New York City-based artist William Powhida constructs free-standing columns and paints them to represent sociological inequities in 21st century Western society. He takes shiny reflective metal and turns it into a crazy geometric knee-high puzzle. He can also paint a death head skull and ensure it contains a fair representation of a vagina. Indeed he can, like chuff-buddy Damian Hirst, display dead animals, except Powhida is far more glad to uncrate a stuffed coyote with its accompanying packing peanuts than place a dead cow in formaldehyde.
Powhida can out-Richter Gerhard with photo-abstract panels and out-Nauman Bruce with his neon. How do I know? Because the extremely verbal Mr. William Powhida has told us so. And why do we forgive him so generously for each of his stilted Art World Tropes? Because he is so very acute in his self-conscious mockery. And OK—because he is so goddamn funny.
Not that there’s anything particularly funny about a dead coyote, an earnest column, a death head vagina skull, a boring abstract, or a strip of neon. But there can certainly be a beauty to them, particularly if they are carefully crafted. And while Powhida’s newest show, “Bill by Bill,” exhibiting through June 8 at Los Angeles’ Charlie James Gallery, makes vital fun of his creations, the joke is deeper than a sneer because Powhida actually makes this shit right.
Endlessly word-centric, the pieces in “Bill by Bill” are, like the exhibit’s title, doubled up. There is the phalanx of free-standing painted columns and there is the earnest trompe l’oeil explanation for the thought behind the columns, filled with strike throughs and insider jokes and art world send-ups and delightful tomfoolery. For every physical piece in the show, Powhida has created an explanatory canvas, a “certificate of authenticity,” in complement. The two pieces are sold together as an odd couple diptych, and when I was in the gallery the first weekend in May, several pieces were already taken.
Yep, it seems that the multitalented Mr. Powhida can do anything—even sell art.
The Charlie James Gallery, 969 Chung King Road, Los Angeles. Open Wed.-Sat., noon to 6pm. 213.687.0844.