Pick of the Week

Hot Time, Summer in the City

Group shows are like parties: overarching themes can help ensure memorable experiences; but sometimes the most engaging are those where unexpected connections form fortuitously among diverse invitees, rather than being engineered. “Hot Time, Summer in the City” scarcely claims a theme—all 21 artists have shown or will soon exhibit at CB1—but unlike many summer shows of this type, its divergent pieces sonorously assemble. The mostly 2D work ranges widely in subject, manner, and media. On the threshold of a small side gallery, Osvaldo Trujillo’s monochromatic motherboard abstraction contrasts with organic subject matter inside, where Annelie McKenzie’s paintings on purses, Elliott Green’s abstracted landscapes and Lisa Adams’ intriguing desert scenes surround Merion Estes’ salon-style configuration of circular canvases featuring painterly gestures atop fabric patterned like antique wallpaper. Ripe with suggestions of tiny nature, the arrangement of Estes’ canvases echoes their depicted berries and bug eggs. In the main gallery, Eric Beltz’ graphite rendering hangs near nonobjective abstractions; while Soo Kim’s double-sided cut-out print fractures the sight-line of Laura Krifka’s small but incisive Scar (2015) adjoining other female figure paintings by Phung Huynh, Junghwa Hong (painting pictured above) and Georganne Deen. Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia’s paper weaving offers a fitting metaphor for intermingled visions. Others number too many to mention, but each piece in this show exudes a worthy presence; and somehow they all work together. You’ll likely linger longer than you intend.

 

CB1 Gallery

1923 S. Santa Fe Ave.

Los Angeles, CA  90021

Show runs through September 2

 

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Julia Haft-Candell

In timeless spirit and simple form, Julia Haft-Candell’s ceramic sculptures recall the mystical austerity of primeval petroglyphs, carved totems and cave paintings. Yet their painted embellishments and surface textures are unmistakably modern, evoking graphic novel line drawings, rough roadbeds and industrial scraps. Displayed at Parrasch Heijnen on individual wall shelves in rows of three by eight, pieces in her “Infinity” series consist of variations on lazy eight, pretzel and knot morphologies. Each is adorned by surface patterns of repeated motifs whose meanings are enumerated in a glossary provided by the gallery. Counterpointing their urbanity on a pedestal across the room, the lumpy masses of her “Weights” series resemble volcanic rocks and paint-spattered concrete chunks left over from construction sites. Indeed, these were hewn from “Infinity” series by-products. Haft-Candell’s ethos recalls male greats Ken Price and Peter Voulkos, and a Roger Herman installation partly inspired this show’s setup; but a subtle feminism underlies her glossary’s ruminations on hermaphroditism and gender norms. During a recent gallery talk, Haft-Candell offered students this advice once given her by a teacher: Create the work that you’d want to produce if you knew death were imminent. Her installation appears as a tiny cross-section of something that could go on forever; but its limitedness is a reminder of every individual’s finitude

Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

1326 S. Boyle Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90023

Show runs through September 2

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Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage

I walked into the Resnick Pavilion and into the swirling world of color and fantasy that Marc Chagall created for the theatre and remembered again what made me want to live. Much of the work exhibited in this show was actually made in New York. But it’s quintessentially School of Paris, born of that time between the world wars when artists, both French natives and newly arrived émigrés, wandered freely among styles, schools and movements – the émigrés perhaps most freely of all, with freedom itself something of a novelty. Chagall experienced a kind of rebirth in Paris; and his work comes into its purest synthesis during this period: a fantasist surrealism, informed by Cubism, but shot through with the kind of Orphic chromaticism so influenced by the Delaunays and the Fauves before them. Chagall was forever looking backward and forward, searching for an alternate universe somewhere between the shtetl and the City of Light. He brought that wandering eye and imagination to the stage under the auspices of Léonide Massine and the American Ballet Theatre with his stage and costume design for the ballet Aleko, inspired by a poem by Pushkin. In Aleko, we already see Chagall making a kind of moving tableau out of costumed characters and performers and staging, with emphatically symbolist and expressionist backdrops and costuming designed to both wryly silhouette character and kaleidoscopically sweep up the surrounding atmosphere. Aleko is one of the strongest, well balanced between sharply etched character and brilliant movement; though he also had great success with a New York City Ballet production of the Stravinsky/Balanchine Firebird and the Ravel/Fokine/Lifar Daphnis et Chloé in Paris. Chagall’s staging for the 1967 Met production of Die Zauberflöte rounds out the exhibition and I must disclaim objectivity, as this signature (both for Chagall and the Met) production made for an introduction to Mozart opera, Chagall, and high art collaborations generally. I have not recovered to date from that enchantment and hope never to until the last note is sounded (or called).

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru January 7, 2018

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Face to Face: Los Angeles Collects Portraiture

As noted in an Artillery Pick quite recently, portraiture is the oldest form of ‘identity art’, and moreover, representation itself. It is ‘naming’ in the largest sense – placing, identifying, classifying, narrating, and implicitly conceptualizing, though without explanation. In other words, at its most successful, it gives us some sense of what it means to be alive in a specific time and place. To the extent that the classifying impulse has often functioned as an aspect of colonialism, we can be grateful that Face to Face, the California African American Museum’s current show of portraiture, is liberated from that taint. The current show is bracing both in terms of its chronological and stylistic range, and its clear reflection of L.A. collectors’ on-going engagement with this work. But what is particularly fascinating is the extent to which over the course of that liberation from the vestiges of colonialism, African-American artists have transformed the classifying impulse into something larger, more broadly conceptual and frankly subversive – e.g., the performative aspect of work by Mickalene Thomas and Tschabalala Self, or crossing the representational threshold into the domain of fiction, as in the ‘imagined’ (or is it?) portraiture of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. The iconic ‘reversal’ (or perhaps more literally here, ‘inversion’) is another strategy represented here. It’s the polar-opposite of, say, Kehinde Wiley (who is also represented here – in one of his more interesting paintings), where the iconic aspect of a subject is referenced and simultaneously subverted. Titus Kaphar does this quite literally in his 2014 Jerome VII, where the lower half of the subject’s head, floating in its gold leafed field, is enshrouded by gold-flecked tar. Even the most straightforward and conventional of the portraits evince a sense of flux, the conditional (and perhaps aspirational) – always moving towards another place, another way of being. In this relatively compact exhibition, curators Naima J. Keith and Diana Nawi have in turn offered viewers another way of seeing that process play out. 

California African American Museum (CAAM)
600 State Drive – Exposition Park
Los Angeles, CA 90037
Show runs thru October 8, 2017

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80/50 Quiet Storm

We read history for perspective on advancing and collapsing civilizations and their impacts on planetary life and (hopefully) an understanding of historical cycles and a sense of where we might all be headed (besides other planets). Art exhibitions, historical and otherwise, do not presume to offer this kind of perspective, but through the prism of curatorial scope and selection, can occasionally suggest parallels and intersections across a historical interval. The scope here is a range of abstraction played out between mid- to late-20th century generations – roughly ‘high baby-boom’ and ‘Gen-X’ (or possibly ‘Y’ – i.e., the pre-millennial), meaning before all hell broke loose. Curator (and gallery director) Carl Berg is a practiced hand at composing these kinds of fractured and fragmented views into coherent overviews, and this one comes across with a silken touch – a welcome note of serenity in these turbulent times. The parallels are striking: e.g., between, say Mieke Gelley’s roughly fragmented and seemingly collaged color abstractions and Samantha Thomas’s fractalized mappings/foliations in luminous blues (or her more austerely rectilinear, but aggressively pleated rendition); or Don Suggs’ Le Parc-esque pinwheels superimposed upon photographed landscapes and Devon Tsuno’s atmospheric/aquatic abstractions with their ‘interlineated’ references to actual landscape elements (less apparent here – where the emphasis is clearly on a unified field or uniformly abstracted environment). ‘Intra-generational’ comparisons can be made here, too – e.g., between Tsuno and Tom Mueske, whose eight All Over canvases in oil enamel reference a similarly unified field. The through-line is abstraction, with a variable emphasis on the gestural or expressive at one pole, and minimalism at the other (sometimes both by the same artist, e.g., Gerald Giamportone). A secondary through-line here is the natural world. Not all of the artists address this directly. Lies Kraal, Andy Kolar, and Anna-Maria Bogner all seem determinedly abstract. But (with the possible exception of Bogner – whose sculptural installation here is like an etherealized Richard Serra), even Kraal and Kolar invoke an ideal domain (of color, order, gesture) that make implicit contrast with the less-than-ideal actualities beyond the gallery’s precincts. Steve DeGroodt’s As It Should Be (2013) sums up that notion (in cloth and rattan) concretely. And I would be remiss to reference the ‘ethereal’ without drawing attention to Jae Hwa Yoo’s genius canvas here. The show is elegantly installed; and over the course of an oppressive summer (okay, the rest of one’s life), it might be worth taking a moment’s respite from the raging tumult outside for the ‘quiet storm’ whispering through this gallery’s beautifully proportioned spaces. 

DENK Gallery
749 E. Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Show runs thru August 19, 2017

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Over the Rainbow

The title of the show is as ironic as it is aspirational. Most of us find ourselves in a place far more culturally fractured than we imagined less than a year ago, and pressing forward into an ever-more dystopian reality. Which is why it is as important as ever to state plainly who we are, where we live – as individuals, society, culture – who we want to be, and the society and culture we want to create. Contemporary art movements seem to be shifting away from ‘identity art,’ per se. But in a sense it’s been with us since portraiture; almost since humankind distinguished itself from its surrounding environment. Here, curator (and gallery co-director) René-Julien Praz has assembled a group of works of disparate sensibility and formal approach, from the most drily conceptual, to the formally abstract, from symbolism to the intimately documentary, even journalistic, from the gestural to the performative. What distinguishes each of the works though, and the show as a whole, is its formal power. ‘Identity’ art emphasizes disclosure as much as declarative statement. It’s an expression of terms and conditions, rather than a declaration of purpose – ‘this is where we are.’ Many of the works here play with the notion of the reveal, or the symbolic, epigrammatic reveal; also draping and transparency. There is the disclosure, and then what is held back (and something is always held back) (e.g., the photographic studies of Paul Mpagi Sepuya, or Zackary Drucker & Amos Mac’s atmospheric portrait); or alternatively, what is left behind. (Consider Sadie Barnette’s ‘strike’ of a matchbook ‘souvenir’ in her Untitled (Eagle Creek Saloon) prints.) We are an occupied country right now, and a sense of besiegement comes across with immediacy in many of these works – from Aa Bronson’s White Flag 10 (2015) to George Stoll’s Untitled (dropped American flag #4); also Matthew Chambers’ deft allusion to a ‘brave new world’ – just the other side of an exploded brick wall (New Land). Jack Pierson’s Twilight series of silkscreen/collage prints seem poignantly ironic only a few years after they were made. But, as Praz points out, these are struggles we have seen and experienced before, though perhaps never more vividly than in the 20th and 21st century. And still perhaps nowhere more vividly than in the work of Jean Genet – to whom the show pays tribute with both a drawing and 29 illustrations by Jean Cocteau of Genet’s Querelle de Brest (1948); and a long clip from Genet’s only film, Un chant d’amour (1950) – one of the greatest documents of homoerotic cinema ever produced. The film alone is worth a detour to the gallery … and then there are all those walls to smash, souvenirs to reclaim.  

PRAZ-DELAVALLADE
6150 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Show runs thru August 26, 2017

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The Inner Eye: Vision and Transcendence in African Arts

Not more than a year ago, I was writing about a show at LACMA with a transcendental dimension – not merely transcending its materials, approach and style, but whose visionary qualities might potentially carry the dedicated viewer to a place of transcendence. Only a year later, I am again confronted with an exhibition – that not only holds out this possibility, but announces it as subject and integral component of the exhibited work. The aforementioned show (Agnes Martin) came out of Western modernism. Here, the transcendence is intrinsic to an aspect of daily/historical life and cultural experience and (not incidentally) religious practices that accompanied them and emerges from a broad overview of several African cultures evolving over the course of six centuries. It’s also seen in this broad context as intrinsic to the act of seeing itself; also, paraphrasing John Berger, the ways of seeing – the casual observation, as distinguished from the deliberate or extended regard, an averted or deflected gaze. Where the direct gaze was discouraged (in ritual acknowledgment of power, religious observance, etc.), the gaze in these instances is redirected ‘inward,’ or ‘beyond.’ Although a number of the heads and masks have the pared, schematic quality of Cycladic idols, many of them acknowledge complexity, duality, even duplicity – thinking here of a Congolese head (albeit late 19th century) in which a double-funnel of heads is mounted atop another proto-Cubistic mask – literally gazing in all directions. Even the mask ‘speaks’ back to its bearer – it was not uncommon for inscriptions to appear on the mask inner side. 

LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru July 9, 2017

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Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum

Are you one of those people who have difficulty making clear-cut distinctions between your night(or day)mares and the actuality of your everyday life? (I am – especially when I’m running a fever.) Jim Shaw not only gets you; he’s created a sacred space for your nightmares – a massive chambered nautilus of an installation he calls The Wig Museum. The ‘Wig Museum’ is really just an ‘exit-through-the-gift-shop’ pendant (though Shaw is fond of hair and hair-styling as a device) to a much larger vision, which, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say, is a kind of apocalyptically surreal version of that nightmare of everyday life we’re not only likely to dream but wake up to in recent months. It’s your nightmare of Western Civilization gone to hell played out somewhere between a gutted theatre, a film soundstage, and, well, Wilshire Boulevard – which happens to be just outside. Any surreal art will inevitably approach the conditions of theatre and cinema – and The Wig Museum accomplishes this magnificently. I’ve always admired the way Shaw played with his dreamscape on both large and small scale; and to incorporate history into this vision is to inevitably move towards a larger scale. Here, he not only embraces theatricality, he’s incorporated actual pieces of theatrical backdrops (from the Masonic Temple archives acquired wholesale with the physical edifice) into his installations. He also borrows uninhibitedly from the art historical canon – everyone from Michelangelo and Leonardo to Brueghel and Bosch, Blake and Fuseli, Picasso and de Chirico. There’s even a reference to Duchamp (the ‘Bride’ herself – or is it more of a reference to that dual archive-oracle of the future-present, the ‘Cloud’?). Speaking of which, clouds surround George Washington here; but unlike the ‘apotheosis’ that inspired it (somewhere between Brumidi’s Capitol dome fresco and David), this Washington appears to be vacuuming up everything in his wake. (Political commentary? And Barbara Bush might just be burning up – but can’t we blame it on global warming?) Yes, it’s the ghost of your Civilization Past come to drag you back to your dawn-of-the-dead life. So be sure to study those artfully styled piles of dead human hair on your way out. You’ll feel positively naked without one as you exit; but then, it’s summer outside and we’re all burning up. Welcome to L.A.

Marciano Art Foundation
4357 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Show runs thru September 17, 2017

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