Two New Exhibitions at Hauser & Wirth Play With Immersive Environments

In one room inside a refurbished industrial building, a painting of a blue-faced person covered in frogs hangs on a brightly colored wall. A few dozen feet to the north, a squiggle of white neon hangs from a stark and bare ceiling. They are parts of two new exhibitions at the Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles gallery.

Nicolas Party: Sottobosco is an enveloping collection of new works from the Swiss artist, drawing from a 17th century artistic movement. Meanwhile Lucio Fontana: Walking the Space: Spatial Environments, 1948-1968 recreates a series of immersive spaces by the late Italian artist. The shows both play with space in distinct ways.

Party’s exhibition Sottobosco — his first solo show in Los Angeles — is a striking, colorful mix of painting and architectural focus. New walls were constructed inside Hauser & Wirth’s south gallery, turning the cavernous building into a more claustrophobic chamber. Each wall is fully painted in a single pastel color, from forest green to a deep blue, and the only entrance to each is a tall and narrow archway.

“Sottobosco is a painting [style] that depicted what’s called the forest floor, where the light doesn’t go because of the canopy of the trees,” Party told journalists at a media preview ahead of the show’s opening.

The show includes more than two dozen of Party’s pastel paintings, created in the past two years. Almost all are darkly colored, incorporating elements of nature from animals to tree branches. At either end of the gallery, perfectly framed by those arched openings, are two paintings of caves at sunset.

One of the more interesting pieces is a small, constructed cathedral not far from the gallery entrance. The tiny space sports a checkered tile floor and black and white patterned ceiling. On the north wall, is a small recreation of “Three Snakes, Lizard, and Toad” by Otto Marseus van Schrieck, a leading sottobosco artist.

Spatial Awareness

If Party’s show is focused on new large-scale spaces and paintings in the vein of a centuries-old style, Fontana’s work features recreations of decades-old installations that used at-the-time cutting-edge technology to try and create new types of art. Walking the Space: Spatial Environments, 1948-1968 features nine of Fontana’s enclosed art spaces, along with multiple sketches and pictures of his development process.

“I also want people to understand that traditional easel painting is dead, finished forever, and that one cannot go back,” reads a quote of Fontana’s, printed on a wall in the north gallery.

That perspective came out of a time of profound change in Fontana’s life. Coming out of, and returning to an Italy ravaged by World War II, Fontana decided to break with the past. His studio destroyed (a photo of the ruins is the first thing visitors see in the exhibition), he decided to start using new technology to move beyond paintings and sculptures, according to Luca Massimo Barbero, guest curator of the exhibition. He settled on transforming rooms into dark canvasses for black light installations, and experimenting with how spaces are used. The first of those, “Spatial Environment in Black Light,” debuted in 1949.

One piece, “Utopie, at the 13th Milan Triennale,” features red carpet and bright red lights filling the interactive area. People enter and then find themselves climbing over a steep bump in the center of the space before exiting. The effect is slightly disorienting in its own way. The show is arranged chronologically, with visitors following a path through the gallery.

“[He thinks] ‘I want to think of something for a new generation that inspires the new generation on a new dimension,’” Barbero said of Fontana, although he noted Fontana was already 48 at the time when he started his new discipline.

Walking the Space also occupies the complex’s east gallery. Along with large-scale photographs of Fontana at work, it includes another dark room installation, and the 1968 work “Spatial Environment at Documenta 4, in Kassel.” Like “Spatial Environment in Red Light,” it is an illuminated room split up by a series of walls, but with a bright white light instead of red. In the center, a single, narrow black chasm runs through one wall.

A third new exhibit also opened on Feb. 13; August Sander: New Women, New Men, and New Identities is on display in the complex’s Book and Printed Matter Lab. The exhibit showcases portrait photos and journals of the German LGBTQ community during the post World War I era.

Nicolas Party: Sottobosco, Lucio Fontana: Walking the Space: Spatial Environments, 1948-1968, and August Sander: New Women, New Men, and New Identities run through April 12 at Hauser and Wirth Los Angeles, 901 E. Third St. or hauserwirth.com.

nslayton@timespublications.com.