One of the most curious things about In Concert, the gallery run by Gabriel Garza and Theadora Walsh, is that it bounces between two spaces in the same building — one L-shaped, the other squarish — to fit the needs of any given show. For Flashlights, a solo show of work by Los Angeles artist Nico B. Young, In Concert occupies the latter, a cozy setting for the tenderly assembled work on view. Each piece in Flashlights shows evidence of a caring, idiosyncratic touch — if not from Young himself, then from previous users and owners: a flashlight collector named Walter; stereoscopic enthusiasts Susan Pinksy and David Starkman; or the artist’s late father, Jeff Young, a keyboardist, singer and songwriter.
It’s clear Young is also a collector of interesting stuff. The most baffling object in the show is an antique stereo viewer Young found at an estate sale. Built by George Mann (a former vaudeville dancer-turned-inventor), the boxy device sprouts a sign that proclaims “Broad Views of Force Limited Magnetic Particle,” a phrase I still cannot parse. Inside, a rotating and backlit slide display shows viewers images of nude women posing with advertising copy and car parts, the scenes made eerily three-dimensional by the power of stereoscopy.
In the process of fixing up and researching Mann’s stereo viewer, Young discovered the website 3-DLegends.com, the repository of Susan Pinksy and David Starkman’s extensive knowledge of stereoscopic history (with an entire section on Mann and his images). According to their research, Mann would rent out his viewers to restaurants, offices and other businesses to offer a diversion to people in waiting rooms.
And so Young built a second object in homage to the first: a bare wooden viewer with its own rotating image display, this time photographs of Pinsky and Starkman posing with their collection of stereo viewers, mirroring (more chastely) the contents of Mann’s.
In Young’s process of refurbishment and repair, we get a sense of the respect he has for the things people collect, as well as the artist’s own curiosity. How does this device work? Can it be made operational again? For Walter’s Flashlights (1–3), three displays of flashlights turn on via a single switch below each box-like shelf; Young has rewired them into singular “bouquets” with various types represented.
There’s something of the Bernd and Hilla Becher impulse to this piece, a need to organize by typology that may initially prove invisible to the viewer. But the more I looked, the more I remembered the desire to sort my own childhood collections (rocks, stickers, marbles). With the gallery lights off, the piece conjured memories of holding a flashlight in dark woods, of clandestine reading sessions under the covers.