Egyptian Art & Antiques:
Lena Wolek’s “Arbitraitor’s Clauset” is clever in title and use of space. Arriving at her installation in the diminutive exhibition chamber misleadingly named “Egyptian Art & Antiques” feels like discovering a child’s toy-room in a nondescript Beverly Hills office building. The configuration seems like it could be altered any time, as though colorful sculptures were game pieces that the artist might return to at any moment. Yet the playful setup belies serious meditation on political maneuvering and human conflict.
Wolek refers to her Siberian youth in roly-poly Russian doll figures, fur accents and hammer iconography. Wobbly lines and simplified silhouettes are evocative á la Bill Traylor. Despite exotic overtones and individualized symbolism, the simple imagery’s open-ended narrative of discord is universal and apropos to our country’s current turbulent climate.
The room is a forum of contention divided into two key factions. One is presided by Million Dollar Baby (all works 2016), a Matryoshka matriarch atop a clear rectangular soapbox containing stacks of fur, mouth agape as though in protest. Perhaps she embodies the artist. Abutting the wall on the floor behind her are ceramic plates depicting rotund women. Hun Disputed, a stoneware belt on a closet doorknob behind Million Dollar Baby underscores the plates’ suggestion of domesticity, but also seems a masculine foil belonging to the opposition. Its misplacement is countered across the room by a plate emblazoned with a woman in sunglasses, a spy in foreign territory.
Opposing the matriarch, a fur flag with a bent hammer logo indicates political authority held by Pappa and Fish Wisperer, who lead an army of white worms that double as nails presumably twisted by the hammer of power. A cangue and chain immobilize the knowing wolf in Sir Veillance, positioned like a CCTV above the army.
Million Dollar Baby plays “Trololo,” representing conflicting narratives of Soviet Union censorship. (Did the government really demand redaction of the song’s lyrics? Some deny it.)
Wolek’s dispute encompasses indoors and outdoors, home and public, masculine and feminine, covert and overt, power and subjugation. Yet opposing ideas and conflicting narratives are not easily disentangled. The viewer’s ability to superimpose his own storyline is refreshing in spite of, yet also in light of, the difficulties of navigating a post-truth era.
Lena Wolek, “Arbitraitor’s Clauset,” January 7-February 5, 2017 at Egyptian Art & Antiques, 170 S. Beverly Dr. Ste. 320, Beverly Hills CA 90212, egyptianart.la