by kirsten swenson


LOS ANGELES Painting rarely gets more darkly political—or more fun and devastating at once—than in John Andolsek's recent exhibition "Black Tie, White Noise." Comprising works from the last eight years, the show carried visual echoes of the early days of Pop—when Warhol's painted signs, dollar bills and Coke bottles were first exhibited at New York's Stable Gallery in 1962, and James Rosenquist's F-111 debuted at Leo Castelli in 1965. Andolsek, born in Nuremburg in 1961, knowingly adapts not only early Pop styles but also the themes and devices of David Salle, David Hockney and other observers of the vernacular American scene. Andolsek came of age in the East Village of the early 1980s, exhibiting there and studying at the School of Visual Arts. Although he left for New Mexico in the 1990s, his work retains some of the irreverent ethos of that seminal New York moment.

Andolsek's subjects—an automobile engine, a gold necklace, a Cadillac emblem, a man smiling as he cooks over his backyard grill—are stand-ins for such phenomena as car culture, consumerism and suburban escape. All the forms are instantly familiar, but the artist's clipped, sketchy renderings present them not as specific objects or people but as emblems of the American condition, both real and fantasized. The show's strongest paintings hover between abstraction and representation, subtly evoking social issues through formal interactions. In Black Friday (2009), an enormous diamond floats in front of a blue-and-white grid that at first appears to be little more than a formal schema—until one sees it as the facade of a skyscraper and then, eerily, a World Trade Center tower. The title refers not to Sept. 11, 2001 (a Tuesday), but to another conjunction of commerce and mayhem: the frenzy of American consumerism that begins annually at midnight after Thanksgiving, precipitating, in recent years, store-entry tramplings and shopper violence. The blocky, smeary What's Puzzling You . . . (after Zapruder film still #312), 2010, is formally enigmatic until, down in the lower right quadrant, the subject gradually becomes clear. A convertible is passing, dreamlike, before a verdant lawn. The image derives from Abraham Zapruder's grainy home movie of the Kennedy assassination; frame 312 is the last frame before a bullet impacts the president. Andolsek suspends the "before" frame in blurred motion, much as Camelot—and its traumatic end—lingers in collective memory.

Andolsek's paintings filled two galleries, while the adjacent project room held Five Flags (2003), a hodgepodge of found objects—a police siren, slick drag-racing tires stacked in a stunning minimalist column—along with several mixed-medium works by the artist, including (shades of Jasper Johns) a flag "painting" made of Astroturf and cow's blood. The space brimmed with sounds recorded in a casino, and (lest we miss the anticapitalist point) an entire wall was papered with corporate logos. Titled after a 1993 David Bowie album that mixes references to weddings, racism and suicide, "Black Tie, White Noise" was both anachronistic and stridently contemporary.

Photo: John Andolsek: What's Puzzling You . . . (after Zapruder film still #312), 2010, oil on linen, 48 by 70 inches; at Blythe Projects.

John Andolsek