Art & Development, Research, Travelogue

notes from the southland


LA. Traffic.

Just got back from Los Angeles, where I de-installed my work at Tarryn Teresa Gallery. A few notes from my mental scrapbook:


Packing up mailinvoicegetcarsmogged, 2006, plastic and ink on paper, 48 x 66 x 12 inches

Packing tools? I’ll never doubt you again, needle-nose pliers and extension cords! I should expect map pin heads to come clean off by now. I should know better than to rely on the palm sander’s cord. Thankfully, I erred on the side of caution, and it paid off.

NPR and classic rock. Apparently there’s no public radio along the I-5 in Fresno and Merced Counties, or they’re all run by evangelicals. Sans audio books, my substitute of choice was a Bakersfield-based classic rock station. If you could forgive the gratuitous misogyny, you’d discover a playlist spanning Zep, GNR, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Metallica, and Journey. Those bands once inspired repulsion in me, but I think we can all agree now that hair bands made some pretty great pop music. Last week, I heard Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” on an early morning grocery run, and it instilled a good mood that lasted hours. So I’m reclaiming this music from the heshers/burnouts/metalheads/bullies who gave it a bad name in high school, and you’re welcome to join me. For those about to rock…

Charles Burchfield, Glory of Spring, 1950, Watercolor on paper. Collection Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark, 1959.6.6. Photo by Gary Mamay. Image source: Hammer Museum

Charles Burchfield at the Hammer Museum. I couldn’t see what Robert Gober, the contemporary hyper-realist sculptor, would see in a mid-century painter of landscapes. The Hammer exhibition, however, is fantastic. It makes clear that Burchfield was vastly under-recognized and portentious. His interest in abstraction, background in Asian-influenced Art Nouveau wallpaper design, experience with social realist pictorialism, and probable mental illness (see Dave Harvey’s great write-up in the LA Weekly) led to an innovative body of paintings that manages to embody countless references (to traditional Chinese scroll painting, Japanese woodcuts, OCD doodling, Cubism, and modern-day fantasy art) while forging a distinct visual language — psychedelic, immersive. I also admire his sheer conviction — after a successful stint as a Regionalist painter, Burchfield wrote in his journal,

“It seems to me, more than ever, imperative that I somehow get these fantasies into finished concrete form even tho there is not sale for them. How we will live, I do not know.”

Burchfield’s final paintings are really tremendous pictures. Some of them are breathtaking. The show is accompanied by extensive notes which provide welcome keys to the artist’s process, thoughts, doubts and motivations.

Nic Hess’ Hammer Project. Pretty great too. Masking tape drawings, a ton of vinyl decals. The placement of imagery in the space was cheeky and unexpected.

Robert Crumb’s Book of Genesis at the Hammer. I always feel the same way after viewing Crumb’s drawings: slightly dirty and tawdry, like I’d stayed at a cheap motel and watched Entertainment Weekly. More of my base self and less of my ideal self. It’s brilliant for Crumb to do a literal interpretation of the first book of the Bible in all its wretched, meaty drama. Of course Crumb can draw like no other, and there’s something vaguely appropriate, like Chick Tracts, to visualize this content in a sensational manner. The curators took pains to point out Crumb’s attempts at historical accuracy in regards to robes and architecture, but his comically zaftig female figures seem excepted from revision.

The historical exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum. I went for the Giant Robot Biennale, but two items from the historical exhibit were like punches to the stomach. First: a small girl’s cape. An internee mother modified a disused Navy peacoat for her daughter. It makes tangible the completely deranged skewing of context (where giving old military coats to forcibly-relocated families is like compassion; where modifying said coat is an act of love and resilience). Second, a massive diorama reified the scope of the internment camp at Manzanar. It was conceived and created by Robert Hasuike, a Mattel Toys model maker. It was effective and, by extrapolation, nightmarish.

Exhibition in Pasadena featuring some high-profile artists from the past 20 years of the institution’s programming. Ambitious show, disappointing reality. Only a few works emerged unscathed from the poor presentation and compromised spaces. I think the less said about this exhibition, the better. So I’ll pose, then, a series of questions:

1. When you’re an artist, and have identified artists you admire who embody rigor, quality, thoughtfulness and professionalism, and you see their work suffer due to poor presentation, how does that make you feel? Do you have similar experiences in your own history so that you can relate to these established artist’s possible regrets? And does this make you hopeful (that you’re not alone) or sad (that even established artists can’t avoid partnerships with presenters who don’t deliver)?

2. Is it the artist’s burden to accept the limitations of a non-commercial presenter? Or is it the artist’s responsibility to push them to expand their capacity and raise the level of exhibition installation and management towards professionalism?

3. When you’re a viewer and your expectations of an exhibition are raised by professionally-produced promotional collateral, who is at fault when the actual show’s installation reads on a lower level of quality, like student-grade?

On Whinging. This post is a bit more critical than usual, but I do grapple with these questions and criticisms wholly. I’m invested—I drove all over LA on a beautiful holiday afternoon and selected a a few shows to focus my attention on. I don’t set out to be critical of these shows—I try to keep an open mind and hope to be surprised for the positive.

Happy Halloween!


Research, Travelogue

L.A. Looks

Between installing recent works at Tarryn Teresa Gallery and being stuck in traffic, I got to have some fun art-life in Los Angeles last weekend…

–Peeked behind the scenes of a down-low James Turrell light installation. Don’t ask where, because I won’t say!

–Experienced Richard Serra’s monumental Band and Sequence steel sculptures at LACMA for the first time, and in near solitude, to boot. I was really grateful to get them both to myself, as the experience was sensory and meditative. I was baffled, though, when I encountered an LED light piece in the corner. It was completely lacking wall text. I knew it was a work because its perimeter was demarcated with vinyl commanding, “Please do not touch,” and when I entered the throw of light, I set off a high-pitched alarm. Yet I’d never known Serra to do light-based work, and I’m sort of keen on these things. A new museum mystery remains unsolved.

–Upstairs at LACMA were a massive Barbara Kruger vinyl installation and a Koons, Warhol and Baldessari group show. The dude show was great, if not especially urgent (in fact, it was scheduled to close a year ago). Still, I hadn’t seen one of Koons’ balloon animals in the flesh in a while, and it was totally and surprisingly effective, accomplishing what I think the provocateur meant to do. That taut, shiny sculpture sort of turned me on. Awkward!

–In the other huge wing was a large survey of Beuys’ multiples. Shows of multiples, esp those tangential to Fluxus, can be wonderfully curio-esque or miserably archival and academic. I’ll admit, my art stamina was no match for the massive scope of this survey. I also had a hard time turning off my preparator brain, noticing the grey-vinyl-on-grey-paint instead of synthesizing the text, and being bothered by the lack of didactic texts in the vitrines. Still, it was cute to see Beuys’ famous sled sculpture, which Stephanie Syjuco is re-creating for 1969, a show at PS1 this fall.

–When you like a gallery, and their shows keep exceeding your expectations, you start to worry about becoming biased. This is what happens to me at Marc Foxx Gallery. I loved the Anne Collier show the last time I was in town, and I loved the group show with Jim Hodges and Frances Stark the preceding visit. This time round, I was slowly but surely impressed with a solo show by Matthew Ronay, who crafts fictionalized juju capes, hoods, staffs and other ritual objects. They’re completely engrossing.

Joel Kyack’s Knife Shop at Francios Ghebaly’s Kunsthalle LA in Chinatown was pretty great too. It’s a theatrical installation in the vein of low-brow, folky, male juvenile art, but it worked for me because it was hokey but believably dangerous. I mean, there’s a table of dozens of hand-made shanks. Anger at the world seems less pathetic (even if the work is in a ‘pathetic aesthetic’) when the artist has ground metal license plate holder and other bits of metal into long blades. These aren’t Nut N Fancy tactical knives; they’re fetishes of obsession and rage.

–The recession seems to hit Chinatown galleries especially hard, with many shops folding or moving, so it’s fantastic to see an example of rigor over sell-ability in this ‘hood. Rachel Khedoori’s installation at The Box is timely and political, and its visual interest is minimalist but nightmarish. It’s a museum-quality show at a small commercial gallery. Not sure how that happened, but it’s cool.

Art & Development, Travelogue

Art Highlights: Los Angeles

Santa Monica • Chinatown • Culver City • Fairfax

Click on the images to see a larger file.


Two days, 50+ galleries, 4 museums. Here’s what stood out:

Won Ju Lim at Patrick Painter
Maximum effect with minimum trickery: digital projectors, colored plexi vitrines, poured paint sculptures, and some fake plants with gooseneck clamp lamps. The effect is truly astounding, and somehow very pertinent after the Southland fires. Lim may be my new favorite artist.

Lauren Bonn at Ace
Bonn’s Not a Cornfield cornfield was massive in scope and social programming, and she fills Ace with massive and terrifying psychic spaces which are somehow related to the cornfield and her study of bees. The scale is stupefying. I don’t know how Bonn orchestrates it, or Ace sustains it. But it’s amazing.
A side note: Bonn is also exhibiting the residue of a conceptual drawing piece involving an object recording the marks of a cross-Pacific passage. Sounds very similar to my Regalos project, doesn’t it?

Glenn Ligon at Regen Projects
A perfect example of why object-based conceptual practice is great: there’s so little mass in Ligon’s show, but there’s so much to think about. Thirty-six near-identical gold and black text paintings and one black-out neon text sculpture. Joke paintings invoke Richard Prince, but the racial content begs more conflicted social terrain. The neon text sculpture, of course, resonates with other (White) Conceptualists’ work, but again, Ligon’s content diverges into a realm of his own determination. My next stop was to look up Ligon’s article, “Black Light: David Hammons and The Poetics of Emptiness” (Artforum, Sept. 2004), a really beautiful artist’s writing/critical essay/statement about making art, resistance, the artist’s refusal, the “emptying out the self as a critical strategy,” and light as a material.

Kim Rugg at Mark Moore
Twenty-six re-assembled newspaper covers comprise Rugg’s “Don’t Mention the War,” in which she’s sliced and diced single letters and alphabetized them. I think she’s set a record; she’s broken an OCD-Art barrier. I’m impressed with the artist’s commitment to this massive project in an non-archival, unstable material. Furthermore, the craftsmanship is amazing, with hardly any relief in the collage.
Also at Mark Moore was Kenichi Yokono. I’m including this because I would have liked to explore this medium about ten years ago, when I was really into carving woodcuts, but not only interested in making prints. Yokono carves wood as if for printing, then displays the blocks as paintings, screens or skateboard decks. The content is punk-skate-pop culture, and the cut-out forms seem a little all over the place to me, veering towards hand-carved souvenir shop variety.

Group show at Marc Foxx
Lots of text-based work floated my boat here, including Jim Hodges‘ gold-leaf “Mother” on vellum. Francis Stark exhibited more good-bad-ugly work, which was awkward but intriguing nonetheless with its Alhambra delivery truck sized hanging sequins. While some artists cultivate the artistic persona of a naif through the use of odd materials, you get the sense that she isn’t faking her intuitive process.

Wild Women group show at Kontainer
This quietly installed group show was very smart. Tessa Farmer has assigned herself the dreadful task of creating minature (think: convert to microns) skeletons and attaching them to insects, and then hanging the dead bugs from monofilament. It’s a mind-blowing artistic practice. Tami Ichino‘s ceramic faux geodes are beautiful objects that manifested her paintings’ spacey psychedelia into three dimensions.

Eric Beltz’ “HISTROY!” at Acuna-Hansen
I resisted these drawings. They’re too slick: the gothic calligraphy and cursive script is too cool, the dead presidents theme seems so trendy, the literary references are very pop-goth. But these drawings have to be seen in the flesh, and I have to admit, Beltz’ self-described “high definition drawing” provides a truly enjoyable, memorable experience. Bonus: the title is wickedly funny, yet fitting.

A Great Delicacy group show at Taylor de Cordoba
Clearly I don’t connect often with paintings these days, but Greg Parma Smith‘s painting of a Swiss Army knife with a fabric pattern that escapes the still-life’s margins surprised me. It didn’t seem to take itself so seriously, which is hard to find among photo realist works. Rebecca Veit‘s and Kathryn Hillier‘s tense food-porn photos were convincingly reminiscent of Sunset Magazine, and Danica Phelp‘s charts were pleasingly ‘drawing-ly,’ if one could make up a graphite corollary to ‘painterly.’ McKendree Key‘s color photocopy stop-motion animation had a nice storm-at-sea rhythm while man-made garbage tumbled by as if on a watery freeway.

I had the pleasure of crossing paths with some Halloween- and Thanksgiving-themed sponge painting on the tinted windows of a dim sum shop in Chinatown. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen sio mai rendered in florescent sponge paint.

No photos, just strong impressions:

Slater Bradley‘s CGI rain cloud and singin’ in the rain dandy at Blum and Poe.

William Pope.L‘s show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, “Art After White People.” Think about it.

Jamie Isenstein‘s deliciously restrained and curious “Welcome to the Egress” at Hammer Projects.

Francis Alÿs‘ “When Faith Moves Mountains,” also at the Hammer (whose exhibition title, “Politics of Rehearsal” could also be “Poetics of Reversals”).