lora reynolds gallery
June 14 - July 26, 2008
by Katie Anania
Francesca Gabbiani’s choices of subject matter—flowers, wealth, decadence—engage with a western modernist argument about the uselessness of decoration. Gabbiani seems to temper Adolf Loos's assertion that "ornament is crime" with an implication that her ornament is of crime: views of empty rooms, sinister picture titles, and references to predatory battles of nature (see Bird vs. Spider, 2008) heighten the tension between beauty and danger.
Gabbiani works in a vernacular similar to other L.A. artists, such as Victoria Reynolds and Ingrid Calame. All three of these artists deal with the dialectical nature of decoration by taking an historically loaded visual cue and problematizing it with references to contemporary culture. Victoria Reynolds, for instance, paints photorealistic pictures of Rococo mirrors made of marbled meats. Gabbiani, by contrast, fuses eighteenth-century ornamental motifs with a kind of draconian terror and foreboding.
The artist’s second show at lora reynolds gallery includes several pictures made of cut paper, as well as wallpaper composed from a graphite drawing of bare trees. Images of the wallpaper pattern appear in one of the cut-paper pictures, Once We Were Trees (2008), as wallpaper panels in a figureless interior, creating a strong element of intertextuality.
The Rococo-inspired paper pictures, which imitate mirrors or depict interior spaces, are the most visually arresting; Gabbiani pastes Hanson paper scraps against sheets of paper that she's painted a mirthless, opaque black. In these works, Gabbiani articulates each part of the ornament, with these small pieces of paper, so that the works look abstract when viewed at point-blank range. The arabesques break down into studs, specks and Rorschach dots and the play of paper textures becomes more evident, giving the paper a readymade-esque quality. One of the most pleasing occasions of this occurs in Under the Beasts (2007), which combines the smooth black background with a kitschy gold-foil paper and textured green or beige Hanson paper. This color combination, at once posh and sickly, highlights Gabbiani’s use of orthogonals and grounds the picture’s sinister lines onto an unstable grid. There's also a hand-cut look that emerges upon close scrutiny, when one can see the irregularities in Gabbiani's cuts. This makes them look askew and a little bestial, which is very good.
Gabbiani's wallpaper is also an interesting case. The gallery displays a graphite-on-paper study for the wallpaper, allowing the viewer to string together a narrative between process and product. Looking between the wallpaper and its model, one sees the distortion that has occurred because of the expansion from one support to another. The graphite lines in the tree trunks grow from sharp to blended and, in their wall-paper incarnation, resemble the watercolor sketches of Italian impressionist artist Filippo Palizzi. The texture of Gabbiani's drawing paper turns felted and marbly on the wall, creating a forest that is at once expressive and bloodless.
The motifs here seem familiar: issues of "the decorative," Napoleonic furniture (especially the depthless quality of inlaid chinoiserie pieces), nature (and, by extension, the ephemeral), and fear. But in fact, this work edges its way out of regressive formulae. The friction between study and final copy, or the friction between ornament and handicraft, foregrounds the work in a strange atmosphere of questions and problems. We do live uneasily with prettiness, and these works live inside each other with perfect discomfort.
Katie Anania is a Curatorial Researcher at Fluent~Collaborative and an editorial contributor to ...might be good.