L.A. Women: Kathryn Andrews

Michael Slenske

Photography by Steven Perilloux

Kathryn Andrews in her L.A. Studio, 2016.

Walking into the Highland Park studio of Kathryn Andrews one could easily get the impression of entering into an avant-garde architecture firm that doubles as a novelty shop.

In the front office you’ll find schematics for Sunbathers I and Sunbathers II, the fanning and spritzing monoliths (one emblazoned with the phrase “Beyond This Point You May Encounter Nude Sunbathers”) that have adorned Manhattan’s High Line since May. Her storage areas brim with precisely coded boxes of performance props and found objects, everything from Vegas coffee cups to vintage beer cans and color-coded cigarette boxes. Meanwhile, the studio is filled with photo proofs for her recent Door Girl sculptures (life-sized portraits of American Apparel-esque models in absurdist poses framed inside steel doors) and various movie props in one corner vying for placement in future concepts—think Lucille Ball lipstick prints and the front page of “The Gotham Globe” from Batman Forever. It’s all part and parcel of an increasingly complex sculptural practice mining the intersections of advertising appropriation and Pop icons, minimalism and market politics.

“The work really deals with how we see images and materials differently,” says Andrews. “I try to set up situations that add a variety of ways of looking. Take the logics of Pop Art and minimalism; I’m interested in what happens when we collide the lessons of the two.”

What began about six years ago with a simple exploration of birthdays and clowns as fodder (Warhol-meets-Heilmann paintings of candles or shiny metal fences anchoring balloons and rainbow-colored costumes that come with rules for exhibition/ownership) has turned into a world of Andrews tropes—not unlike those mined by her former boss Mike Kelley—which now include Santas, Easter Bunnies, hobos and superheroes.

“It’s like a system that’s branching,” she explains. Last fall, those branches spread into the political sphere with “Kathryn Andrews: Run for President,” a traveling mid-career survey that debuted at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in November and just opened at the Nasher Sculpture Center on September 10. It includes paintings depicting historic Presidential campaign posters while housing well-known costumes for the Joker, Spider-Man or Wee Man embedded with the outfits worn by Jack Nicholson, Tobey Maguire and the Jackass star Jason Acuña. It even explores the subversive identity politics of Mr. T, as captured in a photo of him at a White House Christmas party wearing a Star of David chain and a sleeveless Santa suit, with Nancy Reagan perched on his lap.

This fall she’s ratcheting up the dark humor even further with her Black Bar wall works for her new solo show at Los Angeles’ David Kordansky gallery opening in November. The shadow-box-like sculptures feature hand-silkscreened images of girls, picnic foods, cartoons and sharks hidden behind a layer of printed Plexiglas.