbitrary nor systematic in their underpinnings, the pairings are variously derived from colonial histories, trade and political affiliations, associative and formal choices, and the matchups of nationalities in the artist’s own personal life. Taken on a strictly visual level, the compositions, which deal heavily in stripes and plaidlike patterns loosely derived from the flags’ color schemes and layouts, are interesting and in instances striking. But with their titles and the soundtracks (conflations of the appropriate national anthems) provided on CD players with headphones, they get a boost of complexity and odd subtle humor, as in the pairing of the warm and cool palettes of Germany and Greece, or the blue-blood palette of the Union Jack and the red, yellow and green of the Sudanese flag. Handmade sculpture/benches provided by Petropoulos invite you to sit, but are low enough to the ground to demand real commitment to stay for a while. It’s a pact worth making, since with nationalities and aesthetics, we all could do with slowing down to consider nuance.

Renée Petropoulos at Rosamund Felsen Gallery: Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; through March 7; 2525 Michigan Ave., B-4 (Bergamot Station), Santa Monica; (310) 828-8488 or www.rosamundfelsen.com.

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