Sam Pulitzer and Peter Wächtler’s recent exhibition at House of Gaga/Reena Spaulings Fine Art was a collaborative venture for both the artists, who are friends, and the galleries, which are based in Mexico City and New York, respectively, and have split the rent on a handsome Spanish-style building in Los Angeles’s MacArthur Park for a program of exhibitions.
Inside the venue, a hand-painted sign bearing the message WELCOME HOME FRIEND greeted visitors to Pulitzer and Wächtler’s show. The main space featured four of Wächtler’s large pastel depictions of erupting volcanoes on the walls and five of his glass sculptures of starfish on pedestals (all works 2016). Twenty-two small colored pencil drawings by Pulitzer were arrayed on black gridded stands positioned between the starfish and the volcanoes.
Pulitzer’s drawings depict various friendly-looking, anthropomorphized beings, including a lively pair of avocados, a grinning earth, and a somewhat perturbed-looking bowl of Cheerios. Rendered in bright hues, the drawings have the simple, pleasant air of illustrations found in public information pamphlets or in children’s books. Whereas those types of imagery seek to reassure or instruct their audiences, however, Pulitzer’s creations are beset by a sense of unease. One of them, Terrible Day, shows an abstracted aerial view of a witch’s hat atop a green puddle and a pile of rocks, accompanied by the message WHEN A TERRIBLE DAY TURNS INTO A TERRIBLE LIFE, making it clear that the hat-wearer has met an untimely end.
The tight control evident in Pulitzer’s drawings in some ways balanced Wächtler’s loose, even wild, evocations of elemental forces. Yet the sublime natural power conjured by Wächtler’s works made them the dominant force here. Be it the bright lava flowing down the dark mountain peaks or the blood orange glazes on the starfish, his works pulsated with a vitality lacking from Pulitzer’s contribution.
A connecting thread in this varied show was the relationship between nature and civilization. In The Last Alley, Pulitzer depicts fruit and animal remains discarded beside an oozing trashcan. River Scene, a watercolor by Wächtler that hung in the front vestibule, shows a river by a row of trees; cars parked behind a wall represent a glimpse of civilization. At the heart of the image is a toppled bird’s nest, with eggs scattered in all directions and a bird upended in surprise, disturbed, most likely, by the pair of hands that can be seen pushing aside the foliage. While the volcanoes remind us of nature’s threats, these two works suggest that humanity is the planet’s most potent agent of destruction.