Pick of the Week

Edgar Arceneaux – Until, Until, Until…

The subject of appearances and disappearances is not new to Edgar Arceneaux – in fact it might be considered a through-line in his work over the years. But Arceneaux is always acutely conscious of the sea-changes of time and history and the chain of causality traceable in their residues. Until, Until, Until… actually exists in two iterations – emblematic of what Arceneaux has assembled here and its chaotic, almost delirious power. Originally conceived as a multi-media live performance for the Performa Festival, it’s installed here both as video of the actual performance (with Frank Lawson the ‘leading player,’ if you will) and broadcast footage of what inspired this excavation: a performance by Broadway legend Ben Vereen conceived as a tribute to a legendary black vaudeville performer, Bert Williams, a black performer who performed (as was the then-required custom) in blackface – for the gala entertainments organized around Ronald Reagan’s 1981 presidential inauguration. For those of us unaware of this performance until (well) Until…, the first reaction might be ‘what was he thinking?’ It was a question that did not go unasked at the time (and regardless of Vereen’s intentions, it reflects something of the danger inherent in conceding the merest hint of vulnerability to the right). Lawson’s performance answers part of the question, reproducing the second half of this notorious performance – which the ABC television network, in its own spectacular betrayal, cut away from for a soul-drained rendition of Stevie Wonder tunes by two Osmond siblings (pre-Kardashian staples of the television entertainment of that era). The viewer is free to wander between two scrims with overlapping footage screening on either side with a television monitor and props strategically situated between. In another gallery, Arceneaux recreates this historical ‘box’ of truth, denial, memory, reflection, and their shadows in miniature – actual framed boxes of abstracted landscape watercolors beneath newspaper front-page negatives printed onto mirrored glass – a kind of plein-air vision suffocated beneath political (and psychological) repression. Elsewhere the fossilized residues of pre-Plessy jurisprudence (vintage copies of caselaw volumes, legal hornbooks, and commentaries encrusted in sugar and salt crystals) are exhibited in vitrines and assembled across a platform that might be their coffin, while drawings on muslin allude to the surreally selective memory conditioning this troubled (and on-going) trajectory.

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
6006 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Show runs thru July 1, 2017



Kerry James Marshall: Mastry

Kerry James Marshall’s current retrospective at MoCA is less a ‘Pick-of-the-Week’ than a Must of the Year. Regardless of the particulars of each individual’s experience, it is a show that compels serious reevaluation of the historical canon of Western painting (and possibly representational and narrative painting generally), that artistic apogee we call the ‘masterpiece,’ and the tenuous perspectives offered by art and cultural history. This is as much about Culture as art (I imagine Marshall’s voice: ‘Listen up, Clement Greenberg…’) It’s about how culture responds to a power structure and how its art absorbs and channels a dominant political narrative; how cultural authority channels and reflects – in varying degrees of uncertainty and subtlety – that power structure. More importantly, it’s about how those terms are subverted or entirely reversed. Of course it is a political art. It is also an art of idealism. It embraces the same canon it challenges, and says ‘Look at me.’ For those of us privileged to have had broad exposure to Western painting to the extent that we recall images of Africans or individuals of African descent in works of European art, consider who those individuals were and where they were in those representations. Consider the black maid who figures prominently and distinctively in Manet’s Olympia. The courtesan ‘Olympia’ may be nothing more than her pose or her job description, but that is the girl the world is coming to see, the girl the political power structure supports, and the device Manet has chosen to challenge one segment of that power structure. And in 1863, that beautiful, well-dressed maid was probably one of the lucky ones. And then the maid(s), (fill in the blanks: stable boys, coachmen, valets, blackamoors, natives on an African savannah) recede again into the backgrounds or disappear altogether. With a frontality that matches Manet’s, Marshall addresses appearance on every level – from the casual, almost fleeting observation, to the consciously and directly representational, to the formally evidentiary and broadly symbolic; and finally (and sometimes equally directly) to the underlying narrative that supports or challenges the perception of those representations. This extends to the importance of the frame itself (and scale: these are large paintings) – addressing the ‘narrative’: what it tells or reveals, and leaves out or represses (and sometimes, as Helen Molesworth, the show’s co-curator and editor of its catalogue, might put it, both simultaneously). In contrast to that European benchmark, Marshall’s treatment of the figure ranges between a hard schematic realism and something more ‘magical.’ His approach is allegorical, rather than strictly historical (or ‘memorial’), reaching back to where that ‘disappearance’ actually begins – the medieval and early Renaissance. Alongside those hard-scraped figures, bluebirds arc and scrolls or music staves unfurl ‘keynote’ messages or blunt broadsides. Also frankly dissonant notes both pictorial and stylistic: a ‘paradise’ not lost, but corrupted and certainly disrupted – these are allegories replete with contradiction. As Molesworth put it in one of her gallery talks (which I encourage prospective viewers to check out), “You can’t resolve this; you can only be with this.” Whatever the duration of your visit, Marshall’s paintings will be with you for a long time. 

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MoCA)
250 So. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Show runs thru July 3, 2017


Cindy Bernard – Things Change, Things Stay the Same

Periodically, we hear complaints (or alternatively, sighs of gratitude) from one quarter or another that painting is dead; or sometimes more specifically, that abstract painting is dead. At this point it’s far more likely the planet will die before abstract painting. Not exactly the cheeriest thought – but I get it. Today, as we face hard realities pitched somewhere between the Alien and Scary Movie franchises, artists appear once again to be veering in an abstract direction. The difference is a certain material specificity that connects with motive, while both deconstructing or dissolving that materiality and transposing or reconfiguring it into something entirely different – not a new ‘reality’ exactly, but a device suggesting something about one reality and another yet to be determined. I’m not sure Cindy Bernard would even characterize this work (most of which was originally conceived some time ago, and another body of work executed between 1988 and 1983) as abstraction – its constituent parts might be more easily categorized as ‘pattern and decoration’ – but in their various fragmentations, juxtapositions, reconfigurations, and placement, they construct a fresh syntax of relationships, correspondences, and color harmonics. That we ‘read’ certain elements as flowers, symbols, patterns, etc., only augments the power of their abstraction. Many of the fragments were directly inspired by a relative’s quilts. Here, liberated from their domestic ‘grids,’ and recomposed amid varicolored stripings and rhombi, verticals, and other geometric swaths of solid color (or gray), or simply isolated eccentrically in their white paper fields (all works in watercolor and graphite on paper), they assume an entirely different character – a ‘reality’ we can’t name, but recognize nonetheless. Color and pattern here are a kind of seduction – the flirtation that provokes a conversation of longer duration. In her Security Envelope Grids, Bernard took an entirely different approach, photographing and enlarging the subject security grids (though they have a distinctly graphic, ink-heavy look in their uniform black frames). Here the densely woven patterns and hatchings of logos and trademarks broadcast power (of branding, corporate agency, and sheer political/economic leverage) as well as protection, while Bernard alludes to their extensions into the more eccentric mesh of communities and individual lives.  

Richard Telles Fine Art
7380 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru June 24, 2017


Material As Metaphor and Betye Saar

There’s an enormous tension between the two shows currently on view at the Craft & Folk Art Museum; yet each resonates all the more powerfully for the juxtaposition. While Material As Metaphor is emphatically abstract, and Keepin’ It Clean explicitly grounded in the physical, historical actuality of African-American enslavement and oppression, both are earth-bound in their materiality (even Lisa Soto’s construction of seemingly ricocheting bullet casings and fishing line, The shortest distance between two points… (2016-17) underscores what constitutes those points and how that distance is traversed) and conscious of the inevitability of their intersections and their very real consequences. A few of the artists here work with industrial felt, following to some extent in Robert Louis’s capacious footsteps, but moving in very different directions. Kay Whitney gestures towards a gravity-defying skyward upsurge with her Skyhook (2016), but its waves of felt ribbons are wrapped around the distinctly organic plywood shapes that form its base – themselves perched upon spiky legs. Lloyd Hamrol, who has previously worked with industrial felt to brilliant sculptural and spatial effect, presents a site-specific Cascade of umber industrial felt that both implicates the immediate context of the Museum, while implying a world and dimensions beyond it, including the world outside. (The déluge is not ‘après nous,’ but right before us.) Senga Nengudi, whose work (using pantyhose) has always implied movement and spatial extension, here shifts her focus more directly not simply to the body (which is always implied), but to its specific charge and contact points, its intersections and their configuration, reminding us how palpably such tensions can register. Victoria May’s work in contrasting hard and shiny (rubber inner-tubing) and soft opaque (silk) coils are a kind of crash of the organic and synthetically manufactured worlds – an explosion of corruption and decay – a hard-soft scream at the Alien always present amongst us. ‘Have at us,’ they seem to imply. In stark contrast, Betye Saar’s vintage washboard reconstructions, variously painted, printed, and collaged are a caution to the free-fall fest upstairs. “We was mostly ‘bout survival,” many of them remind us – something the culture-at-large seems to be re-learning in its current nose-dive into crash-and-burn chaos. 

Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM)
  5814Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru August 20, 2017


Enoc Perez – Embassies

We see the future differently in recent years, as the future presses relentlessly into the present – way beyond ‘future-shock,’ as termed by the futurists, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, into a kind of ‘present shock.’ This manifests in any number of ways, including the way we regard and represent the present. We see the past, not simply in the ruins or evidence of decay before us, but in aspects of the built environment or physical objects that only recently appeared fresh, innovative and brand new. Russell Ferguson touched on this issue (though not explicitly) in an important exhibition he curated for the Hammer Museum in 2004, titled (revealingly), The Undiscovered Country. Not surprisingly (in retrospect), this was where I first discovered the paintings of Enoc Perez – seemingly scraped, acid-washed ‘picture-postcard’ views of hotels, resorts, and classic, luxury apartment buildings. The palette was fresh but deliberately restrained, ‘greiged-out’ in pale pinks, greys, verdigris. It was a ‘saudades’ stroll through a reality (and memory) never quite achieved and pushing us mentally forward to a moment of displacement, abandonment, and (notably) solitude. In his current show at the UTA Artist Space, Perez turns his gaze more directly upon the present – specifically some of the classic 20th century modernist structures, all designed by some of the most important architects of the 20th century, that house many of the U.S. embassies abroad, including some of the most important foreign missions. There is a subtle, if slightly random, evolution of architectural rhetoric observable in the parade here – from variously arched, columned, glazed and mullioned facades to slightly distanced (occasionally moated), informal and brutalist variations, and finally, simultaneously hulking and concrete-screened models that reflect the trend toward fortification. Yet, through the deliberately mottled (dis)colorations and attenuated palette, we nevertheless see traces of a more expansive, open and receptive internationalist cultural moment – a vista or fragment of landscape that once notionally invited or at least engaged would-be visitors. Perez’s paintings underscore a change, not only in mood and attitude, but in American self-image. It’s not only the way foreign citizens see the U.S.; it’s the way we see the U.S. – and ourselves by extension. Embassy buildings (and not only those of the U.S.) once telegraphed not only sovereignty, but a notion of stability, dignity, even timelessness. The message here both painterly and architectural is a bit more raw: the sequestered and secret corridors of power – a concrete cloud that is ready to burst. 

UTA Artist Space
670 So. Anderson Street
Los Angeles, CA 90023
Show runs thru June 17, 2017


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