VIJA CELMINS: I am nature looking at itself.


By 1964, Celmins had already experienced a crisis with her previous Abstract Expressionist painting style as a grad student at UCLA (having fled with her family from war-torn Latvia for a new life in Indianapolis — almost certainly an improvement). Inspired by the epically mundane paintings of Giorgio Morandi, the cranky theories of Ad Reinhardt and the ob-comp-lit of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s nouveau roman, Celmins broke through by painting deadpan realist images of the objects sitting around her Venice studio — a toaster, a fan, a double gooseneck lamp, a hotplate, a space heater. These unmediated records of the perception and translation of visual phenomena from three-dimensional reality to two-dimensional reality were the template for Celmins’ eventual disappearance into the work.

You can sense Celmins groping toward this near invisibility in the first room of the chronologically ordered exhibition. While much has been made of the autobiographical overtones of her trompe l’oeil renderings of warplanes (or, more precisely and essentially, of clippings from books and magazines depicting warplanes), the inclusion here of images depicting the Bikini nuclear test, a skyful of clouds, the aftermath of Hiroshima, and space-probe photos of the surface of the moon suggests an attempt to achieve a kind of symbolic neutrality — a flattening — of the extremes that make up human experience. Evil may or may not seem banal, but it is most certainly mundane.

more from the LA Weekly here.