by Jonathan Griffin
Ltd Los Angeles
The day I visit David Ostrowski’s exhibition, it’s raining. The unusually inclement weather seems appropriate for these battered, defeated-looking paintings. I am reminded of the terrible storm that hit New York recently. Ostrowski’s work corresponds to images of Chelsea-gallery employees hauling drenched canvases out of waterlogged crates.
This exhibition, however, belongs not to water but to the dryness of a Los Angeles summer. The Cologne-based Ostrowski undertook a residency in the city, hosted by Ltd Los Angeles, the result of which is this suite of paintings. Is it fair to correlate these scuffed and scarred canvases, made with acrylic, lacquer, spraypaint, sheets of paper and cotton, with the locus of their production? Maybe not. They are, after all, part of the F series of paintings that the artist has developed over recent years, and are remarkably similar to works (some with the same titles) that he is showing in an almost simultaneous exhibition at BolteLang, Zurich, reportedly made before visiting California.
However, when confronted by paintings as devoid of content as these, one is tempted to reach for affinities with the context of their creation in order to flesh out their references. The dirty black lines that Ostrowski makes with a spray can might, to some viewers, evoke the smog of a car exhaust. The worn black surface of a painting such as F (Dann Lieber Nein) (all works 2012) could be compared to tarmac, and its butter-yellow frame a chromatic tribute to the Southern Californian sunshine.
Such readings are obviously superficial and could just as easily be matched with any sunny but traffic-blighted city. Nevertheless, there is a sense here that even Ostrowski himself isn’t prepared to disregard it entirely. A poster for the exhibition reproduces a grainy photograph of a man spraying black lines on a wall from a moving Jeep. The medium of smoky spraypaint is one that other artists – notably Sterling Ruby – have deployed as a specific signifier of Los Angeles grime and proprietary vandalism.
One might also turn to the wealth of literature offered by the gallery. Alongside an essay, an interview and the standard press release – itself appended by an exchange between Jerry and George from the sitcom Seinfeld about their idea for a (TV) show about ‘nothing’ – is a double-sided page of aphorisms by the bard of Los Angeles, Larry David.
‘I don’t think anyone is interested in reading about my emotional state. It’s not even interesting to me,’ says David. Despite oblique disavowals such as this, Ostrowski’s painting is rich with emotion, and has frequent moments of surprise and beauty. A strip of iridescent adhesive foil taped to F (Jung, Brutal, Gutausehend) is one such epiphany. But Ostrowski seems determined to undermine himself. F (Ian Tits) presents the only representational imagery in the show: scrawled breasts, straight from the toilet wall. Its imbecility seems contrived, a forced fulfilment of the show’s prophetic title, From Bad to Worse. It doesn’t have to be as bad as all that.
First published: Art Review, January-February 2013, issue 65