The first Los Angeles exhibition of the work of D.E. May, a Portland-based artist, is currently on view at LAXART in Culver City. Since the 1970s, May has been conducting formal experiments with modernist abstraction using materials found near his Pacific Northwest home. The show was curated by art historian and UCLA professor George Baker, and will be the last at LAXART before the gallery moves to its new space in Hollywood.
Drawings and works consisting of thickly-layered, weather-beaten, painted cardboard and wood line the walls of the gallery. Various small objects lie in glass cases: drawings on cardboard shapes and small wooden sculptures that look like tiny constructivist buildings. When I asked May if he had a special name for these latter works, he said he thought of them only as sculptures, to which Baker replied, “I like to call them architectural models.”
From the exhibition statement:
Over a forty-year career, May has worked to extend and intensify a range of avant-garde languages, inventing a particular form of abstraction created from the re-use of materials found in the urban environment. Residing in Salem, Oregon, the artist exceeds any regional frame to engage directly the history of key abstract strategies such as constructivism, geometric abstraction, and the monochrome. But the work also explores the readymade and collage practice typical of Dada, or the child-like scale and alternative distribution channels (such as mail art) later explored by Fluxus, as well as the textual, archival, and architectural tactics central to certain forms of Conceptual art. Indeed, the work seems to evoke the ghosts of an eclectic but very specific range of canonical modernist or postwar artists, embraced in all their incompatibility and evident contradiction with each other: Kurt Schwitters and Kasimir Malevich; Joseph Cornell and Joseph Beuys; the precarious grids of painter Agnes Martin and the aggressive geometric cut-outs of Gordon Matta-Clark; the notion of a spontaneous Art Brut elaborated by Jean Dubuffet and the street aesthetics of the early work of Claes Oldenburg.
And yet the art of D.E. May also references everyday objects, simple and useful things, like tools, architectural shelters, or maps. With its titles and general spirit, the work often evokes the outdated places and characters found in film noir movies, or albums and song titles from our vinyl-record past. Allegorical references to mysterious regions or lands abound, utopian zones perhaps, or long-ago sites that have passed into oblivion. In their construction, May’s objects also echo the labors characteristic of a range of non-art occupations like dressmaking or furniture design or haphazard carpentry.
D.E. May: Half Distance is on view until December 13.