Pick of the Week

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Neil Raitt

It’s amazing how much effort, skill and intellect Neil Raitt directs towards donning the ornate trappings of kitsch. Visitors enter his installation through a painstakingly contrived threshold whose tree-shaped outline resembles that of a rearview mirror air freshener. Inspired by lowbrow landscapes and themed hotel decor, the immersing atmosphere within is suffused with affectations of tackiness. Minute detail animates a world that defies logic but somehow subsumes you. Blue-carpeted floors are punctuated by phony rocks and benches upholstered with monotonous landscape patterns. Steam-emitting lighted fountains supply auditory ambience. One slatted wall appears to belong at a thrift store. Another wall sports a striking mural depicting bosky mountains whose impossible optical-illusion superimpositions recall M.C. Escher. This backdrops canvases eliciting the superficial sensation that Bob Ross might return any minute to paint the finishing touches on his happy little trees. But Raitt’s clever juxtapositions and wallpaper-like repetition betray headier intentions. In recycling popular landscape depictions, he questions our culture’s standard modes of co-opting nature for the purposes of pure artifice. Can kitsch possibly approach sublimity? Do exalted landscapes outstrip our stereotypical views of them? Suspended between elegance and tawdriness, the completely immersing, uncanny environment of this tableau offers no answers but transcends its tinsel origins to almost awe-inspiring effect.

 

Anat Ebgi
2660 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Show runs through Oct. 21

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Emiliano Gironella Parra

While Americans condemn Mexican lawlessness, much illegal drug trade south of the border is driven by U.S. demand. In his PST: LA/LA show titled “Artempatía” (Empathy Art), Mexico City artist Emiliano Gironella Parra imports a sampling of the horrors we usually only read about in newspapers. Weapons, narcotics and anguish abound in pieces of diverse media. An assault rifle is loaded with injection needles. Flowers grow from a giant grenade vase. Methacrylate sculptures resembling ice blocks portray self-inflictions and externally enacted afflictions. In San Sebastían (2010, detail above), hypodermic needles prick a frozen Saint Sebastian, a macabre individual allegory of populational agony. In the particularly pointed Billetes 1, devil horns adorn Franklin on $100 bills beside sequential drawings of a crudely sketched beheading. Gironella Parra’s aesthetic of grisliness with a whimsical touch resembles that of Luis Estrada’s El infierno film, which also treats of cartel hellishness. His grotesque symbolism mirrors the visual language of narcoculture, while its critical implications are in the vein of Goya’s “Disasters of War.” Offsetting his work’s heavy content, his collaborations with orphans of assassinated police evince art’s therapeutic capabilities.

 

Jason Vass
1452 E. Sixth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Show runs through Oct. 14

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Judithe Hernández and Patssi Valdez

County fairs usually aren’t noted for their art; but this year’s is an exception, with Millard Sheets Art Center hosting a fine PST LA/LA exhibition, “Judithe Hernández and Patssi Valdez: One Path Two Journeys.” Hernández and Valdez were, respectively, members of influential Chicano artist collectives Los Four and Asco; this show illuminates their parallel trajectories as individuals. In line with the title, curator Thomas Canavan placed their works on opposite walls, asserting each artist’s singularity while educing their affinities. Both explore their Chicana identities and indigenous heritage through multiplicities of strokes coalescing into eerie quasi-surreal scenes. Hernández’ haunting paintings and pastels of classical women amid plants and animals (pictured above) are suffused with foreboding and often horror. Nature and mysticism also figure in Valdez’ interiors where everyday objects embody sinister characters. Her paintings are no less creepy for their super-vivid hues that somehow avoid kitschiness. Photographs and documentaries illustrating the women’s Chicano movement connections accompany over 60 works from the 1980s to present. The imagery here is disturbing, beautiful and very memorable. Fair admission and parking fees are required through September 24.

Millard Sheets Art Center
1101 W McKinley Avenue (Fairplex)
Pomona, CA 91768
Show runs through January 28, 2018

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Nick Lowe

Straddling all sorts of categories, Nick Lowe’s pictures are defined by their byzantine intermediacy between stretched canvases and works on paper, paintings and drawings, fanciful dreamscapes and pedestrian scenes. Lowe possesses an uncanny knack for agglomerating materials and techniques generally associated with either painting or drawing into dichotomous hybrids disguised as traditional canvases. The seven works displayed at Grice Bench recall Jim Dine, Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn but inhabit a world of their own. Works like Cactus and Tire (2017) and Dog in Landscape (2017) initially appear slapdash; but as one approaches, labyrinthine detail unfolds like an accordion. Idiosyncratic marks delineate generic imagery. Raw sketchy lines juxtapose painted passages of reworking and deliberation. Obliterating skeletal networks, scumbled patches alternately evoke atmospheric fog and weathered, whitewashed walls. Visible only very closely, meticulous abstracted embellishments are so small and removed that they seem practically pointless. Punctuated by scratches, blobs and hairs, Lowe’s surfaces are anomalously gritty like his urban subject matter. Yet despite their texture, they betray few brushstrokes. The bizarre absence of manual evidence speaks to the notion that great pains often leave little to show for their time and effort. In their intermediate states of completion and uncertainty, Lowe’s paintings poignantly tap the dismal banality of the urban landscape and eloquently allude to our world’s pervasive futility.

Grice Bench
915 Mateo Street, # 210
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Show runs through September 16

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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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