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The Awful Parenthesis is a group exhibition of works by six Los Angeles-based artists. Formed in response to a proposition initiated by Cirrus Gallery, it presents a selection of emerging artists without prior relationship to the space or its history.

The exhibition is organized around a concept of spatial and temporal dislocation developed by Thomas De Quincey in 1823, wherein a disruptive knock at the gate in Shakespeare’s Macbeth is described as “the re-establishment of the goings-on of the world in which we live.” It is in this moment, De Quincey writes, that we are made profoundly aware of “the awful parenthesis” that had rendered the scene “cut off by an immeasurable gulf from the ordinary tide and succession of human affairs.” Brian O’ Doherty later used this oft-cited passage as the starting point of his important essay “Context as Content,” published in the pages of Artform in 1976. For O’Doherty, the activities that take place within the institutional frame of the gallery space undergo a suspension in time and space not unlike the stasis allegorized by De Quincey in the preceding century.

The artworks in The Awful Parenthesis engage with conditions of materiality and conceptual bracketing and attempt to redefine the relationships between a visual medium’s history and its institutional contexts of display. The approaches represented here investigate the material qualities of images and objects as they relate to architectural and historical specificity; they reveal both inward and outward tendencies toward formal and discursive devices of training. Each artist’s contribution to the exhibition exists within and outside the suspended spaces of viewing, separately renegotiating how space is delineated within both the picture frame and the context in which pictures, as objects, are looked upon.

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