During a Cabinet Council meeting three years into her mourning of the death of her husband, the still distraught Queen Victoria “rose from the table declaring that she could come to no decision without consulting with Prince Albert.” That display moved one of her Lords to suggest that she abdicate, having been so clearly driven mad by grief. The Karon Davis exhibition, “Pain Management,” is also a display of public lamentation, and a purgation, related to the death of the artist’s spouse, a visual shiva to which we are all invited.
The exhibition is in two acts—in the main gallery and the appropriately claustrophobic project room—and chronology is reversed. Entering, one encounters a papier-mâché boy, reclining on a patch of artificial grass the size of a cemetery plot. Additional figures are funerary sculpture and, because the sorrow has become so outsized, a mausoleum in the form of a giant tissue box. The engaging corner section is plowed earth, with scrub-clad scarecrow, and planted with paper tissues. Is this a harvest or a sowing of grief?
Dolefully, the project room reveals the source of the paper in the papier-mâché figures—shredded medical bills from the cancer ward. This waiting room, with dreadfully upholstered chairs and factory wall art mimics the forced cheeriness of hospital waiting rooms yet remains tedious and dreary. Here, though, we also find a park bench on a carpet of, again, artificial turf. It is perfectly smooth until it finishes abruptly, crumpled at the end of the room. This is not the road not taken but the path interrupted; it is the bookend of the boy reposed on his runner of time run out.
It is upon exiting, however, that one discovers that twinge that will continue to revisit. In most galleries there is a small table or shelf with exhibition information, price lists, artist CV, as well as arts district propaganda. This gallery shelf is no different except it also contains a box of tissues, just sitting there like an urn on the mantel, normalizing the pain, making it commonplace, and reinforcing the tragedy of time and memory and forgetting.
Karon Davis, “Pain Management,” September 17 – November 12, 2016 at Wilding Cran, 939 South Santa Fe Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90021. wildingcran.com