‘My dad, grandpa, uncle and cousins are all architects on both sides of my family, so I'm really interested in interiors and rooms without people in them and figuring out the clues of what's going on,’ says the Los Angeleno painter Ariana Papademetropoulos on a tour of her latest exhibition, 'Wonderland Avenue', now on view at MAMA Gallery, in Los Angeles' Arts District. ‘There's a certain mystery about it that I'm interested in.’
The spaces on display at MAMA are inspired by the artist's upbringing in Pasadena (think classical 1950s vignettes); lifestyle magazines from the 1960s and 70s (slick midcentury modernist kitchens to shagadelic sitting rooms); slices of film stills (from vintage porn to the bedroom scene in Poltergeist) that are rendered as if they were being viewed through smears in fogged glass; and nude lenticular postcards, whose ‘in-between states’ were captured by Papademetropoulos, first in photographs, then in oil.
‘For me, it's between a memory and the peripherals of something and there's always some kind of conflict involved, even though you can't always see it,’ says Papademetropoulos, pointing to one lenticular, Nude, Pensive, that features a beautiful blond woman morphing between pre-and-post-coital poses. ‘When she's clothed she's very seductive, but in the image behind it she's naked on a bed and very sad, looking down. It's like a before/after. It's very funny.’
In the middle of the gallery is a bright yellow room (meant to invoke an unsettling version of the artist's own boudoir) where stands a tiny bed with a dirty floral sheet set, a chess board topped with lipstick tubes as pieces, Witchcraft and Strip-Tac-Toe parlor games, a figurative lamp from her house, and a gold-veined mirror reflecting the trippy mise-en-scene, including a pink and orange gradient painting that bears the phrase ‘Just Before the Horror’.
‘I wanted people to be able to walk inside the paintings, so in a sense this is a rip in the room,’ she says, walking through an ovoid portal that mimics the abstracted rips in three large interiors studies. In All Flesh is Grass, which can be seen from the yellow room, a green carpeted salon is interrupted by a wood-paneled den appointed with yellow furniture whose floral painting seemingly battles with the abstract landscape in the green room. Across the large gallery, Armchair Revival takes a page from the artist's home library in Pasadena, alternating between the brightness of day and the danger of night. Meanwhile, the epic Another Picnic Painting, in the backroom, fuses a greyscale midcentury kitchen with a Rosenquist-styled picnic scene filled with ghost-like figures whose faces are blurred into agonised states.
‘Even though it's scaled so you think you could walk in there, the rip reminds you that it's not a real space, it brings you back to collage, it reminds you that it's not really tangible,’ says Papademetropoulos.
This intangibility strikes at the heart of the show's title, which is a reference to the idyllic Laurel Canyon street (and community) that was torn apart by a gruesome quadruple homicide at a townhouse frequented by porn stars, on the titular avenue that was home to the drug-dealing Wonderland Gang.
‘It's about how all these different things can happen in one space. It's also kind of about Los Angeles as a whole, and myths, and the duality of certain things, the dark side and facade.’