Pick of the Week

Concrete Island – Venus Over Los Angeles

Not long ago, I recommended a show, entitled, Concrete Islands (plural), which, although it didn’t exactly shy from the allusion to J. G. Ballard’s dystopian novel of contemporary urban life, was more specifically inspired by Marcel Broodthaers and the concrete ‘islands’ and chasms of language and meaning. Inspired not a little by that previous show, Aaron Moulton (who some of us may know from the Gagosian Gallery), has assembled a group of artists whose works play more specifically off themes and motives that parallel elements of the Ballard novel. If the show occasionally seems a bit sprawling and unfocused, it is more than redeemed by the range and quality of the work. From Kelly Akashi (a kind of pyre of brick that might be a ritual desecration of Carl Andre) to Chris Wiley (Dingbat) – 46 works by 38 artists in all – there’s scarcely a loser in the bunch. The spirit of the show uncannily reflects the spirit of the downtown street it’s situated on (South Anderson), with its sense of continuous discontinuity, displacement, disconnection and alienation, random violence, and late capitalist entropy. The viewer is immediately greeted by a kind of concrete-locked surveyor’s compass or level bipod re-choreographed into a Pinky Swear (2017) by Ruben Ochoa and Max Hooper Schneider’s melted (literally) Shopping Cart (2017), while Nancy Rubins’ giclee collaged detritus seems ready to take flight. Matt Johnson’s ‘baby aqua’ Drywall #5 (2017) was like Noguchi coffee table improvised out of a lean-to. Harry Dodge assembles some Emergency Weapons that might just come in handy in the surreal pre-Road Warrior actuality unfolding on Anderson (and Every) Street. What carried through forcefully and consistently through this projected dystopia (not too distant from current actualities) was an evolution in notions of both space and identity. Kaari Upson’s 2009 Shadow Work video built upon much of this terrain, which she has explored extensively in previous work. Kim Gordon’s work was a fresh discovery among the well thought-out ‘ruins’ here – untitled, quasi-semaphoric souvenirs of the glittery ruins we’re all rapidly leaving in our wake. 

Venus Over Los Angeles
601 So. Anderson Street
Los Angeles, CA 90023
Show runs thru May 20, 2017


Liz Young – Of Blood and Dirt

You might call Liz Young a conceptual artist. One would certainly address some of her earlier work in such terms; and on a certain level, she still is – except that in her hands, the ‘concept’ is really a kind of generative nucleus of ideas, assuming form organically, not only resonating but respiring. I wouldn’t say that Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is necessarily either nucleus or inspiration for this compact show. But it is hardly accidental that she not only gives her single text piece (in gunpowder and polymer) in the show this title, but reproduces the book’s first two paragraphs. Mortality is everywhere in this show – even the Horse (2017), squarely confronting the viewer and enshrouded in its pale felt covering, evokes the riderless horse of funeral processions; also implied violence; yet there’s nothing morbid about it. Her silhouetted deer (in red ball point pen) are serene in death, though Dead Birds (2017) seem more deliberately fossilized – these are human souvenirs, after all. Trees (‘Bare’ and ‘Barest’) similarly emerge from black graphite shrouds, torn as much as pencilled into the paper. The hand’s Palm delivers a reading of human ambition in its scratchy grid of lines. Her arterial trees (in gunpowder for Chris Burden) make the earth-and-blood nexus explicit. Blood in the Roots (2017) – beautifully crafted with its intricately connected vasculature in felt-wrapped buckshot and delicately magneted together, is the show’s dark epilogue. Here, as in all of Young’s work, craft bears out the work’s consciousness. Young’s show evoked the Willa Cather of O Pioneers!, more than Capote, as if emerging from the ground up into strong headwinds blowing across the plains. I returned to the Capote page (directly across from Blood) as if to breathe in that flatline horizon and hard endless sky. Blood is all that finally returns to the elements and cosmic force that gave us life before the same forces whisk us out of the universe in this mordant yet elegiac show.

  1206 Maple Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Show runs thru May 20, 2017


Amino Acids – ACME.

As its title implies, Amino Acids reaches towards a place elemental and foundational, and implicitly existential – the conditions and pre-conditions of life (or even before life), the processes that generate it; and the conditions of life’s mouldering remains – what might constitute the human stain and what follows it. John Knuth, whose work is well-known here, has frequently dealt with the random and chaotic brush of living, atmospheric and combustible elements. In the works exhibited here, he seems to be moving in a more deliberatively abstract direction, addressing aspects of formation and accumulation, concretizing of remains and gestures, and mapping their ‘geography.’ Marie Kirkegaard, a Danish gallerist who has shown Knuth in her Copenhagen gallery, situates Knuth here between two Danish artists, Anders Brinch and Silas Inoue (who is also represented by Kirkegaard). There is a tension, even combustion in the juxtapositions – particularly between Knuth and Inoue, who both use living elements/catalysts (flies and molds/fungi, respectively) and melted sugar in the construction and composition of their work. Only one of Knuth’s trademark Olitski-atmospheric acrylic/flyspeck paintings are shown here – the amber cosmos of Station 3 (2015). But Kirkegaard has positioned Inoue’s similarly amber-toned Hydra – a 3.5 foot, six-digited claw (in a waxen caramelized sugar compound not so different from the sugar Knuth himself has used) more or less equidistant from Anders Brinch’s (untitled) ‘cosmic frame’ and Knuth’s River Wall (2017) of 39 sandbags wrapped in the same mylar-like thermal blanket material that also appears in his paintings and arrayed into a kind of flying wedge that functions as both wall and a kind of vortex that pulls it all into sharp focus. In the meantime, if Knuth’s landscape-abstractions (one is titled San Gabriel Complex) and Inoue’s untitled mold paintings are both preoccupied with life’s precarious but persistent stain, Brinch immerses his work in its stark lyricism, subjecting a technique that partakes of Kandinsky and Miro with an almost child-like innocence (in the same way Knuth’s flyspeck paintings evoke the Olitski universe) to the same elements that inspire it. 

2939 Denby Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Show runs thru May 6, 2017


Bruce Yonemoto – The Imaginary Line Around the Earth

It is possibly the singular image of our time: the ‘walking’ glacier – or in this particular instance, the glacier that both ‘walks’ or extends forward towards the edge of a continent, yet has also begun what may eventually be a dramatic recession. It manages to both evoke stillness and a corresponding coolness while indicating energy potential and forward momentum – suggestive of a psychic energy that is itself magnified by the pressure of accumulated (and morphing) memory. The still image conflated with the moving, or more broadly, the fixed memory, notion or idée fixe dispersed or dissolved into quasi-analytic exposition is almost a trademark of Bruce and Norman Yonemoto’s art-making, both as default strategy and quintessential motif; and in his solo productions and collaborations with other artists, before and since Norman’s death, Bruce returns to it more or less constantly. In more recent years, this has come to include the false memory or projection – a natural segue from the critique of the manipulated narratives (and their induced memories) of commercial film and electronic media that has been a through-line of the Yonemotos’ work. Yonemoto (with Juli Carson) appends one such bit of ‘fakery’ or manipulation to that sublime glacier in this most recent production (executed principally in Argentina), The End of the World at the Edge of the Earth (2017), with a recreated ‘fake’ or ‘anti-happening’ from Oscar Masotta’s cool but highly charged subversive critiques of Argentine politics. That ‘walking glacier’ – as well as a number of other arresting images, films and video projections – is on view in a selective mini-retrospective (from 1991) at Cal State L.A.’s Luckman Gallery. One of the most compelling, ironically, emerges from Yonemoto’s fascination with the ancient Incan Quechua language, in which, mimicking the Robert Wise/Ted McCord staging and cinematography of the Wise/20th Century Fox film of The Sound of Music, a perfectly enchanting Peruvian child bounds onto a hilltop to sing the title song in his native language.

The Luckman Gallery/Fine Arts Complex
Cal State L.A. – 5151 State University Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90032
Show runs thru May 12, 2017


Margie Schnibbe – Indecent Exposure

Setting aside its legal ‘term of art’ implications, ‘Indecent Exposure’ – the collective title of this mini-retrospective of Margie Schnibbe’s films and videos – could simply be a term for the tribulations (and occasional trials) of everyday life – random hazards anyone might conceivably be exposed to. How we negotiate those thresholds and boundaries is where we construct meaning – the stuff life might hypothetically be ‘about.’ As an existential ‘incarnation’ of such threshold experience, sex inevitably becomes a focal point of such inquiry – and so it is here. Effectively bracketing and cross-examining the legal reading of such ‘exposures,’ Schnibbe’s sexually explicit videos and films address their underlying intentions and results – both frequently at cross-purposes with one another – to subtle yet hilarious effect. As an artist and director with hands-on experience in the pornography industry, Schnibbe has an acute awareness of where the exchange can break down. This is less ‘philosophy in the bedroom,’ than it is an immersive, fully conscious encounter with life brought to a frothy head in some hot transactions within the privileged, toy-strewn confines of artist studios, S/M dungeons and (naturally) bedrooms – including the artist’s own. Her earliest videos, including the classic Mistress Samantha Diet Doctor (1994) (made while Schnibbe herself was engaged in similar sex work), and the solarized, psychedelic First Date (1997), are a primer to her style and approach – and its philosophical dimension. (Consider the Heidegger voice-over for Art Farm (1995).) Throughout, the work is alive to its humor, erotics, ironies, absurdities and pathos. Schnibbe’s work continues to blur (implicitly sexual) personal and political boundaries within an open-ended philosophical approach. In one of the more recent offerings (culled from a Showtime telecast), Schnibbe tells the viewers, “Sex is a gift we are given, and we should all just have fun with that.” Even for those of us inclined to view it as a random chemical accident, these videos are not only fun, but a point from which to refresh our own fault-line encounters with life.

Human Resources (HRLA)
   410 Cottage Home Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Show runs thru April 23, 2017


Edward Burtynsky – Industrial Abstract

Edward Burtynsky’s principal subject over the last decade or so has been the industrial landscape, or more specifically, large-scale, frequently aerial views of major industrial operations, grids, excavations, or industrial waste sites. The photographs in his current show at Von Lintel continue in this vein – part of a larger project Burtynsky has titled (not surprisingly), Anthropocene. What is fascinating about the current body of work is that it returns us to the roots of visual abstraction, even the notion of landscape itself. The history of 20th century abstraction begins in landscape (e.g., Picasso’s proto-Cubist Horta landscape studies; and arguably before that). It could be argued that our entire notion of visual abstraction, of visual description, is rooted in our apprehension and appreciation of landscape as referring to a larger notion of environment and exterior surroundings generally. It is the way we define a world within our scope and grasp; also our place in it. Not unlike some of that pre- and early Cubist work, Burtynsky’s angled, aerial perspectives tease our perceptions of foreground and horizon-line, flatten surfaces and ambiguously shadow contours. More to the point, the photographs emphasize a further extension of the peculiarly human impulse to demarcate place – and the human place within it – through aggressive mark-making. Consider the stark quasi-Cartesian geometries of the ‘Salt Pans’ at Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat (2016) or the flattened, almost Tanguy-esque desert of Silver Lake Operations #16 (2007, above) interrupted by a kind of ‘flying’ spiral festoon. Considered in the aggregate, the Anthropocene makes the notion of an earthwork or land art seem almost redundant. Humankind’s ever more aggressive industrial-scale excavations and exploitation of mineral and other resources have dramatically transformed vast swaths of the earth’s surface. Our single-minded predations have changed the way we see landscape and in turn ourselves. ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ as a biblical prophet once wrote. In the end, too, apparently – and beyond this terrifying beauty, it means still less.

Von Lintel Gallery
  2685 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Show runs thru April 22, 2017


Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971

Ed Ruscha may have summed it up best in one of his little books of photographs, Thirtyfour Parking Lots – specifically the aerial photograph of that umbilicus carved into Chavez Ravine we know as Dodger Stadium (and its surrounding parking lots). (A little ironic that in this ‘origin of the world’ shot, it looks like an earthwork – which I’ll get to in a second.) But for a certain generation,1962 marked a point when L.A. became a physical center of gravity for contemporary art and the beginning of real conversations between East and West on many levels, including east and west North American coasts. Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery 1959-1971 tracks this conversation between the two cities and 20th century art movements – as moderated, curated, and (sometimes serendipitously) spearheaded by Virginia Dwan. Whether it was from L.A.’s minimalist ‘Nowhere’ city aspect, or simply a dearth of conversation, Dwan, who had studied art history at UCLA, saw a space where Westside ‘Cool School’ artists might engage with their New York peers. Her first shows exemplified east-west cross-over: John Chamberlain and Robert Rauschenberg met Ed Kienholz (naturally the ‘hottest’ of the Cool). She took on Pop before Hopps. More remarkable still was when Dwan reached across the Atlantic to bring Yves Klein to L.A. – a coup magnified when Jean Tinguely left Castelli to join her gallery; and Dwan was suddenly the American champion of French Nouveau réalisme. Dwan opened a second space in New York; and in vaguely Klein-esque fashion, the Minimalism followed close behind, as Dwan embraced Minimalists including Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt. But her greatest legacy truly spanned the continent – as she championed land artists and earthworks including, Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, which she personally financed. The show, which originated at the National Gallery of Art, has been elegantly installed by Stephanie Barron in the Resnick Pavilion to give full play to this dynamic conversation – amplified by an additional 27 works from LACMA’s own collection.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
  5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru September 10, 2017


Jacob Ciocci

One doesn’t quite know how to act inside Jacob Ciocci’s deliberately underwhelming installation. The artist has transformed And/Or Gallery into a bland arena that feels more like a waiting room than an exhibition. Chairs line the walls—are you supposed to sit? Tablets upon side tables play banal videos; they seem to invite the viewer to pick them up and surf the web or search for clues to more meaning; but this is, after all, a gallery installation; mightn’t changing the setup spoil its effect? This insipid uncertainty is most compelling. Pictures bearing powerful messages look like memes devised to complement décor. In the adjacent room, a boring video oozes futility. In denying the visitor’s implicit expectations of clever artistic gestures and/or grandiose spectacle, Ciocci expertly unmasks bromidic contrivances of institutions like the Internet, offices, gyms, even galleries. The main gallery is painted in Planet Fitness’ trademark palette; vinyl letters reverse the ubiquitous fitness chain’s motto and declare the gallery a “Judgement Zone.” Planet Fitness’ “Judgement Free Zone” sounds ideal, but beneath its utopian pretense is oxymoronic impossibility in the form of strict discriminatory rules. Ciocci’s installation urges reconsideration of institutionalized half-truths and hypocritical paradoxes lying just beneath our polarized society’s feel-good veneer. Its refusal to gratify the viewer’s desire to be impressed makes it fascinating

And/Or Gallery
980 S Arroyo Pkwy. #200
Pasadena, CA 91105
Show runs through April 29