Art review: "The Way We Live Now" at Gallery Luisotti is a resonant group effort

The way we live now is not the way we lived then, because it never is. Time and circumstance change.

But in a group show called “The Way We Live Now” at Gallery Luisotti, shadowy or invisible forces seemingly beyond our immediate reckoning are pegged as establishing the woeful situation in which American society finds itself today. Once upon a time, unfathomable gods and goddesses might have been the likely culprits, but in this exhibition powerful technology and surveillance are among the agents of discomfort.

New York-based painter and guest curator Shirley Irons used the satirical novel by Anthony Trollope for the title of the show, which includes 17 works by eight artists. Trollope’s 19th-century saga of financial scandal and rampant greed has obvious resonance.

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Irons’ own canvas, a loving little still life of a compact fluorescent light bulb, is typical of work that eschews simple posturing. Looking like a science-fiction robot, the swirly white bulb casts a purple shadow against a queasy green wall, inserting the illumination of energy-conscious efficiency within a painfully bruised context.

Jane Dickson paints suburban houses on carpet samples, the domestic image crusted and muddied by the soft, indulgent pile. Susan Willmarth’s “Heart Hut” looks like an oversize house from a Monopoly game, hewn from a hefty chunk of golden beeswax but caked with a layer of grime.

For “Zap,” an enlarged still from the famous Zapruder film of the 1963 Dallas assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Barbara Ess selected a precise moment five seconds after the bullet ripped into the president’s skull and just before Jacqueline Kennedy climbed out of her seat and onto the speeding limousine’s rear deck. As the slack-jawed image attests, it’s the moment between stunned recognition and crazed hysteria, and all the more powerful for it.

David Deutsch’s grid of 24 black-and-white nighttime photographs of trash-strewn backyards and alleyways spotlighted from above put us in the prurient position of a police helicopter patrolling the ruined landscape below. Lucia Love stapled a digitally disintegrating photograph of Chelsea art galleries on a paint-slathered scrap of wood, as if both were broken remnants left behind by a super-storm.

Bernard Madoff was arrested in a $50-billion case of securities fraud on Dec. 11, 2008; the newspaper the next morning was dominated by various stories of Bush-era financial calamity. Clover Archer juxtaposes an archival pencil drawing of that day’s New York Times’ front page with her drawings of luxury ads from Cartier, Gucci and Chanel gleaned from Page 2.

Finally, a slight but revealing disjunction is conveyed by the subtle juxtapositions of old Neoclassical and Victorian houses from an upstate New York village with their brand-new doppelgangers from the master-planned community of Celebration, Fla., in photographs by Heidi Schlatter. The new might recall the old, but Celebration’s homes are in fact whipped-cream versions of their sources, with an extra spandrel here and a slightly more ornate portico there. We might routinely idealize the past, but it serves to only heighten the difference with the way we live now.

Gallery Luisotti, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-0043, through Sept. 7. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.galleryluisotti.comhttp://www.galleryluisotti.com/