LOS ANGELES — It’s a dizzying and disorienting experience, where moments of serenity juggle with feelings of disgust. Inaugurating the new Night Gallery warehouse space, which opens this weekend, artist Samara Golden has constructed a mirrored bedroom that creates the illusion of a skyscraper. Different floors provide competing images – from calm turquoise waters to coiled snakes and crabs – capturing the emotional kick of the past two years.
The installation has a relatively small footprint in the warehouse. But look into the wedge-shaped space from an observation deck and this skyscraper seems to stretch endlessly into the sky and infinitely into the abyss. Along the way, a bunch of small twisted sculptures evoking intestines and a ransacked apartment scene (as well as these snakes).
The installation is called “Guts” and Golden, who is based in Los Angeles, is spreading hers to some extent. In an interview, she compared the work to “a brain where different thoughts clash” – a sense of cognitive dissonance perhaps familiar to many these days. “I’m absolutely shattered by the pandemic,” she admits, describing a sense of isolation and disconnection, “but I’ve always been someone who was uncomfortable with the world, seeing injustices.”
The title can be read a number of ways: it describes “the upset stomach you get if you’re scared, but also ‘having guts’ means having the confidence to try new things,” explained the ‘artist.
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 this cutting-edge art hub, viewers took a peek on “The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes”, which Roberta Smith, writing in The New York Times, described as “a dystopian combination of mirrors and eight half-size miniature interiors – some upside-down – that create endless kaleidoscopic reflections of class conflict.
“The mixture of pleasure and horror it can arouse”, added Smith, “would have delighted Georges Bataille, the radical philosopher for whom ‘the truth has only one face: that of a violent contradiction'” .
Whereas Whitney’s 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 make the small animal and body sculptures and dichroic (or multi-layered) vinyl to create backdrops that dramatically change color, depending on your angle.
“The piece speaks to the history of Southern California art because of its viscerality,” said Night Gallery founder Davida Nemeroff, noting echoes of Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy.
Golden and Nemeroff first met while attending Columbia University’s MFA program and moved to Los Angeles around the same time in 2009. Nemeroff opened Night Gallery a year later in a mall as an artist-run space with late-night hours (hence the name) before stepping up the commercial side, transitioning to normal daytime hours, and moving just south of downtown. Golden’s last solo exhibition there was “Mass Murder” in 2014, a menacing installation inspired by the living spaces of his grandparents.
“I’ve wanted to do a show with Samara ever since, but she’s had a lot of institutional commitments,” Nemeroff said. She immediately thought of Golden when she first visited the warehouse nearly a year ago, across from her existing gallery. “I don’t want to be too insulting, but it was kind of a dump, with broken mannequins, disco balls, feral cats,” Nemeroff said, noting that it had been used for raves. But she said it “still felt like a cathedral” and had a ladder and a viewing platform she knew Golden could use. After “Guts” ends, Nemeroff plans to use the space for regular sculpture-focused exhibitions.
At this point, “Guts” will travel to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, which has a $344 million expansion underway to create a new center for contemporary art. The work will be part of the inaugural exhibition, “Dream Home”, should open by the end of the year.
“There’s a lot of empty spectacle in recent art,” said Justin Paton, its curator. “But Samara’s show is the opposite: full of pressure, desperation, fantasy and also wonder – all of these emotional contradictions.”
Samara Golden: guts
Through March 26, Night Gallery North, 2050 Imperial Street, Los Angeles, nightgallery.ca.