Lisa Oppenheim: At the Lace Shop and Other Light Drawings | Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles

BY Leah Ollman, July 1, 2024

There’s a multivalency to Lisa Oppenheim’s work that is provocative and powerfully destabilizing. It asserts itself immediately in the first pieces encountered in this show: four wall-mounted jacquard weavings with the same central image of a lace shop, where several figures (accompanied by a small dog) engage in a genteel business transaction among the bountiful wares. The weavings are based on a photograph of a piece of lacework stolen from its Jewish collector by a Nazi looting squad and never recovered. All that survives of the original piece is the photographic record, a trace that Oppenheim submits to her own reverberant process of material transformation, turning a photograph of a textile back into a textile, modulating the display of a work that centers on the display of skill as well as a practice of commercial display. 

Oppenheim’s weavings in wool and linen (Versions II, III, IV, and VI from a series of eight are on view here), resemble solarized photographs in their disorienting inverted tones, which get sequentially darker, shifting from pale and silvery to charcoal black with soft gray highlights. The progression also reads as temporal, the pieces presenting like discrete stills in a filmic continuum. Oppenheim’s background is in experimental film, and her attention has long gravitated toward slippages between perceptual time zones and across sensory registers. 

Lisa Oppenheim, Beim Spitzenhändler, 1943/2024 (Version II), 2024. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

However palpable and texturally rich, these weavings originate in absence, one that ripples outward, and that Oppenheim alludes to deftly. The single missing piece of lace from which these works derive stands in for tens of thousands of other forcibly disappeared cultural objects, and the entirety of that loss is but one corollary of the millions of human lives voided by the Nazi regime.

Lisa Oppenheim, Untitled in Negative, 1939/2024. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

All of the works in At the Lace Shop and Other Light Drawings, on view through July 13, refer to looted, lost objects, and engage a similar dynamic of lamentation within homage, negation amplified by assertive sensual presence. Two large additional weavings based on a photograph of a patterned tapestry hang in a separate gallery on opposing walls, draping onto the floor. Each is the tonal reverse of the other, and they charge the atmosphere between them with a spectral beauty.

The show’s central room contains a dozen gelatin-silver photographs, Oppenheim’s personal translations of other photographs, inventory records from a plundered Viennese collection of drawings and watercolors by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. The works track Oppenheim’s own deliberations, her processing – visual, emotional, chemical – of the archival prints through the doubling of images, variations in framing and toning. There are landscapes and figure studies, all of them several steps removed from the lost originals, proffered here as resonant echoes. The most affecting are the silver-toned images, their reflective surfaces mirroring our own dark, diffuse forms and inserting us, implicating us in the negotiation between what is lost to memory and what is preserved.