Pick of the Week

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


Uta Barth

Uta Barth’s work has always dealt with the way images and perceptions are shaped through both the tools and conventions of image making. Much of that work has addressed more specifically divergences between those synthetically shaped and focused perceptions and expectations conditioned by convention. In the body of work currently on view at 1301PE, shape itself is made the ‘foreground’ threshold for what becomes a dazzling play on the essential materials of photography and image-making generally. The subject is nominally a bar or serving console with bottles, decanters, vases and other vessels arrayed across it – the kind of still life that was a favorite subject of Italian painter, Giorgio Morandi; and In the Light and Shadow of Morandi becomes clearly, not only an homage to Morandi, but itself a kind of painting with refracted light. The process is willful and deliberative in every respect, yet also admitting of mystery. ‘Field’ here is shaped subtly into simple polygons and floated within the framed squarish rectangle – echoing the severe rectilinear geometry of the bar. The bar is mostly blacked out; but even here, Barth subtly conflates and confuses its structure with its shaped polygonal support. The angle seems to shift, elongate, flatten. Slits or storage spaces (or apertures?) reveal openings or other vessels beneath the bar’s surface. The focus and emphasis are on the silhouetted verticals of the vessels infused by the (mostly horizontal) refracting light and its luminescent color – dazzling and ethereal. The vessels are rendered as distinct worlds, alternately separated crisply by white space or clustered close; yet not bleeding so much as displacing each other, each preserving its specific transmuted atmospheres in a spectrum of glass-inflected colors: chartreuse veering into olive (or even ‘bottle’) green; azure and sapphire; amber, rust and ox-blood red; and a host of smoky grays. Occasionally a refracted wave makes a jagged trajectory across the field; zones of color are layered within a vessel; or a human arm (similarly transformed and luminescent) intrudes upon the tableau to grasp a glass or vessel, setting off its own disturbances – e.g., an inverted parabola of light. ‘Ghost’ lights linger here and there upon the opaque blacks of the bar. In another Untitled series (only one of which is on view here), Barth fixes her thoughtful gaze on an exterior wall – as powerfully and poetically as she does on the classic Morandi motif. This is work that stands in no one’s shadow. 

  6150 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Show runs thru April 22, 2017


Lisa Adams – Petrichor

Petrichor’ was a word I was unfamiliar with until Lisa Adams used it as the title of her current show at CB1. It apparently refers to the smells of drying earth, grasses, and atmosphere following the first rainstorms after a long period of warm or dry weather. I always knew the moistened earth threw off a lot of ozone and various phenols and pyrazines; but it makes sense there should be a special term for what follows the extended drought we continue to suffer through. Adams’ work has always reflected an acute sensitivity to the physical environment – both the macrocosmic view and its moment-to-moment experiential aspect. But above all she follows her own muse; and language – the poetry of dreams and conscious image-crafting, the precise description and definition of observable phenomena, and expression (including mathematical) of form – are all central to her process. The paintings in the show are both smaller and somewhat more loosely handled than in the large works she is known for. She is clearly moving in an abstract, metaphorical direction with the work. Somnolence (2016) is almost a cutaway out of her dream state – the subject’s back to us opening into a wall of drawers or planters, evocative of Magritte, but set in a tondo itself floating in an almost generic landscape/skyscape backdrop. A thick red bar almost dead center screams like an alarm. Elsewhere she similarly cuts away from conventional and surrealistic pictorial tropes (e.g., the window with reveal; discontinuities of subject, placement; the floating or isolated element – especially structural). But those drawer-planters hint at what follows. Adams approaches, in a sense ‘opening drawers,’ extracting their contents, and foregrounding them into abstract device. It doesn’t always work: the freeway ‘lemniscation’ of L.A. threw those sorts of curves at us long ago – but maybe that’s half the point. Toffle’s House (2017) floats a weather balloon into jigsaw puzzle sea/storm skies, suggesting we’re not likely to find shelter from the storms, geophysical, cultural or political to come any time soon – that alarm again. (In another painting, Adams, in a self-portrait, silently ‘screams.’) You may or may not be looking for a ‘Moominmamma’ (I am); either way we might take a moment to enjoy the late winter petrichor — and Adams’ terrific show. 

CB1 Gallery
  1923 So. Santa Fe Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Show runs thru April 9, 2017


Sharon Engelstein – Ever to Find

It is for some of us (the more fortunate among us) the first fear or horror we know – our first encounter with something at first glimpse familiar that upon extended gaze or lingering examination reveals itself as utterly transmogrified, and suddenly, quite unexpectedly, entirely alien. What follows, though, is usually more thoughtful and inquiring, even analytic. (Horror can be fascinating.) We’re picking ourselves apart even as we’re picking apart the object of horror or fascination (to see if we want more – we usually do). Alternatively, the object is transformed into its own raison d’être – an idée fixe that seems the end-product of a perfectly logical evolution. Sharon Engelstein is not the first artist to explore this psychological dimension in ceramic sculpture, but she is entirely original and expansive in a direction that is rarely seen in the contemporary landscape. Unlike say, Ken Price, her glazes are relatively neutral; but Engelstein introduces other materials (e.g., wax, copper, gold leaf and other metallic elements), extrusions and the occasional shock of color into the composition. This has a counterpart in her drawings, too – similarly both abstract and biomorphic, but frequently dissolved into a kind of rationalized mapping or modeling (e.g., a Sushi Eye whorling into a black hole of netting; mitotically Split Eggs; morphing cranial forms further wreathed in a swirl of polygons) – where an azure-auraed sapphire star explodes in a quasi-botanical mapping. The permeable divide between skin or envelope and structures, both invasive and extrusive, becomes the locus for analytic dissection, invention and wholesale transformation. (Why wouldn’t a bowl unravel in shards and take wing?) Ambiguity rarely presents in such crystalline fashion. Free Wall presents folly as dissertation – on the notions of barrier, containment, sequestration (also penetration, infiltration, corruption, exposure). There’s paradox for you: each of these compact sculptures contain entire worlds yet split them right open again – a moment of potential horror rendered ecstatic. 

WildingCran Gallery
  939 So. Santa Fe Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Show runs thru March 19, 2017


Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World

Like many artists who have spent most or a significant portion of their career outside the U.S. or U.K. or the major art capitals, Jimmie Durham may be less than familiar to many of us who (until now) have had only the most fleeting (or even anonymous) contact with his work. (Interestingly, though, he was featured in the Hammer’s own 2014 show focusing on institutional critique in the art world, Take It Or Leave It.) Throughout his international career, his work has focused on the same, existential questions – not simply of art or culture, but of life itself. How, and what does it mean to occupy a place in the world? Durham’s work addresses the provisional nature of finding a place in the world through the provisional nature of making art. The fragmentary aspect of his art is both random and willful, deliberate; the innate aggression of the work tempered by a certain open-endedness. Fundamentally, regardless whether his work presents as sculpture, assemblage, drawing or collage, he is a bricoleur; yet the subordinate elements are carefully selected and fitted with precision – tools as much as totems. ‘There is a way we get from “here” to “there,”’ the work seems to whisper to the viewer – occasionally with the prompting of written words. (By and large, Durham uses language far more effectively in his art than in his poetry.) Identified for some portion of his career as a standard-bearer for native Americans, the work touches less upon identity specifically, than upon the registration of presence, the history of the marks we’ve left, a trace of time. One might be reminded of any number of artists here: Purifoy, Westermann, Schwitters; but racing through this beautiful exhibition, the one that stuck was Saul Steinberg – specifically in his Passport incarnation. If our horizon-line must always be “provisional” or “auxiliary,” Durham’s ‘passport’ across its frontiers will always be the mark he has just left directly behind them. 

Hammer Museum
  10899Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Show runs thru May 7, 2017