What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

October 19, 2023

Cammie Staros
Monster in the Maze
Shulamit Nazarianh
September 16 - October 28, 2023

Cammie Staros

For her exhibition Monster in the Maze, Cammie Staros has transformed the normal pathways through the gallery into a maze-like display consisting of bare metal studs and a number of new walls of mixed heights which direct the viewer's trajectory. This labyrinth not only segmentizes the viewing of the exhibition, but also allows for unusual sight-lines and juxtapositions. As Staros presents three different kinds of works all based on classical Greek artifacts— vessels, coins and marble sculptures— the display is meant to play with the ways archeological relics and classical sculptures are presented in museums.

The vessels immediately stand out as extraordinary. Rather than being perfectly perpendicular and symmetrical, Staros' ceramic pieces are morphed and askew vases balanced on round, fluted, white columnar pedestals inset with shells and pebbles. For example, in Attributed to: Human and Earth (all works 2023) the entire red-orange terra cotta vase is decorated with quasi-narrative bands of imagery depicting warriors, Gods and animals. These forms are painted in flat black and often outlined in white. The enchanting Half Beast appears like a dancing figure whose handles resemble tusks. This time the vessel is more subtly painted — covered with slightly lighter markings and patterns.

In contrast to these delicate ceramic forms, Staros also created a number of life-sized carved travertine sculptures that appear to be fragmented human figures. Cora Kore presents the bottom half of a draped figure on a rectangular limestone pedestal. The arm is cropped above the elbow and connected to nothing as the hand grabs hold of the folds of a robe or gown. The figure's neck and head are not included but left to the viewer's imagination. A similar sense of disorientation occurs in Cult Classic, Staros' abstracted and sensual presentation of a partial torso. Though made of marble, these sculpted forms are etched with lines that give them an airiness while also alluding to flowing lava, melting ice or running water.

The most delicate and fascinating works on view are Staros' coin "tapestries." To create these intricate pieces, she first cast and then glazed hundreds of irregular coin-shaped ceramics so they resembled ancient corroded treasure. These were later assembled into expansive flat reliefs that are held together with thin bits of gold and silver wires and interspersed with elaborate and intricate web-like chains. Rather than place all the coin works on the walls, the largest, Undercurrent is suspended to function as another barrier along with the unfinished metal studs. The interweaving of the coins and spider webs draws parallels between presence and absence, past and present and the fragility and vulnerability of living beings and ancient artifacts.

Staros has looked to classical sculptures from the Greco-Roman period in much of her work. Her interest in these antiquities is formal, as well as narrative and she is mindful of how the past shapes the present and how what was depicted in Greco-Roman times can be recontextualized and reinterpreted today. Her installations and individual works use ancient Greek artifacts as a point of departure to comment on war, the Gods and mythologies. Staros pokes fun while also respectfully representing imagery that might be found on ancient vessels. On one side of Prize Amphora / Trophy Cup for example, she paints five naked men who appear to be dancing across the distorted vase. On the other side, she includes three horses, two ridden by headless riders as the third rider gazes at the headless forms leading the way across the composition. Staros' vessels, coin tapestries and marble sculptures have a post apocalyptic aura. She mines ancient forms, presenting "monsters in the maze," a maze of her own creation that speaks to destruction and preservation simultaneously.