LOS ANGELES — It’s a dizzying and disorienting experience, mixing moments of serenity with feelings of disgust. At the inauguration of Night Gallery’s new warehouse space, opening this weekend, artist Samara Golden has built a mirror room that creates the illusion of a skyscraper. Several floors offer competing images – from calm turquoise waters to coiled snakes and crabs – that capture the emotional whiplash of the past two years.
The installation has a relatively small footprint within the warehouse. But look into the wedge-shaped space from a viewing platform and this skyscraper seems to stretch endlessly into the sky, and infinitely down into the abyss. Along the way is a bunch of little twisted sculptures that evoke guts and a scene of a ruined apartment (as well as those snakes).
The installation is titled ‘Guts’ and Golden, which is based in Los Angeles, is spilling her own to some degree. In an interview, she likened the work to “a brain where different thoughts compete” — a sense of cognitive dissonance many may be familiar with today. “I’m absolutely heartbroken by the pandemic,” she admits, describing a sense of isolation and disconnection, “but I’ve always been someone who was uncomfortable with the world and saw the injustices.”
The title can be read in many ways: it describes “the stomach ache you get when you’re scared, but also ‘guts’ is having the confidence to try new things,” the artist offered.
Golden, 48, has previously used mirrors to create psychologically charged installations for MoMA PS1, the Fabric Workshop and Museum and the 2017 Whitney Biennale. At that tent pool of cutting edge art, viewers peered into “The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes,” which Roberta Smith in DailyExpertNews described as “a dystopian combination of mirrors and eight half-sized miniature interiors—including some positive ones—creating endless kaleidoscopic reflections of class conflict.”
“The fusion of pleasure and horror it can evoke,” Smith added, “would have delighted Georges Bataille, the radical philosopher for whom ‘truth has but one face: that of a violent contradiction.'”
While the Whitney installation exposed class hierarchies, the new work is looser and more intuitive in its cascade of images. Golden experimented with new materials, using spray foam to create the small animals and bodily sculptures and dichroic (or multi-layered) vinyl to create backgrounds that change color drastically depending on your angle.
“The piece speaks to Southern California art history for its profundity,” said Night Gallery founder Davida Nemeroff, echoing Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy.
Golden and Nemeroff first met while attending the Columbia University MFA program and moved to Los Angeles around the same time in 2009. Nemeroff opened Night Gallery in a strip mall a year later as an artist-run space with nighttime hours (hence the name) before moving on to the business side, easing normal daytime hours and moving just south of downtown. Golden’s last solo show there was “Mass Murder” in 2014, an ominous walk-in installation inspired by her grandparents’ living spaces.
“Since then, I wanted to do a show with Samara, but she had a lot of institutional commitments,” Nemeroff said. She immediately thought of Golden when she first visited the warehouse nearly a year ago, across the street from her existing gallery space. “I don’t want to be too offensive, but it was kind of a junkyard, with broken mannequins, disco balls, wild cats,” Nemeroff said, pointing out that it had been used for raves. But she said it still “felt like a cathedral” and had a scale and viewing platform that she knew Golden could use. After “Guts” goes down, Nemeroff plans to use the space for regular exhibitions with a focus on sculpture.
At that time, “Guts” will move to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, where a $344 million expansion is underway to new center for contemporary art. The work will be part of the inaugural show, ‘Dream Home’ is expected to open at the end of this year.
“There’s quite a bit of empty spectacle in recent art,” said Justin Paton, the curator. “But Samara’s spectacle is the opposite: full of pressure, despair, fantasy and also wonder – all these emotional contradictions.”
Samara Golden: Guts
Until March 26, Night Gallery North, 2050 Imperial Street, Los Angeles, nightgallery.ca.