Various painted flat panels of many different shapes come together to form a surreal living room scene that includes a beige dog seated on a teal blue chair in front of a pink wall. Next to the painted dog is what looks like a painted deer skin rug as well as two nuzzling deer heads make to look like mounted hunting trophies, and a rainbow that comes up from the ground but breaks apart some feet in the air.
All Images: Installation of Precarious Panoply by Lori Larusso at Weston Art Gallery. Photographer, Tony Walsh.

Precarious Panoply


Review
Nick Hartman


Animal prints, class systems, food, and wildlife. Oh my!

Admission: Precarious Panoply is my first time personally visiting a Lori Larusso exhibition. As a current resident of our shared hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, it is abundantly apparent Larusso has been busy producing work. Painting in a style all her own, pointing out a Lori Larusso painting is not a hard task–just look for aggressive flatness and quick-witted scenarios. The current tableau inhabits the walls and floor of the Weston Art Gallery in Cincinnati, creating impressive large-scale graphic images.

Scale remains a factor, both in the true-to-life representation of imagery and the artscape itself, as Larusso takes advantage of the twenty-five-foot wall height. The main gallery could easily be an overwhelming hurdle to some, but Larusso capitalizes on the space, making it feel like a true installation rather than individual imagery on a wall. Larusso has previously incorporated the gallery wall as a formal aspect of installation, allowing the wall to become an element of the overall installation rather than a white backdrop. By painting a faux grey tablecloth on the gallery wall for the 2019 installation at KMAC museum, A Pastiche of Good Intentions, Larusso emphasized the tableau of a grouping of two-dimensional objects as an extravagant table setting. Precarious Panoply takes the installation of space a few steps further.

Placement of the images within the space is playfully thought out. We Are What We Don’t Eat (2021) depicts a pair of blue birds noticing the remnants of a discarded take-out meal, a lone strip of bacon included. 2021’s Smells Like a Donut is the sole piece on the wall adjacent to the pink interior room – at floor height at that. The artist takes full advantage of the space by hanging work both at ground level and over ten feet above the viewer’s eyeline. Acting as a visual easter egg and a conceptual endcap as you descend the stairs of the main floor of the gallery, Larusso’s bold, smart choice to have individual pieces separated from the larger body of the installation allows for a subtle reminder of both concept and craft that lives just outside the main body of work.

Again, formal and conceptual elements meet as the haves and the have-nots are literally juxtaposed by a physical split in the room; a wall pillar is acting as a separation point between the pop pink interior wall and the simplistic exterior treescape. A large-scale rainbow motif crosses the bridge above these interior/exterior spaces. While the exterior, left side of the rainbow is fragmented and allowed to crumble into a neat pile on the ground, the interior, right portion of the rainbow is reaching out (yet not fully completed) from a depiction of a framed image of a pot of gold. Indeed, the interior space does feel quite posh, yet also kitsch, in contrast with the exterior section of the installation. Larusso’s lighthearted tone allows for an easier access point for the viewer–perhaps another way the artist is able to communicate on the candy-coated visuals with which we as a society are indoctrinated by and large. A large, golden dog sits on a teal, zebra-print wingback chair wearing a cat ear headband–life is indeed good. Meanwhile, a solid black cat is outstretched on a deer hide rug. These house pets are literally living on cloud nine, just below the end of the rainbow. This immediate split between the two main walls allows Larusso to harken back to a familiar theme of class disparity. This concept is visualized in various vignettes but always within a scene at which a passerby might turn their head in disbelief before trying to get a photo to post on their social media. Wildlife is seen grasping for morsels of food intended for those we as a culture have deemed worthy to feed and admire, while domesticated pets are depicted lounging in flamboyant interior spaces. Larusso verbalizes this thought within her artist statement, “We love our animals. Except when we don’t. It depends on many things: what they look like, what they want from us, what they eat. How close they get. Whether they are trainable and if they look cute on social media.” Daily constants we as a culture take for granted like our beloved pets and our dinner plans seem to be a jumping off point Larusso uses within her arsenal of visual underpinnings; perception is reality, and there lies a hierarchy of animals within the mass culture. Larusso shows us this and expands upon this concept throughout this body of work.

Precarious Panoply indeed feels like an impressive collection. This indoor/outdoor diptych space allows for playful interactions one might expect from Larusso. 2022’s birdhouse series (Skunkfeeder-Bearfeeder, ect.) is a fun grouping of nine pieces depicting the attempted feeding of anything one might think of outside, apart from birds–squirrels, snakes, skunks, even a bear. This repetition highlights the continued struggle these critters are having with their unintended circumstantial habitat we all share, as well as our attempt to have some hold over an object in nature we have deemed fit. Larusso describes this aim within her artist statement, “I am interested in human responses to synanthrope–the non-domesticated animal species that thrive alongside us, in our built environments…It is anxiety-provoking when we cannot influence their behavior or predict what they will do next.”

Larusso has a unique expression as she interprets three-dimensional objects in a two-dimensional space. Dimensionality is played out shorthand through a digital process similar to a photoshop layering filter which allows the artist to circumnavigate the appearance of reality while also commenting on it, but the craft of the hand is vividly present. Color selection (along with a lot of patience) is key in working in this way. Within this body of work, the flat color layering is most present and successful in the icing on the cartoon cat-shaped cake within Repast (2022). In this instance, reality and the superficial cartoon-esque world Larusso employs melts within the depiction of the cat cake. This in turn allows the viewer to identify with yet have an unconscious distance from the depicted item. This push and pull of the visual reality creates an uneasy tension for the viewer, while also acting as a easily digestible visual morsal. It is up to the viewer to determine intended conceptual depth. Also within the picture plane, tonality is matched perfectly here in both conception and execution. Larusso gets a little tongue-in-cheek with the artist’s usual approach of implied flatness within this new body of work, utilizing socially recognized flat patterns while commenting on cultural norms and high standards. This is depicted with a camouflage watering can in the background of Wild Pose (2022) and again within a leopard print watering hose, the latter lying directly on the ground in front of a bed of planted carrots. Carrot Garden with Wild Garden Hose (2022) displays a grouping of white plastic sporks jetting out from the ground in front of a horizontal row of carrot stalks–commentary on our throw-away culture and deemed preciousness, again with a coy smile and maybe even a wink.  Again, Larusso uses social hierarchy standards to do her talking, stating “Some things mean wealth, and some mean poverty.” Social metrics of implied hierarchy and embedded class systems continue to come up in various depictions (mostly by way of animals and food) for Lori Larusso, this being her largest scope to date.
Wide angle view of a colorful art installation that has many differently painted background walls behind flattened painted images of things like a broken up rainbow, a surreal living room scene, trees and a sky.


Various painted flat panels of many different shapes come together to form a surreal outdoor scene that includes a rainbow falling to the ground in many pieces in a pile on the floor, surrounded by a small garden of carrots, round trees, vultures eating a to-go pizza from the box, and a bent sign that reads “sidewalk closed.”

Wide angle view of a colorful art installation that has many differently painted background walls behind flattened painted images of things like a broken up rainbow, a surreal living room scene, trees and a sky.


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Precarious Panoply is on view at the Weston Art Gallery through August 28, 2022.

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8.23.22

Nick Hartman [he/him] (BFA, MA) is a mixed media artist and professional art preparator based out of Louisville, KY.

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