Aug. 30 2016 06:04 PM

Everything is illuminated at Robert Montgomery’s new exhibition at Madison Gallery

“All Palaces” by Robert Montgomery
Photo by Seth Combs

In this semi-regular department, arts editor Seth Combs reviews a notable new art show or exhibition.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to hear I've always gravitated toward words, but my relationship with text-based visual art has been strained over the years. The relationship likely began with my teenage obsession with the works, both literarily and artistically, of William Burroughs. In college, I was enamored with the works of Uruguayan artist Luis Camnitzer and still carry around a newspaper cutout of his "This is a Mirror, You are a Written Sentence" piece in my wallet.

Locally, artists such as Chris Martino, Stefani Byrd and Jaclyn Rose are all effectively using language and letters as a means of conveying their vision. Still, on an international level, I can't say there have been too many conceptual artists working primarily in text that I've found particularly compelling.

So I found myself genuinely excited upon hearing that Madison Gallery in La Jolla (1055 Wall St.) would be showcasing works from Scottish artist Robert Montgomery. He's mostly known for his site-specific installations that incorporate LED lights and his original poetry, and locals may have seen his Art Above the Streets series of billboard installations around Los Angeles. The exhibition at Madison Gallery, cleverly titled Light as Poetry, showcases many works that were once site-specific, including the haunting "All Palaces" and "Sentinels." The former was originally installed inside an empty swimming pool and reads, "ALL PALACES ARE TEMPORARY PALACES." Whether it was intentional or not, having this piece greet patrons as they walk through the door of a gallery located in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the country is, indeed, ironic.

Much of the LED work (there are also a few wooden poem pieces that use grey paint, a la Jasper Johns) is accompanied with an archival print displaying where the piece was originally installed. A picture of the ethereal "Loegang Poem, Australian Alps" which was previously located underneath an intimidating mountainscape, gives the viewer a sense of how the piece was originally meant to be seen. And while I prefer Montgomery at his most anti-authoritarian and Dadaist (see the increasingly relevant "Poem for the City of Istanbul") than his more idyllic work ("The People You Love," "A Hundred Years"), the fact that Light is Poetry (which is up through September 11) is here at all is a huge coup. It certainly reignited something inside me. Pun intended.

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