If we trust exhibition names, Laura Owens’ solo show at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art claims to be just ten paintings. But go looking for those paintings in the airy main space or the smaller gallery behind it, and you might get confused.
Your confusion will stem from the fact that the paintings -- if we also trust exhibition guides -- are embedded in the Wattis’ main gallery walls, hidden behind floor-to-rafter handmade wallpaper. Come the end of Laura Owens: Ten Paintings’ run, the hidden panels will emerge, cut from their surroundings, as stand-alone art objects.
This is, when you think about it, a rather brilliant idea. Owens’ exhibition can be both a site-specific installation and a painting show -- the contents of which can be broken apart and exhibited (or sold) separately after July 23. And since it’s impossible for anyone without first-hand knowledge of the installation process to determine where a wallpaper-covered panel ends and the wallpaper-covered wall begins, the entire main gallery is perhaps best viewed as one giant painting.
This point of view is supported by the flourishes of chunky paint Owens applied around the room after wallpaper professionals finished installing the upwards of 70 unique non-repeating strips of clay-coated paper. The wallpaper itself, an enlarged bitmap pattern of folded and creased paper, segmented by trompe l’oeil Tudor-style wood beams, is filled with other eye-tricking treats made with a variety of printing processes: newspaper clippings from The Berkeley Barb, horoscopes from Free Will Astrology and drawings made by children who share Owens’ last name.
Every now and then, one of these pieces of “paper” within the wallpaper encourages the viewer to send text messages to certain 415-area-code phone numbers. “Ask any question,” says an ad on one, a rambling collection of writing about Los Angeles’ art scene (Owens’ home base) punctuated by emoji faces, “Find the solution.”