Strategies of appropriation and plays with found objects and images push into cultural conflation, convergence and cannibalism in this sleeper of a group show. Nathan Mabry, known for witty and impeccably crafted mashes of forms duplicated or derived from far corners of art history and the globe, takes the eccentricity of his work to a new level with the works here, and, in the case of a work presenting a photograph of an African mask (actually one from Picasso’s personal collection) turned upside down and set back behind frosted glass with a pair of artificial eyes rolling around in the bottom of the frame, takes his wit toward newly uncanny ends.
Though less imposing than other of his works, this is arguably the strongest yet in his career. Rob Thom’s small pop-up collages, unexpected for those familiar with the artist’s self-consciously F-ed-up paintings, seem initially much more benign, but turn out, perhaps because they demand that their maker focus on relational plays rather than stylistics, to be more genuinely surreal.
Deborah Satter works with juxtaposition and blur, pairing up rephotographed photos in the vein of John Baldessari, but toward less acute ends, which result in what feels like a hazy, hangover-ish recall of snippets of the romantic and unseemly.
And Christian Tedeschi, subduing both the formal and the functional upward thrusts of a stepladder with what appears to be a frozen downpour — actually liquid plastic built up in repeated pourings — conjures the spirit behind Arte Povera and Nouveau Réalisme.
In the most basic sense, all four artists are involved in variations on Jasper Johns’ adage, “It’s simple, you just take something and do something to it, and then do something else to it. Keep doing this, and pretty soon you’ve got something.” It is simple, operationally speaking, but the strongest works here achieve a surprising complexity.
ALL THAT WAS, IS: The Happy Lion, 963 Chung King Rd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 12-6 p.m.; through April 18. (213) 625-1350 or www.thehappylion.com.