[Fine art]

Minimalist spectacularium

Apfelbaum brings Black Vegas to its rightful home

A shadowy view from Apfelbaum’s Black Vegas.
Photo: Jodi Springberg-Nelson
Danielle Kelly

You are walking through a casino.

Imagine it: the sea of faces, riddled with oddly colored lights flickering across facades devoid of emotion, entirely absorbed in an intimate mechanized exchange of manufactured chance. Zombies, grounded by the horizon-less landscape of garish carpeting, are abstractly immersed in a cacophony that drowns out the patter of their own thoughts.

Polly Apfelbaum’s minimalist spectacularium, Black Vegas & Fool’s Gold at Naomi Arin Contemporary Art, paws at the brainwashing techniques pulsing through the visual culture of America’s casinos. The exhibition is part of a new project by the artist in which “situational” installations are executed in an aesthetic response to the big three of gaming: Atlantic City, Reno and Las Vegas. It will be Arin’s swan song before her gallery’s move to Laguna Beach, California, this summer.

Minimalist spectacularium? How is that possible? Easy—imagine if Robert Morris used metallic Lycra instead of felt and you start to get the idea.


Polly Apfelbaum’s Black Vegas & Fool’s Gold
Three and a half stars
Through June 21, by appointment only.
Naomi Arin Contemporary Art, 900 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Suite 120B, 324-5868.

The installation is a bit of a departure for Apfelbaum, whose previous work embraces my favorite strain of feminist art: minimalism … with a heart. It tears the roof off the myth of cool, remote abstraction, messing it up with feminist tropes, eye-popping color and pop-like iconography. Her floor pieces of dyed velvet make ravishing sculpture of formal painterly concerns: a satisfying, feminine and hyper-intelligent marriage of critic Clement Greenberg, Andy Warhol and Morris. Her work is also—gulp—pretty.

The work in Black Vegas attempts the deliberately unsettling juxtaposition of intentional and automatic abstraction. The black-and-white video “Black Vegas” is disturbingly reminiscent of gaming graphics, almost narrative in its flagrant manipulation of casino-culture symbolism. Like spinning visuals on a slot machine, simple perky flowers flow continually upward, as playing-card icons (spades, clubs, etc.) flash momentously on the screen. Happy! Gaming! Now! If you are planning to start a cult in Las Vegas, this awesome video is perfect for brainwashing your drones.

More challenging is “Gold Nugget,” which puts process and chance at the forefront. I love drawing, and while drawing seems to be a driving component behind the work (if not the entire exhibition), this piece slightly misses the mark. Scraps of gold, metallic-sequined fabric are arranged on the floor, revealing the surface’s physical potential in a graphic play with positive and negative space. The artist compares cutting the fabric to drawing, but one could argue that the actual placement of shapes is far more sensitive to the act of mark-making. The scraps are intuitively placed based on contingency. Movement among the pieces reveals a sculptural component to the work, as the fabric shape-shifts based on reflections and ambient light. Dimensional areas are revealed, and shimmering golden beams play on adjacent walls.

For the project’s premiere in Europe, the artist used intentionally cut shapes. In Vegas, Apfelbaum elected to use discarded remnants from former efforts. Why? Perhaps it is a fitting choice to bring home to Las Vegas the component of chance so integral to the work, the city and the industry. Unfortunately, the use of chance fabrics with intuitive placement is a bit disjunctive. Intentional shapes might tighten the visual structure of the automatic placement.

That said, the installation is challenging and exciting, particularly so when considering the huge risks Apfelbaum is taking. Visit Black Vegas … and Naomi Arin Contemporary Art while you still can.


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