"John Divola: As Far As I Could Get" in the Miami Rail, by Kristin Posehn
As Far As I Could Get is John Divola’s long overdue, first museum survey. With an unusual twist, the presentation splits four decades of Divola’s practice across three Southern California institutions. The show runs concurrently at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and Pomona College Museum of Art.
While still a graduate student at UCLA, Divola began to visit abandoned houses, and these architectural husks of greater Los Angeles became his subject and provisional studio. The exhibition at SBMA devotes a room to “Vandalism” (1974-75), his earliest work in this vein. The prints are square, black and white, often lit by a burst of flash. We see just enough to orient ourselves, but never stand back to identify the former purpose of the space. Such a controlled focus anchored Divola’s restless and experimental process. In keeping with the title, the photographer kept intervening in his scene with a vandal’s spray paint. Twine is strung around pushpins and pulled tight to form an odd, angular drawing on a dirty floor. A spread-eagle phone book hovers in midair, popped by the flash against a wall of spray painted dots and squiggles. Each offhand arrangement strikes us as a momentary performance, echoing the murky niche in which it has sprung to life.