What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

April 7, 2022

Bruce Richards
Craig Krull Gallery
February 26 - April 9, 2022

Bruce Richards

Art about art has a long and interesting history. Artists often quote or borrow from other artists both to cite influences and create homages. Of note are 19th Century paintings of salon filled walls. More recently, the work of Richard Pettibone and Elaine Sturtevant, or sculptures by Sherrie Levine and Rachel Lachowicz, as well as photographs by Cindy Sherman and Yasumasa Morimura follows in this vein of quotation. Los Angeles based painter Robert Russell even created an entire series of large-scale oils where he reproduced artist monographs.

In his thought provoking exhibition at Craig Krull Gallery, Bruce Richards fills the space with both paintings and objects that reference other works of art. Richards divides the exhibition into three sections and provides online commentaries for each. While it is somewhat of an imposition to scan QR codes and download the accompanying texts while in the gallery, they do provide background material and insight into the exhibition.

For "Narrative One: Ex Libris," Richards addresses the art catalog and what is lost when an artwork is reproduced making copies of copies on the printed page. "Narrative Two: Course of Empire" consists of images that use Thomas Cole's classic Course of Empire-Destruction (1836) as a point of departure. In "Narrative Three: Exquisite Corpse and Poetic Objects," Richards makes associations based on relationships he intuits among found objects. Works are hung in rooms and on the walls according to these categories.

The pieces that make up Ex Libris are meticulous reproductions of artworks that have influenced Richards. He inserts book page sized replicas of paintings by artists (including Rene Magritte, Ed Ruscha and Georgia O'Keeffe) into wooden objects that follow the shape and curves from open books. While paying homage to those that have influenced, him Richards is unabashed about having fun with his references, as in the humorous E.R. with Fly (2016), a painting that reproduces Ed Ruscha's Bowling Ball (1970) with the addition of a small housefly on the corner of the opposite page.

Richards' wit and ironic sensibilities also come through in "Narrative Two: Course of Empire." Here, Richards' paints images of burning tires culled from the news: these can be seen as icons of protests. As Richards states, "Their worldwide usage is to disrupt business as usual, obscure visibility and work as an act of resistance/defiance and push for desired change." Images like Aperture (2011), After image (2008) and Icarus (2011) refer to the shapes made by the flames, whereas Monogram (III) (2008) recalls Robert Rauschenberg's 1954 sculpture of the same name that features a tire around a goat. Installed salon style on the gallery wall, these various sized paintings are rendered in exacting detail and evoke beauty, as well as the horrors of warring nations.

In the third narrative, Exquisite Corpse and Poetic Objects, Richards also revisits art history through the use of the Surrealist parlor game "Exquisite Corpse." This is the basis for a body of work about appropriation that juxtaposes 19th Century oval frames, found antiques and sculptures, as well as myriad printed fabrics. In these poetic and fragmented works, Richards plays with creating a whole from disparate parts, just as the Surrealists did by having multiple artists work on the different sections of a drawing. In pieces like Crossroads (2021), he sees relationships between a parian of the war god Mars and an image of a mushroom cloud. In Washington's Dilemma (2016), he positions a bust of George Washington below a print of cherries.

Richards' conceptually based project has presence and integrity. While the installation evokes museum displays and the accompanying narratives resemble museum didactics, the works stand on their own as beautiful and well crafted. Richards is that rare artist who has historical knowledge, life experience and tremendous talent. He has the ability to put it all together and create presentations that are not quick reads, but rather experiences that resonate on multiple levels.