"Art In America," by Michael Duncan, Review of LA Panoramas at Patricia Faure Gallery


John Divola at Patricia Faure
Author/s: Michael Duncan
Issue: March, 2001
Many contemporary street photographers, notably Robert Frank and Lewis Baltz, have picked up on the easy ironies of roadside America, highlighting the false promises and warped ideals of advertising and commercial architecture. Such visions of the country's tarnished soul are a familiar trope. So John Divola's new upbeat digital prints of funky Los Angeles streetscapes come as a bit of a surprise. In his depictions of decidedly non-Westside, downmarket neighborhoods, he celebrates the weird juxtapositions and startling colors of L.A. street life without a trace of condescension.
Under skies of a gorgeous cotton-candy baby-blue, these usually block-long panoramas present circumstantial ironies as comical, colorful social truths. The downscale storefronts he depicts all include some kind of outlet for transcendence, whether it be a liquor store, palm reader, porno shop or church. But Divola seems to celebrate rather than ridicule the come-ons of these would-be spiritual providers. Found signage and architectural details seem artfully arranged, evidence of the photographer's eye for energetic color, formal contrasts and deadpan visual puns.
Various shabby blocks are uplifted by such sweet details as a flowering red mimosa tree, a blue lawn umbrella with yellow table and a happily crude, starburst wall painting of a battery and alternator. A wobbly, off-center, hand-painted sign for "Saints Hope Church of God in Christ" is plastered over a windowless stucco facade with a kind of plainspoken gumption. On most blocks, an apt combination of venues is wryly noted. On the 8900 S. Block of Western Avenue (all works 1999), a motorcycle club is next door to a chiropractor. On 8300 Block of Sepulveda Blvd., a club featuring topless dancers is just down from Carnitas Tacos and next door to Checkered Flag Stereo. Along 12000 S. Block Figueroa Blvd., a liquor store and the giant cable-TV dish of the El Diamante Night Club seem perfect accoutrements to help one blast off at the Satellite Motel next door.
The photos feature just a few isolated individuals and only an occasional blur of a passing vehicle along the foregrounded asphalt. The storefront facades have a boxy regularity, enhancing the serial nature of the project. The long horizontal format emphasizes the depiction of the seemingly low-lying, harsh daylight of L.A. Clearly doted on by the photographer, the blocks take on the role of found sculptures or assemblages. Divola presents his panoramas as affectionate portraits, evidence of the expressiveness of neighborhoods still free of the homogenization of franchised America. These love letters to the city so many love to hate should be required viewing for L.A. naysayers.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group