Even when you’re standing right in front of them, Liz Larner’s new sculptures are hard to see. Whether shimmering and gossamer or pitch dark and black-hole dense, they challenge both optical and kinesthetic grasp. The first piece one encountered on entering this exhibition—Larner’s debut with Bonakdar, and first solo show in New York since 2003—was an untitled painting in tempera on paper (all works 2010 or 2011). Extending a little from the wall, like most of the wall-hung objects shown, it seemed to be composed of thin paint strokes suspended in air. A slash of sun-warmed brown along the paper’s bottom edge suggests a landscape, and hints at the conceit unifying the show, which (the press release reveals) took Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1964 film Red Desert as a point of departure.
Even without that information, the works brimmed with narrative interrelationships. A murderous-looking blade made of ceramic glistening with bloodred epoxy beckoned to a heart-shaped lump of black rubber nearby, its craggy surface suggesting wood burnt to charcoal. A bouquet of tender ceramic petals painted in velvety shades of blue, violet and brown kissed the adjacent wall with colors reflected from its painted back.
These objects are all fairly small, not more than a few feet on a side. On the other hand, After Red Desert spanned the gallery. A vinyl sticker that circled from floor to ceiling, narrowing to points both above and below and snaking carefully over plaster-covered beams, it shaded imperceptibly from gold to lavender to silver, sharkskin to suede. Vigorously warping the room’s contours, it formed a challenging threshold over which one had to step to view the handful of works beyond. On the rear wall billowed the midnight-blue Planchette, its outstretched wings, of devilishly indeterminate weight and substance (in fact, it is made of painted paper on an aluminum scaffold), sucking light around it. At more than 11 feet wide, it was an outsize mate to the glossy black Transpicuous Brume, a ceramic and epoxy work just over 3 feet wide; a slightly raised spine lends the double-winged rectangular form the shape of a splayed book.
Born and educated in California and now an L.A. resident, Larner comes naturally to the movies as source material, and her work’s dazzling surfaces recall the Finish Fetish school of West Coast art. But her sense of mass and space is entirely her own. Some of the works shown here extend long-standing concerns: in 6, two shaky rectangles made of painted steel tubes interpenetrate to create an unstable geometric form, reflecting the artist’s established interest in line that becomes mass. Smile (alluvium), from an ongoing series of wicked grins, is made of ceramic shards covered in gleaming jet-black epoxy. It presides over a funereal mound of similar fragments like a malevolent horned god: evil twin to the sunlit sprite that introduced the show.
Photo: View of Liz Larner’s exhibition, showing After Red Desert, 2011, vinyl sticker, and (right) 6, 2010;
at Tanya Bonakdar.