After the party, the depletion
By Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer 22.2.08

Entropy is the tendency of a natural system to level out into a depleted state of homogeneity. A familiar subject in art since the 1970s, it puts on unexpected party clothes in the sly work of London-based artist Merlin Carpenter.

For his L.A. debut at Overduin and Kite, dedicated to Belgian menswear designer Raf Simons, Carpenter held an opening day English garden party inside the gallery, complete with Laura Ashley coverings on the tables and Pimm's cups to imbibe. During the event, he splashed black paint on eight white-primed canvases on the main room's large wall and a ninth on the opposite wall, while a 10th was scrawled with socially correct graffiti ("I drive a Prius") and a heart.

The party is now over, and viewers see the residue. An aluminum stepladder, presumably used to reach the upper canvases, stands to one side, functioning as a modest pedestal for a bottle of floral-scented cologne reportedly sprayed on the paintings' stretcher bars. The thick, short slashes of paint rendered with a wide brush were applied with considerable velocity, since splatters reach the ceiling and mar the floor. One imagines visitors scurrying in flight at the opening.

In one canvas, the heavy black splatter was aimed directly at the juncture of white canvas and white gallery wall, and in another the linear black strokes are elegantly self-contained, recalling Asian calligraphy. In a third work, someone -- the artist? a partygoer? the gallerist? -- scratched graffiti into the fat black line, which trails off the canvas and slides several feet along the wall.

These expressive marks, empty of specific meaning, are like mysterious notes in a bottle washed up on shore, telling of irretrievable, far-away events. "You had to be there" isn't much of a revelation, but the social engagement of Carpenter's installation is not confined to the past.

Looking at these paintings one wonders how the objects will change in the future. What happens when they are dislodged from this commercial space, with its artfully splattered environment and photo-documented back story, and are dispersed to their next assortment of venues (collector's living room, museum gallery or storage space)? Do they lose energy? Or, do they gain a narrative trail of social experience that defies consumption?

Carpenter applies ideas of entropy to cultural systems, rather than natural ones, which would seem to be a contradiction. More than the painting per se, the problematic Catch-22 provides this work's appeal.

Overduin and Kite, 6693 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 464-3600, through March 15. Closed Sundays and Mondays.