If it isn’t easy to find a standout work in Elad Lassry’s current show, it isn’t just because all the works, including multiple photographs (all with minimal but custom, often color-coordinated frames) and a projected film, are presented within the same modest size range. It’s because it’s hard to pick from a group of works that are each oddly, uniquely and smartly compelling. In one, a publicity or glamour shot shows what appears to be an old-school bombshell with big hair and a sparkling tone-on-tone blue gown. Actually, there’s a fair amount of guesswork here, as a strip of purple metallic foil applied vertically down the center of the photo plays havoc with your ability to make sense of the photo. One wonders initially, for instance, if it doesn’t actually picture two women huddled closely together, and the strip of foil, covering up most of each, leaves the viewer to assume a single, mostly covered body not unlike in a magic trick. And one is left wondering as well of the identity and stature of the figure pictured; are the person and the dress a match or an odd fit, and, given the glitz of the getup, is this a showgirl or stripper, drag queen or royal, music or movie star? Scraped away flakes of the foil suggest there’s enough skin exposed in the underlying photo to rule out the likelihood that it depicts a tarted-up head of state, but you don’t get much further, and find yourself letting go of the semiotic decoding (which we’ve all become rather well trained at) and reveling instead in how a simple manipulation of a low image has yielded a mesmerizing bit of the uncanny. Such experiences come up again and again, as Lassry presents images as varied as a portrait of a skunk (another humorous insertion of a stripe into a photo), a gleefully bare young lad with an over-the-top floral pattern either backdropped or digitally dropped in behind him, a shot of a miniature purse and shoe perched on pedestals as if merchandised in a department store, a series of images of boys playing driveway basketball, and a film, inspired by photographic documentation and production stills from the rehearsal of Jerome Robbins’ 1955 made-for-TV production of Peter Pan. With Eric Stoltz cast as Robbins and Merett Miller as Mary Martin, Lassry offers not a re-creation of the prior production, but a combined aesthetic, dramatic and psychological study of the production as the product of a specific cultural moment. But it’s stranger than that, with an odd separation between specificity and the emotive in upper-body shots, and other shots in which legs divide space into sexually charged quasi-abstractions of line and color. Looking around the show at how Lassry variously plays the uncanny against matters of gender, sexuality, race, spirituality, fantasy and politics, one is tempted to make a mental checklist of the “pictures” artists (as well as proto- and post-pictures artists) to whom he is indebted — a Baldessari move here, a Sherman maneuver there, a half-Simmons, a full-Lockhart. But what might be a knock of derivation in other cases stands here as a credit to an artist who has made a practice out of the art of being a student of photography, and who, though only recently out of school, will likely remain a student for the balance of a promising career.
David Kordansky Gallery, 3143 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City; through Oct. 24. (310) 558-3030, davidkordanskygallery.com.