Exhibition Review: Max Jansons at there there
Exhibition Review: 500 words
Max Jansons: Animal Style
there there, Los Angeles
September 12–October 31, 2018
The former Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, an Art Deco compound designed by Claud Beelman in 1930, looms large on the block it occupies between Sunset Boulevard and Fountain Avenue in East Hollywood. Despite its impressive footprint, it exudes blandness. The chalky grayness of the light blue exterior paint and manicured parkways are sterile and commonplace.
A slower walk down the block reveals interesting details, however. Every few feet one encounters a large security camera on a pole. At the bus stop a normcore styled man sits, armed with a clipboard, steadily scanning the street, taking notes. The other pedestrians seem to be observing: you. A uniformed guard on a tricked-out bike passes by and loops back around at the end of the block. It turns out the old Cedars of Lebanon is now the “Pacific Area Command Base” of the Church of Scientology. Not all is as it seems.
Directly across the street is there there (the lowercase spelling is the gallery’s styling), featuring a solo exhibition by Max Jansons called Animal Style. Jansons’s paintings employ a similar agenda of deception. Sphinx (2018) shows a vase of flowers in exuberant bloom. This is a trope as old as the female nude and, as such, frankly boring. But closer, slower looks reveal startling details: geometric complexity, color theory studies, purposefully laid brush strokes, and nods to art history.
Jansons places the vase front and center in Sphinx. The sharp-edged black and white pattern on its curvy surface recalls Frank Stella’s abstract experimentations. The motif continues in the rosebud-like shape emerging from the vase: echoing Stella’s Irregular Polygons. The vessel is full of blooms and branches exuding lush frivolity, each an intense case study. The ovule of an open flower is an exploration of yellow color fields, not dissimilar to Josef Albers’ Homage to a Square. Its adjoining petals are complimentary shades on the color wheel: vivid purples directly adjacent to fine lines of bright yellow.
The painting’s background is a creamy white expanse of luxurious impasto brushstrokes that rise and fall from the surface of the canvas in undulating swirls. It’s a though a piece of pale velvet was propped up behind the arrangement, not unlike an old master painter creating the scene. Unlike this illusion of a 3D object however, Sphinx is painted in acute flatness, taking a cue from the decorative and graphic designs of the Secessionists and later Pop Artists, both of whom eliminated high/low hierarchy. These art historical movements suggest that the simplicity of a vase of flowers on first glance can lead to nothing else, and that is the point. But another view is that it may reveal a coded complexity. Not unlike the gallery’s highly visible, yet notoriously opaque neighbor, the paintings on display at there there employ a mode of deception. For Jansons, elementary, pretty ornamentation is a cipher for academic and social critique.
Taking a cue from the gallery’s muse Gertrude Stein, in Janson’s paintings a rose is a rose is not a rose.