Exhibitions: Vacant and proud of it

Drive-By: New Art from LA

South London Gallery, London

Maybe it is our nasty British preconceptions about West Coasters; maybe it is just the echoing white space that is the South London Gallery: either way, a great feeling of loneliness sweeps over you as you walk into "Drive-By", a show of new art from Los Angeles. Try to deduce Angelinos from the works in the exhibition and you will come up with a race of people who apparently favour objects over subjects, appearance over anything that the average Londoner might recognise as reality. Emptiness stares dully at you from the gallery's walls: a sense of lack that can only be explained by the famed vacuity of the Southern Californian. Somewhere, in the background, you seem to hear an endless loop of people chewing gum and voices saying "I mean, like, rilly, aziff".

Listen a little more closely, though, and you will realise that the works in "Drive-By" are actually saying something rather different. Yes, they are all about vacancy: but that is not to say they are vacuous. Rather, the sculptures and paintings in this cleverly curated show turn vacuousness into an art form. This is not to confuse them with the East Coast trash art of Jeff Koons and his kind, which celebrated duh-uh American kitsch. No, the works in "Drive-By" are serious in their exploration of emptiness, less celebratory of it than they are intrigued or even haunted by it.

Take Catherine Opie's photographs of mini-malls. The first thing that strikes you about them is their deadness, a quality so palpable that it clearly takes a certain sort of brilliance to achieve it. Deserted shopping malls are easy meat for the portrayal of vacancy, but the subject of these pictures is, in a sense, coincidental. Where the real emptiness of Opie's work lies is in the hieratic nature of her style. These are architectural mug-shots: the malls are seen face-on, facades and telephone wires parallel to the picture frame, lamp posts perpendicular to it. It seems pointless to remark that these are self-consciously photographic images, but they are. Everything that photographers normally fight against - the inescapable stasis of the medium, the tyranny of frames - Opie embraces.

The paintings of Kevin Appel are also knowing. Like Opie's work, Appel's agonisingly neat acrylics lack people just where there could well be some - his works are called things like Interior with Screen and Lamp after all. Like Opie, too, Appel plays with our expectations. We have seen his pictures somewhere before: the modernist houses by Eames; the sun- faded palette of Hockney's West Coast pictures. But if these works were underpinned by a Californian belief in the perfectability of climate, Appel turns this into something less optimistic. This is utopia taken too far, the minimalist dream of Licht, Luft and Sonne rendered so perfect as to exclude humanity.

The difficult thing about exhibitions like "Drive-By" is that the process of curatorial selection can skew your view. There are only five artists - 23 works - in the show: to claim this as in some way representative of a new voice in Angelino art is obviously statistically risky. If you saw Appel's work without Opie's - or without the winsomely threatening sculptures by Jason Meadows, which morph picket fences and picnic tables - would its emptiness be as apparent? Is the satire in Appel's Interior Views series so very refined as to make it possible to read his work, taken out of this context, as a Hockneyish hymn of West Coast praise? To be honest, I don't know.

What is certain, though, is that the works in "Drive-By" do speak with a remarkable unity of voice. Whether this belongs to Los Angeles circa 1999 or to the show's curator, Sadie Coles, is for you to decide. While musing over this question, you might like to look at Jeff Burton's Untitled #97 (Clamps). Like Opie's malls, everything seems to be up for sale in Burton's work: not inaptly, given that the images come from his job as a photographer in California's thriving gay porn industry. Like Opie's malls, too, though, it is impossible to imagine wanting to buy: not because the subject - a muscular man taking his trousers off - is unattractive so much as because Burton is clearly so bored by the whole thing as to edge it out of the frame. Boredom in the face of plenty. Maybe we were right about California.

'Drive-By': South London Gallery, SE5 (0171 703 6120) to 30 May.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map