Thing” is a group show of 20 LA-based artists working in three dimensions. It is a very cohesive show, with tight curating and careful juxtapositions. As can be gleaned from the title, objecthood is key – much of the work is decidedly sculpture, not installation. There are many hybrid works however, defying categorisation and displaying formalist and process-based concerns coupled with a twisting of perceptions and an element of mysticism.

Some works utilise detritus and random matter to create polished shiny objects that exude an enigmatic air. Jebediah Caesar’s 1,000,000 A.D.(2005) appears to be a series of slices of rock, containing a mass of fossilised objects. Resin binds the now unidentifiable things in casing, like segments of geode or slices of a prehistoric animal that happens to have swallowed the contents of the artist’s studio. Joel Morrison’s works also enclose all manner of stuff, bulging against the smooth polished surfaces encasing it. These don’t allow sight of the insides however. Unlike Caesar, his processes are invisible here; you are presented only with the abstract objects created by the wrapping and bundling, left guessing what may lie within.

Many of the artists in “Thing” evoke ideas of containment and spilling over, control versus excess. In Kristen Morgin’s Sweet and Low Down (2005) the processes of making are clearly visible and part of the work. She has created a life-size distorted American car that looks burnt out, destroyed or dug up from beneath the earth. She pushes the boundaries of ceramics, whilst boldly displaying her methods, all crumbling clay and muted colours. There are subtle details of the imagined history of the object; residue of flames painted on the surface, tiny narrow windows racing-car-style. Perhaps it has been in some horrible accident, everything within perished. And yet all of the support mechanisms used for its construction are still visible – it is clearly fabricated and all biography entirely fictional.

Many of the works display a playful attitude to materials, confounding expectations. Hannah Greely’s hand-crafted Budweiser bottles at once fool the viewer into a double-take and on closer inspection appear unconvincing and almost slapdash. There is an attempt at illusionism whilst seemingly playing a game of deliberate exposure. On approaching Kaz Oshiro’s Pink Marshall Stack Wall (Three Marshall Double Stacks) (2002), it appears to be, as signalled, a stack of Marshall amps and speakers, albeit painted bright pink. However, the illusion is shattered when you walk behind, exposing the fact that these objects are an elaborate series of paintings on canvas with the stretchers organised to mimic the Marshall equipment. And on closer inspection still, like Greely’s beer bottles, the attempt at illusionism seems somewhat comical, with the hand-crafted nobs and buttons, painted metallic gold, not quite neat enough to be convincing, and the lettering ever so slightly wobbly. Oshiro’s Kitchen Project (2005) has a sharper trompe l’’oeil effect. It is an exact replica of an empty kitchen – again a series of paintings, but this time there is no evidence, nothing to look behind. It has an eerie, deserted feel, and appears entirely illusionistic, apart from the odd discrepancies; there are no taps, fixtures or fittings, and it looks brand new except for a smattering of perfectly crafted and inexplicable coffee stains. Matt Johnson is the master trickster of the show however. Two Orange Peels (2003) is a beguiling piece – at first glance it appears to be a found object, somehow preserved, as if coated in resin. Only by consulting the title and description can one fathom its true bronze and paint nature. His objects convey an air of Tom Friedman’s quiet minimalism, with some of the childlike naiveté of David Shrigley, exemplified by the show’s figurehead, Breadface (2004).

There is a different strand of work running through “Thing” that utilises the art of assemblage and construction, clustering objects together to form contrasting juxtapositions and curious resonances. Renee Lotenero’s beautiful collage, La Piazza Tenera (2005), includes photographs of materials that are also being used (ceramic tiles, grape vines, plexiglas, steel, paper), cut up and flowing across the floor. From one angle, the work shows its mundane construction, like Oshiro and Morgin, and from another angle it looks like a sticky gluey mess of architectural matter, spewed across the floor. Taft Green’s Reaction Facets: International Seaport; Port 1 of 2; energy distribution, holding light, memory of Vermeer (2005) is like a world only fathomable by the artist. Like some kind of warped architectural rendering, a model of a seaport interpreted through varying viewpoints is combined with a construction containing an outline of Vermeer’s View of Delft (c.1660-61). In Chuck Moffitt’s eros bruises thanatos (2005), he has created an exquisitely constructed, self referential universe. Pastel-coloured metallic lambskin emerges from a disembodied car engine, covered in white foam spheres, mesh, iron, steel and aluminium forms. It feels somehow cosmic, otherworldly, special.

Such works as Mindy Shapero’s The smoke bomb (exists behind your eyes and you only see it when you die and then it releases all phylogenetic memories) (2003) convey primal cosmic forces, star clusters and explosions. Krysten Cunningham’s woven forms remind me of some of Jim Lambie’s works; the psychedelic colours, hippie totems and mimesis of indigenous crafts. References to the 1960s and Minimalism recur in Aragna Ker’s Sunburst (2004), with brightly-coloured, diamond-shaped pieces arranged in an abstract pattern directly on the floor. “Thing” encompasses references to the history of sculpture and installation, painting, architecture and figuration, as well as displaying strikingly fresh work combining complex histories with a playful and sometimes feather-light touch.

Published in Contemporary magazine issue 75