Pummeled and Polished

Artist Julian Hoeber takes aim in the High Desert

Untitled (2008), polished bronze with stainless steel posts, MDF, wood, acrylic mirror and spray enamel, 8x7x13 inches (pedestal: 42 x 13 1/4 x 13 1/4 inches)


A day at Art Los Angeles Contemporary — the more cutting-edge of two January fairs and a refreshing change of scenery following the Palm Springs International Film Festival — turned up a few surprises and even more re-examinations of artists represented by cherry-picked galleries from (mostly) Los Angeles and Europe.

The installation of L.A. artist Julian Hoeber’s untitled cast heads — each shot, stabbed, and otherwise pummeled during clandestine trips to the High Desert, near Joshua Tree — renewed the spirit of this body of work exhibited by the Culver City gallery Blum & Poe.

Hoeber has something of a horror-show dark side (the mutilated heads have unaffected facial expressions and hark to the artist’s 2001 video “Killing Friends,” which follows a young man’s serial seductions and dispassionate murders). The artist takes great interest in the culture’s fascination with film and video game violence, while it has little stomach for the real thing.

Mirrored pedestals prop these products of violent and grotesque acts to shiny Beverly Hills chic. You want to respond with horror, but the restful expressions on the sculptures’ faces (casts of his own) and the fine quality and integrity of the finished pieces carry as much weight in this story as do the actions that disfigured the heads before their bronzing.

“You see one thing, but it’s actually some-thing else,” Hoeber says. “The mirrored pedestals give them levity, a sheen, or a sparkle — like Baccarat in a window on Rodeo Drive. It encourages a different response. ‘Heads with bullet holes in them of that quality?’

It’s a complicated psychological proposition, the idea of making something awful to look pretty and have them exist simultaneously. The human experience demands analysis, a reckoning with contradictory ideas.”

The High Desert offered the perfect setting for Hoeber to pump his work full of lead. “You can’t fire a gun in the city, and no firing ranges will let you bring in a wax head,” says the artist, who does not own a gun.

“I got into a conversation with a friend, a gun enthusiast, who lives off Highway 62,” Hoeber continues. “He said, ‘Out here, it’s common for people to shoot.’ I love going out there. I like the big horizon. There’s no compression, no crowding. It’s depressurizing. You have conversations you couldn’t have in the city.”

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