Pick of the Week

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



Focus Iran 2 – Contemporary Photography and Video

Sometimes a powerful image is enough – not simply to focus and arrest attention, but to shift the narrative, move the world, or certainly the viewer’s perspective on it. A great image can re-make that world or deliver an entirely new one. The watch word at this moment is resistance – and that spirit envelops each of the images in this compact, beautifully curated show. The focus, as the title announces, is post-revolutionary, post-invasion/occupation Iran; but its true scope is both larger and more specific. There are many ‘Irans’ or ‘Persias’ here – not only as represented by the artists here, but as a viewer senses cumulatively through the show, as many as there are eyeballs. Each image is a world – variously crowded, even cluttered with information and detail; or spare and solitary, concise or quasi-symbolic (even quasi-conceptual) – but all containing multitudes with clear intent to communicate a complex and contradictory, open-ended view. The artistry and ambition can be almost breath-taking. A river, the Z yuandé-R d, literally ‘runs through’ Asieh Dehghani’s brilliant video series, Anahita the Eros of Community (as much a work of architecture and assemblage as film or video), transecting landscape, culture, and geo-political history. The ‘collage’ or ‘assemblage’ can resemble something as self-contained as a Cornell (or ‘Cage-an’) box, as Parisa Ghaderi’s digital photograph does, which even in its silence telegraphs a kind of memoir. Hasan Ghafari’s own digital photograph, Spring, opens a slightly more expansive, and colorfully textured rendition of such a narrative. Symbolic aspects are powerfully asserted throughout the show in the work of such disparate artists as the almost painterly Ali Kheradyar, to the performative (e.g., False Roots) Sanaz Khosravi, to the corporeal yet entirely abstracted video work of Emelie Mahdavian. Masoud Mohammadi draws from the same well as graphic memoirist, Marjane Satrapi, but no less poignantly. But I risk slighting the other outstanding work throughout this 42 artist show – all of which hold and sharpen our focus.

Craft & Folk Art Museum
5814 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru May 7, 2017


Moholy-Nagy: Future Present

If there is a single word that could sum up the the career of László Moholy-Nagy, it would probably be refraction. The refraction of light is an obvious key, both with respect to Moholy’s overall formal approach and technical approach to his preferred media (and not simply photography). But ‘refraction’ might also describe his artistic response to the ideas, currents and cultural phenomena of his time. Moholy-Nagy came of age at a moment of turbulent transition – technological, economic, cultural and political – and it might be added, disruption. But his work reflects the vision of an artist who persistently saw past such disruptions into the ways such phenomena inflected and intersected each other. True to the Bauhaus ideal that sustained him across Europe and into the U.S., Moholy-Nagy was continually refashioning a modus vivendi with the world around him. Refraction is the reactive ‘through-line’ in Moholy-Nagy’s response to the spirit of the age. LACMA’s installation of the exhibition (a co-production with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Guggenheim), designed by Johnston Marklee, beautifully captures this spirit of refractivity and transparency in his art. Although the exhibition is essentially chronologically organized, a sequence of doorframes cuts a diagonal track or virtual corridor across the exhibition space, as if to underscore the intersectionality of Moholy’s work in various media and their cross-infusions. We’re inevitably reminded here that painting and graphic arts were in fact Moholy’s first media – but even here, veering away from Kandinsky in an essentially Constructivist direction, Moholy references industrial design and even uses industrial materials. We think of Moholy-Nagy as a pioneer of contemporary photography – and there is abundant evidence of it here, in everything from conventional photography to camera-less photograms and collage. But his truest medium is light itself. Photography provided Moholy with the interstitial and connective tissue between light and motion. If his sculptural vision seems today more completely realized by Constructivist ‘cousins’ like Gabo and Pevsner, Moholy-Nagy’s work points us toward a ballet of light that might play across an infinitely expanding universe.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru June 18, 2017


Llyn Foulkes – Old Man Blues

The plaintive title of Llyn Foulkes’ current exhibition – his first for Sprüth Magers – suggests we might be in for some mournful, if not downright bitter, riffs on laboriously trodden themes. This is not necessarily a drastic departure from the surreal dissonance of the visionary yet always personally and politically charged tableaux and talismans that have been at the center of his work for most of his career. But here, the suggestion of the battered souvenir, omnipresent in his work, always filtered through regret and disillusionment, is accompanied by a sense of displacement and foreshadowing that bleeds into the suggestion of a kind of virtual absence. In the Foulkes canon, the future is always viewed through a rear window of anticipated corruption or disintegration – consider the petrified-looking bark fragment framed in the window of a pockmarked car door of Vasquez II (2016). In turn, the castaway may become a kind of grail (e.g., Untitled (“Dinghy”) 2016). Always the most feral of the Ferus alumni, Foulkes can scarcely conceal his disgust with a civilization clearly ‘heading south’; but still at the height of his powers, he is far from ‘throwing in the towel’ (belying the work bearing this title). In his Old Man Blues, Foulkes nevertheless makes emphatic the sense of broken connection, alienation or incongruous isolation. In the cold, broken universe of Night Train (2016), we are all lost refugee children (or their ghosts) seeking a dubious virtual asylum. As always, the frame – whether a wood panel, a black velvet border, or the craggy desert moutainscape of Agua Dulce – is crucially important (even when traversed or violated), underscoring that amid interior oceans of morbid denial, some things will not be denied.

Sprüth Magers
5900 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru March 4, 2017



Douglas Tausik Ryder – Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis can refer to processes both natural and supernatural; but the works in Douglas Tausik Ryder’s exhibition of this title, while they reference the commonly understood biomorphic dimension, also encompass a much larger domain: the metamorphosis between organic or biomorphic motives and purely abstract design, and between a very cerebral, infinitely multi-dimensional world of pure imagination and the concrete physical world. In technique and approach, Ryder is drawn to the organic and biomorphic – in effect a figurative vocabulary, but one that immediately ‘morphs’ in completely unpredictable directions. Although, Ryder teases out this technique in sculptures that bear the influence of a number of modernist movements (the aforementioned biomorphic, Futurist, and Pop), the dominant influence here is Arp. Ryder is drawn to a certain eccentricity in the geometries and mathematics of certain forms – volumes organized around a void or bubble; or simply spatial eccentricities – the fold, wrap, or simply flaw, a tear in space (and resultant extrusions). His techniques and execution have evolved in tandem with his ideas – a reversal of the imaginative process, breaking the forms down mechanically and digitally recomposing by computer program driven milling, machining and fabrication. Although he has executed a few bronzes here, Ryder’s material of choice is wood, which looks a bit like liquefied wood paneling – its sensuality offset by the verticals of the wood panels. Whether veering in the direction of an Oldenburg donut (Shadow, 2016) or Noguchi (Venus, 2015), Ryder finds a way to continually surprise with an eccentric slice (or bite), the odd turn, wrap or cutaway, revealing a runaway imagination that will not be impeded even by its own concrete realization.

Jason Vass Gallery
1452 E. Sixth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Show runs thru February 26, 2017