Author: Leah Ollman
Art Reviews; The Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, Calif.; Jun 1, 2001

Pop Violence

Sue de Beer's new photographs at Sandroni Rey Gallery are obviously exercises in artifice, but they still pinch a real nerve. Though their violence feels a step or two removed from real physical pain, for the viewer the distinction is gratuitous. Violent imagery and imagery "about" violence both trigger the visceral reflex of unease.

The key difference is that the former has an organic link to the world and the latter is a product contrived to manipulate an audience. Down a theory-bedecked hall of mirrors we can continue and claim that pictures like De Beer's are not merely manipulative but "about" manipulation, "about" the appeal of the macabre and its exploitation by filmmakers, television producers and . . . well, artists. At the end of the hall, though, that last mirror reflects our culture's own sorry visage, grown soulless and desensitized.

The how and why of photographs like De Beer's makes for compelling discussion, because the images themselves beg for justification. Why, after all, would a photographer stage an image of a young woman whose body wedges into the cracked torso of another, so that her head peeks out from the crotch of the other's jeans as if a full-grown stillbirth?

Why a picture of a young man casually laughing, as his fingers poke into the wet, gaping, crimson wound at his waist? And why a photograph of a seated young woman, cigarette in hand, her face a mask of indifference, and her midsection a skinned mound of blood and innards, perhaps even a fetus?

What intrigues De Beer are the internal contradictions within such scenes, the same tangy miscegenation of horror and humor, the grotesque and the giddy that drives Paul McCarthy's work. McCarthy didn't invent abjection, but he helped popularize it and fetishize it to the point where young artists like De Beer can trade on its currency.

A few of her pictures look like slasher-flick stage sets, with their rumpled beds and blood-stained ceilings. These, at least, leave something to the imagination other than the piercing question of how violation and degradation got to be so cool.

*Sandroni Rey Gallery, 1224 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 392- 3404, through June 23. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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