Toba Khedoori’s intricate renderings of decontextualized architectural spaces on wall-size swaths of wax-treated paper exist in a liminal state: they are highly detailed and precise, yet remain reticent and shrouded in mystery. The Australian-born, Los Angeles–based artist’s survey of twenty- five works at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art ranges from pieces dating to her time at UCLA, from which she received an MFA in 1994, to paintings made in 2015.
Most of Khedoori’s early drawings are about eleven feet tall and twenty feet wide—a scale made possible by the expansive studio she had at the time in Inglewood, California, which she occupied for nineteen years. At LACMA, the drawings are stapled to the gallery walls, their roughly cut edges curling up and their wax surfaces beginning to yellow. There is a corporeality to them that at times recalls Eva Hesse’s latex wall sculptures. However, Khedoori’s works physically overwhelm the viewer—occasionally to the point of disorientation—with their sheer size and astonishingly detailed repetition. Untitled (buildings/windows), 1994, depicts hundreds of windows that are open to varying degrees or shut tight, letting viewers in and blocking them out. Fullness conflicts with emptiness; the windows, assembled rank and file like human surrogates, create a semblance of community, but their vacantness proposes isolation.
A pall of melancholy and nostalgia shades the domestic space presented in Untitled (house), 1995. In the center of the large sheet of paper is a relatively small drawing of a brick house disconnected from any particular place. Cutaways reveal an empty interior. The drawing seems reserved, but a closer look reveals personal traces of the artist. Detritus and hair picked up from the studio floor are strewn throughout all of Khedoori’s waxed works, and this one has an ample scattering of dog hair. A shoe print on the bottom left corner of the piece adds another personal, ghostly touch.
The pieces in the next two galleries home in even closer on individual elements, depicting, for instance, a single window or a hallway in one-point perspective. The scale is inviting, but there are foreboding signs: What lies behind the blacked-out window? Where does the hallway lead?
A change to easel-size, oil-on-linen paintings in the last room is an underwhelming finale. (In 2008, Khedoori moved to a smaller studio in Venice, California.) While the artist has eliminated the vast negative space of the drawings in favor of zoomed-in, detailed views of single subjects—a patch of flooring tile in Untitled (tile), 2014, or tangles of branches and leaves in Untitled (branches 1), 2011–12, and Untitled (leaves/branches), 2015—the newer paintings actually lose focus and purpose. These canvases are filled to the brim with information but lack the emotive content and interpretive possibilities of her earlier work. The descriptive quality of the paintings feels overly measured and empirical, producing a lackluster result—despite the fact that the canvases are brighter and more colorful than the paper works. To exit the exhibition, one must backtrack through the previous galleries, a path that allows the show’s lasting impression to be that of Khedoori’s engulfing, enigmatic drawings and that only enhances the sense of a misstep in her more recent work.