Aug 092019
 

 

When trying to talk about the David Hammon’s exhibition at Hauser and Wirth Los Angeles, his first in Los Angeles in 45 years, it’s hard to know where to start. There are no titles or descriptions of any of the works in the show, although there is writing on the walls in certain places. The press release, shown below, is a mass of lines and a dedication to jazz musician Ornette Coleman.

Before you enter either of the two massive galleries housing the exhibition you encounter a courtyard filled with tents, some with “this could be u and u” stenciled on them. Tents also line the corridor under Martin Creed’s neon piece, EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT, with a rack of fancy vintage coats nearby. Once predominantly in Skid Row, Los Angeles’ tent cities have been growing rapidly on street corners and under bridges and highways all over the city, but they often just blend into the background for people walking and driving past. What does a fake tent city in the courtyard of a high end gallery in a newly gentrified neighborhood mean? Is its fake version more affecting than the real one to gallery and restaurant patrons wandering by?

The work in the show feels at times random, clever, humorous, and confounding, but also impressive, thought provoking, and most importantly never dull. There are stacks of art history books sitting on scales. A water filled bowl that contains what once was a snowball Hammons had sold on the street at one point in his career, sits on a wooden shelf. A room with empty glass cubes on wood columns requires you to bend down to see the feet underneath. A book titled A History of Harlem is filled with empty black pages.

In the room pictured below is a three legged chair next to a wall of photos of women sitting in it. Nearby, one of Ornette Coleman’s suits is surrounded by glass.

Another room is filled with paint splattered and damaged fur coats, one facing an antique mirror that is covered. The symbolism feels a bit heavy handed, like the tents, but it works in that there are still several ways to interpret what Hammons might be saying.

Throughout the exhibition paintings are covered in various ways. One in paper, ripped with a bit of the painting visible. Others are partially hidden with tarps, plastic, different fabrics, even an antique rug (shown below). Once again, you can interpret the meaning of this in several ways. With the rug, for example, it’s turned so that only a bit of its design is visible in front of a painting that is not completely visible. These rugs are often associated with old money and sometimes are hung on walls themselves as artwork. Or is it just another assemblage, a visual combination to be taken at face value.

Ultimately the interpretation of all of the work is up to the viewer. There is something freeing in that, not being given answers. Sure, it’s nice to have an explanation of an artist’s intentions sometimes, but you often add your own ideas anyway. Art should make you think, question things, look at the world from a new perspective- this exhibition does all of that and more.

David Hammons at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles closed 8/11/19.

 

 

 

Jul 122019
 

Juan Capistrán, Psychogeography of Rage (sending up searchlights in the form of flames) Western, 2019

Kim Fisher- Los Angeles Hedge, 2019

Kim Fisher, Woman Behind Rocks, 2019

Sabrina Gschwandtner, Cinema Sanctuary, 2019

Sabrina Gschwandtner, Cinema Sanctuary (close-up)

Enrique Castrejon, You, me, and all of us are in this together/Reach out to those that don’t know their status, 2019

Enrique Castrejon, You, me, and all of us are in this together/Reach out to those that don’t know their status, 2019 close-up

Every year The City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) awards grants to the city’s best mid-career artists. The work created with these grants is then shown in the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG) in Barnsdall Park for the C.O.L.A.(City of Los Angeles) exhibitions.

COLA 2019 is made up of 11 artists working in various mediums. Two of the artists, Juan Capistrán and Kim Fisher were also shown together as part of Hammer Museum’s biennial exhibition, Made in L.A. 2014. For this show, Capistrán created large brick sculptures that he placed in sites in South Los Angeles that haven’t been rebuilt since the 1992 LA Riots. In his section of work in the gallery, he includes photos of these temporary site specific installations as well as some of the brick sculptures- two of which have balloons tied to them spelling GRATIS. The bricks can be seen as objects of destruction or building blocks, and the dual meanings work well in the context of the work.

Kim Fisher’s large collages capture another side of Los Angeles. From the hedge she used for the largest piece, to the ocean, swimming pools, and car culture, included in her others, the graphics and color come together in a way that feels very much like the traditional ideas associated with the city.  The different sections, created to look as if they were torn or cut from magazines, form collages that feel like scattered memories that have somehow arranged themselves cohesively.

Sabrina Gschwandtner took forgotten films made by female directors and stitched them together to form patterns drawn from the history of quilt-making. The use of a craft that is traditionally associated with women and tying it an artistic pursuit that women are only more recently being acknowledged for is an interesting juxtaposition. The resulting work is stunning graphically and reminiscent of Agnés Varda’s colorful house of film reels created for LACMA’s Agnés Varda in Californialand from 2014.

Enrique Castrejon created sculptures that stem from his work in an LGBTQ center in Los Angeles. His sculptures of fragmented bodies are surrounded by strips of paper with HIV infection rates. The humanity of the figures contrasts with the overwhelming strips of typed documentation that swarms all around them.

All of the work created for this exhibition is incredibly strong and these annual exhibitions are a great way to see some of the best work being created by Los Angeles artists today. If you can’t make it to the exhibition there is a video on the site that takes you on a walk through with one of the curators. Also make sure to catch Stephanie Taylor’s Municipal Art Song, which plays at the entrance to the exhibition. She created song lyrics based on text from LAMAG and DCA’s websites and catalogs, and used them to create sheet music using Schoolhouse Rock! as an inspiration. The result is really funny, especially if you read a lot of press releases.

This exhibition closes 7/14/19.

 

 

Jun 292019
 

“Graduation”, (1949) © Estate of Roy DeCarava

We look at so many images today that often the value of individual photos decreases with the abundance of them. That’s why it is such a pleasure to spend time with Roy DeCarava’s black and white photographs at The Underground Museum. His images have a meditative beauty to them. They catch your eye and hold it. There is a richness to his compositions, his use of textures and light.

While at The Underground Museum, also take a moment to look through a copy of De Carava’s book collaboration with writer Langston Hughes, The Sweet Flypaper of Life in the book store.  The images in it influenced artist Kahlil Joseph’s film Flypaper (2017), which was recently shown at MOCA.  Kahlil Joseph’s brother, artist Noah Davis, who sadly passed away in 2015, founded The Underground Museum with his wife, artist Karon Davis, in 2012.

Roy DeCarava: The Work of Art closes 6/29/19.

 

“Bill and son”(1962) © Estate of Roy DeCarava

 

Jun 062019
 

Taking up an entire level of the BCAM Building at LACMA, Robert Rauschenberg: The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece, is a wonderful testament to the artist’s work and creativity. It is also the first time it has ever been shown in its entirety.

There is so much variety in the materials, subjects, colors, and styles, that as you wander from section to section, it’s easy to notice new things the longer you look. Despite the differences among the different sections, they are bound together by a creative exuberance. LACMA recommends an hour to wander the 1/4 mile of work, but you may want to spend longer.

This exhibition will close on 6/9/19.

May 242019
 

Wendy White’s exhibition Racetrack Playa, at Shulamit Nazarian, is a very American show. Her collages of old car ads ,and their often blatant sexism, combined with the use of denim as a sculptural medium, play with the iconography of America’s past to force us to think about America today. How do you reconcile a love of the open road and exploring natural landscapes with the environmental destruction caused by using cars fueled with oil to get there? How much of the past perception of women as objects still informs thinking today? Will America get out of its wood paneled basement to move into a better place- or will its longing for the past continue to slow its progress?

From the press release-

Shulamit Nazarian is pleased to announce representation of New York-based artist Wendy White. The artist’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, Racetrack Playa, will feature new paintings, sculptures, pigment prints, and a site-specific installation.

The exhibition takes its name from a three-mile dry lakebed in Death Valley National Park where sliding rocks or “sailing stones” have inscribed mysterious linear imprints on the landscape. Using this scarred landscape as a metaphor for our current times, the works in Racetrack Playa explore power, entitlement, and imperialism via the aesthetics and evolution of American car culture.

In pieces that function as both homage and critique, White collapses signs of racing and car culture with references to 20th-century American painting. Multiple-canvas works such as Posi Track and Burnout (both 2019) take cues from James Rosenquist’s famous Vietnam War-era painting F-111 (1964–65). In White’s versions, images of mangled engines, worn tire treads, and damaged landscapes suggest a trampling of both philosophical ideals and the natural environment. In addition, the works make reference to Andy Warhol’s Death and Disasters series and Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.

The exhibition also includes new works from the artist’s ongoing Jeans series. These pieces make use of worn denim, a quintessentially American fabric associated with labor and a sense of rugged individualism. Co-opting the material and its cultural connotations as a substrate for painting, White makes marks with dripped and splattered bleach before garnishing each piece with flat cut-out rainbows, beer bottles, and energy drinks.

A site-specific installation complete with wood paneled walls, carpet, and one of White’s signature denim sofas creates a quasi-automotive shop backdrop for a new suite of unique pigment prints. Carving directly into the paneling, White references the DIY aesthetic of the 70s muscle car era by way of hand-drawn symbols, slogans and logos.

Taken together, the works in Racetrack Playa riff on the visual cues of car culture, the resilient materiality of denim, and the sexiness of commercial graphics to examine a society long drawn to speed and dominance. Reexamining this typically male-dominated arena, White pushes back on advertising’s false promise that perhaps all of your desires are for the taking, if you just smoke the right cigarettes and drive the right car.

This exhibition closes 5/25/19.

May 162019
 

Blum & Poe is currently showing  Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and 1990s Part II, the gallery’s second installment of their survey.

From the press release-

Part II of Parergon expands on the thematic territories explored in Part I, with seminal installations and sculptures from the era and performances by renowned figures of noise, sound, and electro-acoustic music genres. Kenji Yanobe’s Tanking Machine (Rebirth) (2019) is a darkly humorous, interactive, sci-fi sculpture first presented in 1989 that addresses the ever-present reality of nuclear crisis through a retro-futurist narrative. Influential multimedia artist, Kodai Nakahara’s bizarre installations of figurine-like marble stones and brightly, suspended spheres reflect a humorous take on sculpture’s “post-medium” condition.  As an intellectual and artist, Kenjiro Okazaki’s practice engages with theories of perception through interdisciplinary genres spanning architecture, literary theory, painting, reliefs, sculpture, robotics, and dance. Trained in both Japan and the U.S., Yukinori Yanagi’s large-scale and site-specific installations interrogate the politics of institutional borders and boundaries often drawing from semiotic systems of symbolic imagery. Psychedelic ’60s graphic designer Tadanori Yokoo revisits strategies of historical pastiche with his figurative noir paintings that hang alongside his cut-canvas portraits of Dada figures, as well as ceramic depictions of spiritual mediums. Finally, a dedicated Japanese noise archive of photography, journals, and vinyl records from Tokyo’s experimental underground will also be featured on the second floor giving historical context to the live performances.

The exhibition title makes reference to the gallery in Tokyo (Gallery Parergon, 1981-1987) that introduced many artists associated with the New Wave phenomenon, its name attributed to Jacques Derrida’s essay from 1978 which questioned the “framework” of art, influential to artists and critics during the period. Parergon brings together some of the most enigmatic works that were first generated during a rich two-decade period that are pivotal to the way we perceive and understand contemporary Japanese art today.

This exhibition closes 5/18/19.

 

May 132019
 

ONE Gallery in West Hollywood is currently showing The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble: Genderqueer Performance Art in the 1970s photographs by Greg Day. The artist died in his late 30s and would have remained virtually unknown if not for curator David Getsy researching, collecting, and documenting everything he could find on Varble.

His performance pieces were often both audacious and humorous and the exhibition details several of them. Varble popped open blood filled condom breasts in protest at a bank (proceeding to use the blood to sign a check for “zero million dollars”), crashed the Met Gala and the premiere of Tommy, and gave “costume tours” of big name art galleries in Soho, challenging the status quo. In our current world of corporate bailouts, rampant capitalism, and celebration of the rich, its fun to imagine what kind of work Varble might have created today in response.

From the press release-

In costumes made from street trash, food waste, and stolen objects, Stephen Varble (1946–1984) took to the streets of 1970s New York City to perform his “Gutter Art.” With disruption as his aim, he led uninvited costumed tours through the galleries of SoHo, occupied Fifth Avenue gutters, and burst into banks and boutiques in his gender-confounding ensembles. Varble made the recombination of signs for gender a central theme in his increasingly outrageous costumes and performances. While maintaining he/him as his pronouns, Varble performed gender as an open question in both his life and his work, sometimes identifying as a female persona, Marie Debris, and sometimes playing up his appearance as a gay man. Only later would the term “genderqueer” emerge to describe the kind of self-made, non-binary gender options that Varble adopted throughout his life and in his disruptions of the 1970s art world.

At the pinnacle moment of Varble’s public performances, the photographer Greg Day (b. 1944) captured the inventiveness and energy of his genderqueer costume confrontations. Trained as an artist and anthropologist and with a keen eye for documenting ephemeral culture as it flourished, Day took hundreds of photographs of Varble’s trash couture, public performances, and events in 1975 and 1976. Varble understood the importance of photographers, and Day was his most important photographic collaborator. This exhibition brings together a selection of Day’s photographs of Varble performing his costume works and also includes Day’s photographs of Varble’s friends and collaborators such as Peter Hujar, Jimmy DeSana, Shibata Atsuko, Agosto Machado, and Warhol stars Jackie Curtis, Taylor Mead, and Mario Montez.

Varble sought to make a place for himself outside of art’s institutions and mainstream cultures all the while critiquing them both. The story of Varble told through Day’s photographs is both about their synergistic artistic friendship and about the queer networks and communities that made such an anti-institutional and genderqueer practice imaginable. Together, Varble and Day worked to preserve the radical potential of Gutter Art for the future.

The Gutter Art of Stephen Varble builds upon the 2018 retrospective exhibition of Stephen Varble’s work at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, titled Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble, as featured in the New York Times on January 11, 2019.  The new ONE Gallery exhibition, with its focus on the collaboration of Varble with the photographer Greg Day, will explore the ways in which Varble’s disruptive guerilla performance art has lived on primarily through vibrant photographs that captured his inventive costumes, transformed trash, and public confrontations.

This exhibition closes 5/17/19.

*For an additional perspective on the artist- Stephen Varble was friends with a 14-year old girl in NYC named Fernanda Eberstadt who kept diaries detailing her time with him. She wrote an interesting piece for Granta about him, reproduced here.

May 102019
 

Hammer Museum’s current exhibition Allen Ruppersberg: Intellectual Property 1968-2018 is a fascinating and fun look at the work of the Conceptual artist. Walking through the show, the variety of the work and the artist’s sense of humor keep the exhibition engaging from start to finish.

Much of Ruppersberg’s work created in Los Angeles is specific to the city, especially how it was during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The contrast between the urban city life and the natural surroundings of mountains, desert and beach can be seen in several of his pieces including the “Location Pieces”. For “Al’s Cafe”, he created a restaurant in downtown LA where everything from the menus, receipts, and tongue-in-cheek dishes, was a work of art. Examples of the “meals” include “Rock Varieties Smothered in Pine Needles” and the “Patti Melt”, a studio photo covered in toasted marshmallows. He later went on to create “Al’s Grand Hotel” which consisted of several rooms of various themes, run by the artist. For a little over a month of weekends, guests came to stay overnight. Like his restaurant, the hotel became a meeting place for the Los Angeles arts community.

Language and the printed word play a very important in Rupperberg’s work. He rewrote Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray on several large canvases that take up an entire room in the show. For a series of paintings he recreated newspaper articles of strange crimes and then wrote comments on the canvas “translating” them.

Driving around Los Angeles he noticed the ubiquitous DayGlo posters made by Colby Printing and used them to print The Singing Posters: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl by Allen Ruppersberg (Parts I-III). For this work the poem is recreated phonetically in a series of these posters, along with some commercial advertising posters, and placed together to form a large mural.

Ruppersberg is still creating, collecting, and exploring the world around him. This show celebrates his unique perspective while also presenting a glimpse of what it was like to be an artist in Los Angeles at the time he was making this work.

This exhibition closes 5/12/19.

 

 

 

Apr 192019
 

Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, Juchitán, Mexico, 1979

Señor de los Pájaros, Nayarit, Mexico, 1984 (image courtesy of Rose Gallery)

Currently at Rose Gallery is Graciela Iturbide: Hay Tiempo, an exhibition of beautiful photographs by the Mexican photographer.

From the press release

Graciela Iturbide, celebrated as one of Mexico’s most prolific and distinguished photographers, observes with patience and exhibits her world with beauty, serenity and dignity. Born into a conservative family in Mexico City, Iturbide decided to create her own path, leaving a traditional domestic life to pursue the arts. During her studies in cinematography at the Universidad Nacional Autonama de Mexico, she became the achichinle (the assistant) to Manuel Alvarez Bravo, the distinguished Mexican photographer who later became a lifelong mentor to Iturbide. In their time together, Álvarez Bravo constantly reminded Iturbide to pause and observe, asserting Hay Tiempo (There is Time). This patience to allow the moment to unravel and reveal itself echoed the notion of a Mexican poetic tempo, which is present throughout Mexican art, literature and life. Iturbide came to understand and employ her mentor’s slow, observational process as she photographed many cultures and spheres.

Although Iturbide has photographed all over the world, she is widely known for the photographs she has taken in her native Mexico. While many twentieth-century photographers had documented Mexico through an outsider’s lens, shining light on poverty and politics in a neocolonial gesture, Iturbide reached beyond the document, photographing the poetic essence embedded in each moment. With Hay Tiempo in mind, she evokes a lyricism in her careful observations. In the late 1970s under an assignment for the INI (Instituto Nacional Indigenista), Iturbide photographed the Seri tribe, focusing her lens on Mexico’s indigenous population which was often overlooked and marginalized. In these portraits, the deep cultural and spiritual history of indigenous peoples exists alongside the influences of colonialism and an encroaching globalism. Then, in 1979, the celebrated Mexican artist Francisco Toledo invited Iturbide to photograph his native city Juchitan in the southern state of Oaxaca, where she encountered the strength and independence of the Zapotec women. In this indigenous, matriarchal community, the women live economically and socially independent lives in a stark contrast to the customs of westernized Mexico that Iturbide grew up within. Iturbide’s photographs, equally grounded and imaginative, portray the power and spirit of each individual. Their direct presence in the image exhibits the persevering dignity of the indigenous people in a post-colonial world. Iturbide’s photographs of Mexico show not only the diverse and rich cultural history of her nation, but also the resonance of Iturbide’s own artistic community, which invited and encouraged the photographer to explore her own nation in its multiplicities of experience.

This exhibition closes 4/20/19.

Apr 122019
 

Annie Leibovitz. The Early Years, 1970 – 1983: Archive Project No. 1 at Hauser and Wirth Los Angeles, is an engrossing look into the beginnings of a photographer who is now one of the most famous in the world. The exhibition, curated by Leibovitz herself, features more than 4,000 photographs. Despite that large number, the layout keeps it from feeling overwhelming. Photographs are put together on the walls by theme and time period. As you wander from room to room looking at the often recognizable faces, Leibovitz’s distinct style emerges.

The early sections of the show give the viewer a chance to see Annie Leibovitz as a young artist just starting out and developing her way of looking at the world through a camera. On one wall is a collage of photos creating a panorama of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris. She took it when she realized she was standing where Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the photographers she most admired, had once stood to photograph that same bridge. The sense of excitement she felt at that moment informs the image she would later take of Cartier-Bresson himself. That portrait is included on another wall with images of other photographers and artists she admired.

Walking from room to room, the famous faces blend together with the history of the time period. Political protests, music festivals and tours, presidential campaigns, Nixon’s resignation, Warhol’s factory- she was there documenting what was happening, often in unique ways. Her ability to observe and capture moments without intruding in her subject’s personal space remains present whether it is a rock star, politician, or a member of her own family.

As the show moves through Leibovitz’s timeline, her increased focus on the portraiture that would make her famous emerges. Her staged photographs from the 1980s of celebrities including Keith Haring, Whoopi Goldberg, and Meryl Streep appear. The transition makes logistical sense as this progression of her career is made clear by all the work that came before. Her portraits are the works that stand out the most, even at the beginning.

The exhibition captures an incredible period of time in both the artist’s work and the history of America. Make sure to leave a lot of time to see it before it closes on 4/14/19.