Pick of the Week

Moholy-Nagy: Future Present

If there is a single word that could sum up the the career of László Moholy-Nagy, it would probably be refraction. The refraction of light is an obvious key, both with respect to Moholy’s overall formal approach and technical approach to his preferred media (and not simply photography). But ‘refraction’ might also describe his artistic response to the ideas, currents and cultural phenomena of his time. Moholy-Nagy came of age at a moment of turbulent transition – technological, economic, cultural and political – and it might be added, disruption. But his work reflects the vision of an artist who persistently saw past such disruptions into the ways such phenomena inflected and intersected each other. True to the Bauhaus ideal that sustained him across Europe and into the U.S., Moholy-Nagy was continually refashioning a modus vivendi with the world around him. Refraction is the reactive ‘through-line’ in Moholy-Nagy’s response to the spirit of the age. LACMA’s installation of the exhibition (a co-production with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Guggenheim), designed by Johnston Marklee, beautifully captures this spirit of refractivity and transparency in his art. Although the exhibition is essentially chronologically organized, a sequence of doorframes cuts a diagonal track or virtual corridor across the exhibition space, as if to underscore the intersectionality of Moholy’s work in various media and their cross-infusions. We’re inevitably reminded here that painting and graphic arts were in fact Moholy’s first media – but even here, veering away from Kandinsky in an essentially Constructivist direction, Moholy references industrial design and even uses industrial materials. We think of Moholy-Nagy as a pioneer of contemporary photography – and there is abundant evidence of it here, in everything from conventional photography to camera-less photograms and collage. But his truest medium is light itself. Photography provided Moholy with the interstitial and connective tissue between light and motion. If his sculptural vision seems today more completely realized by Constructivist ‘cousins’ like Gabo and Pevsner, Moholy-Nagy’s work points us toward a ballet of light that might play across an infinitely expanding universe.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru June 18, 2017

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Llyn Foulkes – Old Man Blues

The plaintive title of Llyn Foulkes’ current exhibition – his first for Sprüth Magers – suggests we might be in for some mournful, if not downright bitter, riffs on laboriously trodden themes. This is not necessarily a drastic departure from the surreal dissonance of the visionary yet always personally and politically charged tableaux and talismans that have been at the center of his work for most of his career. But here, the suggestion of the battered souvenir, omnipresent in his work, always filtered through regret and disillusionment, is accompanied by a sense of displacement and foreshadowing that bleeds into the suggestion of a kind of virtual absence. In the Foulkes canon, the future is always viewed through a rear window of anticipated corruption or disintegration – consider the petrified-looking bark fragment framed in the window of a pockmarked car door of Vasquez II (2016). In turn, the castaway may become a kind of grail (e.g., Untitled (“Dinghy”) 2016). Always the most feral of the Ferus alumni, Foulkes can scarcely conceal his disgust with a civilization clearly ‘heading south’; but still at the height of his powers, he is far from ‘throwing in the towel’ (belying the work bearing this title). In his Old Man Blues, Foulkes nevertheless makes emphatic the sense of broken connection, alienation or incongruous isolation. In the cold, broken universe of Night Train (2016), we are all lost refugee children (or their ghosts) seeking a dubious virtual asylum. As always, the frame – whether a wood panel, a black velvet border, or the craggy desert moutainscape of Agua Dulce – is crucially important (even when traversed or violated), underscoring that amid interior oceans of morbid denial, some things will not be denied.

Sprüth Magers
5900 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru March 4, 2017

 

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Douglas Tausik Ryder – Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis can refer to processes both natural and supernatural; but the works in Douglas Tausik Ryder’s exhibition of this title, while they reference the commonly understood biomorphic dimension, also encompass a much larger domain: the metamorphosis between organic or biomorphic motives and purely abstract design, and between a very cerebral, infinitely multi-dimensional world of pure imagination and the concrete physical world. In technique and approach, Ryder is drawn to the organic and biomorphic – in effect a figurative vocabulary, but one that immediately ‘morphs’ in completely unpredictable directions. Although, Ryder teases out this technique in sculptures that bear the influence of a number of modernist movements (the aforementioned biomorphic, Futurist, and Pop), the dominant influence here is Arp. Ryder is drawn to a certain eccentricity in the geometries and mathematics of certain forms – volumes organized around a void or bubble; or simply spatial eccentricities – the fold, wrap, or simply flaw, a tear in space (and resultant extrusions). His techniques and execution have evolved in tandem with his ideas – a reversal of the imaginative process, breaking the forms down mechanically and digitally recomposing by computer program driven milling, machining and fabrication. Although he has executed a few bronzes here, Ryder’s material of choice is wood, which looks a bit like liquefied wood paneling – its sensuality offset by the verticals of the wood panels. Whether veering in the direction of an Oldenburg donut (Shadow, 2016) or Noguchi (Venus, 2015), Ryder finds a way to continually surprise with an eccentric slice (or bite), the odd turn, wrap or cutaway, revealing a runaway imagination that will not be impeded even by its own concrete realization.

Jason Vass Gallery
1452 E. Sixth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Show runs thru February 26, 2017

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Beverly Pepper – Selected Works 1968-2015

If it feels as if it’s been years since you saw work by Beverly Pepper, it probably has. I don’t think she was even included in the Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel “Revolution In the Making” debut show. Not revolutionary enough? Or too far from the madding crowd? Pepper is known for the architectural and environmental scale of much of her work, but what the works exhibited here convey still more powerfully is a an intimate yet multivalent dialogue with form, ideas and materials. She takes her ideas, influences and inspirations from far and wide and gives them ample room to breathe (a physical reality at her Umbrian studio and the steel factories where some of her work is produced). Smith, Brancusi, Serra, and Nevelson all clearly inform and percolate in her work; but Pepper’s work moves us towards an independent philosophical investigation both rudimentary (e.g., incision, inscription, impression, intervention) and environmental – of the way form (and underlying ideas and perceptions), materials, and environment intersect, enfold, interact and evolve in a kind of unified field. But also simply unfold: the works have a cohesive and elegant directness, but we can retrace stages of the conversation, inquiry and movement in the chiseled lines, tented folds or rectilinear interstices, polished reflective (e.g., stainless steel) or rougher, more opaque (stone) surfaces. Pepper’s architectural affinities are manifest here – you can understand why so much of her art is commissioned for large-scale public sitings. But it is this more intimate dialogue that gives the work its real exhilaration and exuberance. 

Kayne Griffin Corcoran
1201 So. La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Show runs thru March 18, 2017

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Patrick Martinez – All Season Portfolio

For those of us who grew up in America in the second half of the 20th century, especially the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, it would have been impossible to go through middle or high school without stumbling across certain staple school stationery supplies. One such item, practically ubiquitous (and commercially durable) was the Pee-Chee All Season Portfolio. This was a roughly 9 x 12-inch cardboard folder with interior folds to catch clips of papers stashed inside. The original color was a kind of buff ‘peach’ – hence the name. The covers front and back were illustrated with ‘action’ sketches of high school sports and related activities, and the inside pockets were printed with compact reference indexes. Covers frequently filled up with random numbers, mash notes, doodles and embellishments upon the faintly ridiculous illustrations themselves. In short, the ‘project portfolio’ became yet another vehicle for teenage distractions, obsessions and preoccupations. Patrick Martinez, who has an acute talent for spotting cultural subtexts and foregrounding their pathologies in several media (painting, sculpture, ceramic and neon), has seized upon the exuberant and aspirational aspects of these original illustrations to fill in a few ‘elaborations,’ ‘embellishments,’ and corrections of his own. In the ‘corrected’ Martinez illustrations, the path to graduation is a minefield. A goal charge down a football field is trailed by a policeman in hot pursuit with a drawn weapon. A tackle morphs into a brutal handcuffing. Martinez offers a few revisions to the inside pocket “Useful Information,” too – including Miranda rights and guidelines for negotiating a traffic stop or arrest – in another series of text images.   Still, as with their inspiration, youthful daydreams and fantasy yield their own hopeful notes. Culture heroes and icons of resistance make their insistent appearance. A relay race turned police chase morphs again with the cop clutching an actual relay baton instead of his billyclub – as if to defect to that aspirational race we should all be heartened to join.

Charlie James Gallery
969 Chung King Road
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Show runs thru February 18, 2017

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The Ecstasy of Mary Shelley

The curators of Ecstasy, Virginia Broersma, Nick Brown and Kio Griffith, characterize their show as an “exhibition and lab” (the latter aspect of which may be more prominent in a couple of the objects by Candice Lin included here); but its installation has the airy feel of a frame or skeleton – an open vessel for the viewer’s imagination. Their stated intention was to conflate the Shelley moment of terror that inspired her classic horror novel, Frankenstein, with the ‘ecstasy’ of Saint Teresa, but the inspiration is really the same: the Promethean fire urging humanity ever more ambitiously forward towards unlocking the secrets of the universe (or the gods), yet simultaneously unleashing the staggering hubris with which we desecrate that same universe. Nathan Danilowicz’s Volans Anguli, with its brutalist black beams fashioned into flying buttresses angled into the wall, or broken and criss-crossing each other, evoke both broken ‘skeleton’ and broken flight or ambition, even the civilization’s self-cannibalization. Annie Lapin’s paintings, hung mid-gallery as if they were doors (which in a sense they are) simultaneously evoke opacity amid transparency, a chthonic universe, and an ethereal bioplasm in constant flux. Naotaka Hiro has compressed what might be characterized as a similar birth process into a ziggurat of sausage (or shit) – rendered here as both video performance and sculpture. Works by Gala Porras-Kim, Valerie Hegarty, and video/performance artist, Cassils, and Candice Lin are no less striking. ‘Science project’ aspects aside, Lin projects in her five works here a ‘creatures of Prometheus’ vision – the notion of a pathway out of the gloom and chill that envelop us in civilization’s twilight.

Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE)
6522 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Show runs thru February 12, 2017

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Radio Imagination: Artists in the Archive of Octavia E. Butler

As 2016 winds to a close, a lot of us are looking back on the past year, and (with some trepidation) forward to 2017, and wondering how we managed to arrive at this particular time and place. ‘How could we have missed….?’ – fill in the blank. The short answer is that we simply weren’t able to imagine it. It takes a special kind of imagination to create a vision, whether idealized or dystopian, of an evolving (and/or disintegrating) reality out of personal observation and the materials at hand. The American (and Pasadena native) writer, Octavia E. Butler, called hers a “radio imagination” and, from her prolific output of science fiction, we can understand this description. It takes a kind of multi-frequency mode of looking and listening, and an acutely prehensile capacity for speculative exploration to conjure these variously forward and backward-looking visions of worlds that might be our own – in slightly altered molecular or astrophysical configurations. Given a different scope, Radio Imagination would have to be considered one of the most visionary exhibitions of the past year. The artists who have entered the ‘mothership’ of The Huntington Library’s Butler Archive, have each engaged and returned with their individual interpretations of aspects of Butler’s imagination: the acute alienation of an African-American woman marginalized by social and racial barriers; her simultaneous sense of inter-connectedness and eco-symbiosis (and necrosis); her will to manifest this larger, encompassing view, to radically project the implications of her observations, extrapolate and boldly fictionalize and fantasize upon them; her ability to parallel and project the African-American experience into futuristic, even extra-terrestrial, constructions. The show includes work by Connie Samaras, Cauleen Smith, Lauren Halsey, Laylah Ali, Malik Gaines and Alex Segade, and Mendi and Keith Obadike. But, true to Butler’s visionary spirit, the show takes us still further – returning us finally to the incomparable domain of Butler’s novels.

Armory Center for the Arts
145 N. Raymond Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91103
Show runs thru January 8, 2017

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Doug Aitken – Electric Earth

Doug Aitken sings the earth and cosmos electric in a mid-career retrospective that could be a Pick of the Year exhibition. The Geffen space, which has never looked better, was entirely made over for the show – an immersive odyssey to mirror Aitken’s own process with its infinite expansion or compression of the moment, convergence of microcosm and macrocosm, and sense of harmonic decay. MOCA Director, Philippe Vergne has plotted a spriraling labyrinth for almost 20 years of Aitken’s architectural/sculptural/experiential multi-screen installations, along with various photographs, lightboxes, collages, sculptures and other objects that are its connective tissue; an emblematic road map to Aitken’s process, that invite the viewer to plot her/his own variably paced and idiosyncratic dance with the infinite (or the void), or another dimension altogether. Vergne sums it up brilliantly in his catalog essay: “This sense of pacing, of interrupted moments, of shifting and floating is simultaneously a summary of a narrative and the negation of that narrative.”

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
152 N. Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Show runs thru January 15, 2017

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