LA Times

Casinos and myth of the frontier

“The New Frontier,” New York painter Lisa Sanditz’s first exhibition in Los Angeles, at ACME, takes its name from an old-school Las Vegas casino that recently underwent what the artist characterizes in the show’s statement as a largely futile face-lift. “It defends its prime real estate location on The Strip,” she writes, “but can’t hide the fact that it is a dinosaur. The frontier myth of eternal abundance has rendered this casino a mere building, while the newer casinos spread out as modern temples of the Entertainment Industry.”

This sort of architectural disjuncture is clearly of great interest to Sanditz, many of whose past works incorporated references to garish Midwestern tourist attractions. The paintings in this show revolve loosely around the concept of the casino, exploring the role that gambling palaces have come to play in the social and geographical landscape of the American West. It is an easy subject to caricature, particularly by someone from the Northeast, but Sanditz pushes past the obvious to reveal a subtle pictorial complexity. Though fanciful in many ways, the paintings capture precisely the quality that Western cities such as Las Vegas have of floating on the surface of the landscape, as if not completely fixed to the Earth.

On a formal level, there’s a dazzling ugliness to the work that makes it unexpectedly absorbing. Sanditz paints in brash, discordant tones, flipping with calculated recklessness among sugary pastels, harsh blacks and acidic primaries. Her strokes are insistent and agitated; the compositions tightly wound yet perpetually on the verge of disintegration. In one painting, “Imploding Casino,” the imagery literally does disintegrate, splintering in a cloud of black, gray and murky green.

It is a spectacle in which one can’t help but take a perverse pleasure.

ACME, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 857-5942, through Nov. 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.