Vielmetter Los Angeles is pleased to present works by Mary Kelly and Pope.L for the 2021 Art Basel OVR celebrating “Pioneers.”
Mary Kelly’s (b. 1941) iconic project, Post-Partum Document (1973 – 1979) radically altered the course of conceptual art, bringing the feminist imperative that the personal is political to bear upon “idea art.” In the 1990’s she innovated her signature material approach of the last three decades, using her home dryer to create images in bas-relief lint. Her lint works combine the repetitive labor of the domestic sphere with an incisive investigation of history and politics, in particular the trauma of war.
In her most recent work World on Fire Timeline, 2020 Kelly combines lint work with collage to trace a personal and political history beginning in 1949 with the Soviet Union's development of an atomic bomb through to the Climate Crisis in the present. The narrative that runs through the center of the work is ultimately non-linear and circuitous, reflecting the subjective process of remembering. This text traces major world events alongside more personal markers, the birth of Kelly's son and grandson, among others.
Alongside the timeline, a series of three lightbox works created as an extension of her 2019 Desert X project Peace is the Only Shelter, are on view. Each lightbox shows the artist performing with an open umbrella in the Mojave Desert. A direct reference to the “Women’s Strike for Peace” anti-nuclear demonstrations carried out by women of Kelly's mother’s generation, each umbrella bears an anti-war slogan like “We Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.”
Since at least 1978, Pope.L (b. 1955) has pushed the material, conceptual and physical limits of art-making; approaching performance with physical rigor and a unique sensitivity to the extreme absurdities of human behavior. In 2019, his solo exhibition member: Pope.L 1978 – 2001 at the Museum of Modern Art traced the evolution of his unique practice through several performances, recently added to the museum’s collection, including Eating the Wall Street Journal (first performed in 1991, and again in varying iterations) and ATM Piece (1997). Explorations of language and the absurdities of its use to name, taxonomize, and create relationships form a core of his diverse practice which encompasses painting, drawing, performance, video, street actions, installation, theater, sculpture, and writing. His work engages iterative, social, formal, and performative strategies to explore systems, gender, race, and nationalisms. Most often, the resulting work is indeterminate and fertile, provoking further questions rather than easy resolution.
Pope.L often uses readily available, socially symbolic materials like peanut butter, pop tarts, mayonnaise, and bologna in his works. In his Trophies (2007) – on view in the OVR - he mounts plush animals to plywood, covering them in paint, peanut butter, and mayonnaise. Their soft, sweet forms still recognizable, it is unclear what is to be celebrated by these trophies, what accomplishment they mark. Mounting and preserving a plush toy amplifies the absurd and abject qualities of mounting of the dead body parts of once-living animals; it also suggests the absurdity of only appreciating any living creature, only in their absence. He is interested in the metaphoric and ambiguous potentials of materials to signify beyond their substantive qualities. Material is language and language is material. Organic materials, like peanut butter and mayonnaise, when used in paintings, drawings, and sculpture can refer back to their affordability and ubiquity as well as to their relative vulnerability in time.
Nowhere is this performativity more apparent than in his ongoing set of works (mostly paintings and drawings) titled Skin Set (1994 – ongoing). These works, which offer statements about people or entities of various colors (blue, red, yellow, white, fuchsia, etc.), for ex., “Blue People Cannot Conceive of Themselves” highlight the absurdity of language itself. Broadly speaking, these statements do not make literal sense, but they are not quite nonsense either. Taken in groups, the works use a kind of reasoning that encourages a critical eye to systems and claims to logic, justice, and reason. Often longer or less proclamatory text is included in these works, faint asides written for those who look closely to examine the surfaces of the works, which are often littered with marks, doodles, hair, correction fluid, ink, tape, and other media. As time goes on, the writing in Skin Set has evolved, such that in some works, like Oven (2019) the text is nearly illegible, rendered as a field of recognizable and unrecognizable characters.