Astonishing collage-based mixed media paintings by Elliott Hundley cry out for in-person contemplation. While this is true of art in general, in the case of Hundley it is an absolute imperative. The furious proliferation of literally thousands of individual elements in each large-scale composition is impossible to fully appreciate in even a pageant of detail photographs, in large part because it is the magic that happens in the dance of physical proximity and distance which is so central to their aesthetic appeal. Fortunately, you have until Saturday, June 22 to test this out for yourselves in Clearing at Regen Projects in Hollywood.
Entering the gallery, each work beckons from afar with a humming, vibrating image that already threatens to fly apart on closer look. Each one, at a distance, coheres like a dense swarm around a central composition field, with drawn-in grids and emptier spaces toward the edges revealing the armature and the earthy texture of the raw linen foundations. Each is almost, but not quite, a picture.
Crossing the room to approach these roughly 6 x 7 foot panels feels more like enacting a zoom lens with your body, as the closer you get, the more each and every single one of those thousand pieces comes into its own being. They are not brushstrokes — well, a few of them are, as well as drips, splashes, and occasional almost-shapes. Instead they are predominantly a mind-bending accumulation of assorted materials (paper, fabric, encaustic, pins, photographs, string, foam, and random single objects) some the size of a sheet of paper but most closer to the size of a fist or a fingernail. These are culled from the artist’s own studio archive of 20 years, and julienned down to a blizzard of body parts, magazine scenes, architectural drawings, masks, celebrity faces, landscape bits, works of art, text citations, bits of bright pure color, and borderline assemblage in the affixing of a crushed can.
In a sense, they are like performances. It is impossible not to imagine the figure of the artist, and his scissors, blades, and push pins, in a durational exercise of gathering and harvesting on a massive and obsessive scale. On the other, despite the exceptionally analog processes by which they are created, the works speak directly to the quality of epic, unrelenting simultaneity that characterizes our modern, digital, visual culture. They are like storyboards of consciousness and cognition, oceans wherein you drift between clarity and current sweeps, buffered along the decentralized past of the mind, and the sudden clarity of the bodily present.
In a related project, on view at MOCA Grand Avenue, Hundley acts as the first curator in the museum’s promising new series, Open House, in which prominent artists are invited to organize selections from MOCA’s permanent collection. With a premise like that, viewers will understandably be looking for clues as to relationships with the artist’s own work, whether that’s what the artist is up to with their curation or not. In the case of Hundley, this dynamic is front and center, and he leaves more than clues — we get an outright roadmap. Each piece is a take on conventions of collage and assemblage in its own special way, even when the work is a painting or a sculpture making use of neither.
Vectors of politics, race, consumerism, and spectacle radiate in all directions, across foundational works by Robert Rauschenberg, Betye Saar, Noah Purifoy, Barbara T. Smith, Richard Hawkins, Martin Kippenberger, Lari Pittman, Rachel Harrison, Corita Kent, Manuel Ocampo, Cady Noland, Wallace Berman, Raymons Saunders and more. Hundley has one piece of his own that acts as a touchstone, and the rest unfurls through the charms of individual works as well as exceptionally engineered sight-lines across the installations. It’s brilliant.
L.A. Weekly asked Hundley about how he sees the relationship between his own work and his curatorial approach for the MOCA project, and his answer speaks to a process steeped in both conceptual strategy and physical processes, as well as narrative self-reflection. “I tried to bring my own working methods to the MOCA project,” says Hundley. “I cut up the catalogues and sorted them like playing cards, reshuffling and sorting over and over again until clear ideas began to emerge in the piles. In putting the show together I realized that the arrangement was an extended analogy for assemblage. But out of respect for the artwork things had to remain autonomous and keep their distance from one another so I conceived of them as constellations of ideas. Conceptually, I also tried to work as if I were wearing white gloves to protect the works from too many of my dirty fingerprints.”
Open House: Elliott Hundley is on view at MOCA Grand Avenue, 250 S. Grand Ave., downtown through Sept. 16.
Clearing is on view at Regen Projects, 6750 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, through Saturday, June 22.