Renee Petropoulos: Rosamund Felsen Gallery

Article excerpt

Throughout her career, Renee Petropoulos has explored the contours of public space in immediate, human terms. Her installations actively question who the "public" is and subtly alter how its designated spaces are used. Collaging together fragments of shoppers' conversations at a women's clothing boutique in a sound work titled Nearly Ten Months, 2003, for example, she ingeniously demonstrates the social function of language, the way words form an imperfect surface that separates individuals. And in Is It Possible, 2005, she turns the floor of the San Leandro County Juvenile Court lobby into an intricate word game by fitting colored terrazzo circles keyed to quotations from Rainer Maria Rilke and the rueful musings of young defendants themselves (WHY DID I HAVE TO END UP HERE?). Entering the lobby, one thus also enters an associative net that at once physicalizes anxiety and suggests an escape from it. For Petropoulos, surface is a provisional meeting between public and private.

"Social Arrangements," Petropoulos's dazzling, wryly titled exhibition at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, extended these investigations into the realm of geopolitics. The show comprised several bodies of work that together span almost a decade, projects that subtly inform each other to create a lively associative flow. Petropoulos's works have always been complex and challenging--sometimes to the point of opacity--when encountered individually. But displayed together, their intentions become clear.

Hung near the entrance to the gallery were six "studies" depicting changes in the shapes of three countries between the early twentieth century and 2007. Abstracted from maps, the countries--Uruguay, Germany, and Oman--appear as inky black silhouettes against a white background. The contrast between the femur-shaped mass that is Study for a Representation of Oman, October 15, 1922 Part A, 2007, and its diminished correlative, Study for a Representation of Oman, October 14, 2006 Part B, 2006-2007, is mildly interesting, but it's Petropoulos's deadpan use of the word REPRESENTATION on the small brass title plaques that most effectively raises the question of dislocation explored by the remainder of the show. …

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