The modes of entertainment Lawrence Gipe refers to in the title of his series “Zirkus und Varieté” were the circus and cabaret performances of early-20th-century Middle Europe. As such, the images Gipe lifts from vintage photographs and publications, rendering the performers in action but silhouetted against inky black backgrounds, are fraught with historical implications: the tightrope, balancing, juggling and other acts depicted in these grainy but vivid apparitions — clownish in their exaggeration, balletic in their poise, almost militaristic in their precision — stand as metaphors for a time of great hope, change and peril. A few full-color paintings, aping early color photography, fulfill Gipe’s obsession with mechanical-age technologies and prewar race and class clichés. Such foreboding, heightened by a nocturnal gloom, complicates the aura of nostalgia induced by the images. The good old days, Gipe reminds us, were nasty, brutish and short. Hunsaker/Schlesinger, 2525 Michigan Ave., No. T3, Santa Monica; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 23. (310) 828-1133.
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