A Review of Anya Gallaccio: Stroke at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
By: Robyn Tisman
While few of us hold the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s magical chocolate factory, stepping inside Anya Gallaccio’s installation, Stroke, at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles is a portal to delightful possibilities. It is a momentary respite from the Los Angeles smog and snarling traffic; a gentle reminder that sometimes an oasis appears in the most unexpected of places. Twice if one is lucky enough.
A bit of context: Paisley-born artist Anya Gallacio gained attention as part of the enfants terribles who emerged from Goldsmiths College in London during the late 1980s collectively known as the YBAs or Young British Artists. These young creatives emerged in two waves—Anya Gallaccio, Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst, Liam Gillick, Ian Davenport, Gary Hume, Henry Bond, Simon Patterson, and Mat Collishaw among the first wave, and Douglas Gordon, Fiona Banner, Tacita Dean, and Turner Prize winner Tracey Emin among the second wave of YBAs—transformed the Contemporary Art scene via a series of artist-led exhibitions in warehouses and factories in and around London beginning with Damien Hirst’s 1988 curated show, Freeze. These now-established artists were once the generation of youthful excess, shock-culture, and artistic processes incorporating detritus and inexpensive materials, very much influenced by the rave culture of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The early patron who helped build their market, advertising executive Charles Saatchi.
Anya Gallaccio’s Stroke first debuted as the inaugural exhibition at Timothy Blum and Jeffrey Poe’s eponymous Santa Monica gallery in September 1994. Twenty-five years later, Gallaccio reprises her original installation at Blum & Poe’s current Culver City space. The original press release for the exhibition describes Gallaccio’s work as, “Feminist in material, natural in its decay, subversively Freudian.” Her materials: chocolate on cardboard in variable dimensions.
Upon entering Gallaccio’s installation through the back courtyard of Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, the earthy scent of chocolate wafts through an otherwise bright, airy room. Natural sunlight pours in through several skylights and shines through the frosted glass door to enter the space. Inside, one is immediately confronted by the strong chocolate aroma that pervades the room, complete with chocolate painted cardboard panels that fill all four walls with brushy layers of chocolate applied in painterly layers to produce an image of excess; a magical chocolate room.
Despite how steeped in the tropes of Minimalism, Gallaccio’s brushwork presents as luscious strokes of chocolate pigment staining the pristine gallery walls. One becomes distinctly aware of the viscosity of the chocolate layers, and the physical labour required to complete such an installation. It draws a parallel to work of minimalist sculptor, Richard Serra, and his large scale installations such as Band on view at LACMA, where one is left to contemplate the sheer mass and mastery of solid steel plates that can undulate around the gallery in ribbon-like forms evoking a sense of comfort and embrace despite the cold, hard, industrial materials. Gallaccio’s work is more rectilinear, more organic, and exponentially more ephemeral. Over the course of the exhibition, if one continues to remain in the chocolate room and contemplate the scent and crowds in the heat, one soon learns the heat enables the chocolate to bloom, the odour revealed more pungent. As happens with all organic materials, the chocolate begins to decompose. A byproduct of this beautiful decay leaves the viewer to experience such cloyingly sweet, almost nauseating odours off-gassing from the natural, organically decomposing chocolate walls.
So, like Charlie Bucket in Roald Dahl’s fantastical novel, “We are a great deal luckier than we realize. We usually get what we want—or near enough.” That is, if one does not overstay their welcome.