Of the 352 recorded lynchings in California since 1850, 132 of the victims were Latin American or Mexican and another 80 were African American, American Indian, or Chinese. Artist and author Ken Gonzales-Day’s groundbreaking revisionist history Lynching in the West (2006) argues persuasively and poetically that racist extrajudicial executions targeted more than just Southern blacks. His current exhibition stems from this research while also incorporating trigger-happy white cops in this notorious lineage (a grid of nine shots of ruined Ferguson, MO, or Justice for Michael Brown, Los Angeles, CA, 2015, a photo of a woman raising a placard).
It’s a parallel that rings true yet the complexity of this premise quickly washes out in the reality of the show itself. One of the Ferguson shots depicts the Beauty part of a salon sign capping a pile of rubble. Hands Up, 2015, a large framed C-print, shows a black woman in period dress raising her hands to the sky; behind her, a line of present-day riot cops, their ranks thickened by Photoshop’s clone-stamp. These topical throwaways seem almost nuanced compared to Run Up, 2015, which amounts to eight slow-motion minutes of cliché xenophobia: big calipers measuring the skull of the condemned; a rope sailing over a bough; or laughable shots of old-timers swilling moonshine from backlit glass jugs. A number of vaguely sepia production stills, printed on textured paper, flank the video. If the artist means to churn our stomachs, amateurishly processed, illustrative, and (yes) didactic art is not the way. Keinholz’s Five Car Stud, 1969–72, and Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) attack this tough subject with both violence and grace. A third example: Gonzales-Day’s own book, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
After some youthful experimentation, Max Maslansky hit on the technique of painting blotchy pornographic figures, stain-thin on stretched bedsheets, punning on the aftermath of intercourse. In some cases, such as Gross Anatomy (Half-twin Bed) (all works 2015), this conceit seems to waver between titillation and satire. The scene depicts a pair of hands entering from the left to slide yellow panties off a pleasantly hot ass. The woman is similarly cropped at the midriff by the canvas; she mounts a stepladder in front of shelves of cartoonish “anatomical” specimens—a googly pair of eyes on a small stand ogling her inner thighs, and near her knee, a disembodied red nose.
This nose, in fact—an organ at once inflamed and clownish—has become a signal element of Maslansky’s porno pictures. Six Women (Half-double bed) depicts a row of seminudes in gauzy purple negligees, faced by garish, red-schnozzed monster heads—a gimmick that stands ready to negate the high seriousness of sex and/or painting. Otherwise, Maslansky’s spreads are Fauveishly charged by the tense composition of partners in the act—men, women, props (or just hands)—and moody, liquid palettes: retro blends of aquarium blue, bubble-gum pink, platinum blond, pleather red. This taut formal depth comes to the fore in Mummies (Twin-size bed), in which a reclining brunette seemingly yields to the harlequin lavender background of the bed linen itself, which hides two groping, pleasuring masked men. Maslansky’s figure-ground erotics are easy to enjoy, yet the anxiety remains that his sometimes flip style might only be a fling.
Lots of people make paintings these days; few are painters; rarer still are those who, like Jon Pestoni, are able to contort the suspicious self-evidence of their medium into something complex. His latest solo exhibition presents ten self-deprecating, layered works, each broad swath neurotically qualifying the last with technically virtuosic, singular style.
Pestoni has spent long enough in this nonfigurative territory that the gestural arcs, dry-brushed on top of colors already jostling to recede and pop, read as self-aware, increasingly inadequate redactions. Topcoats smeared with wide curls both efface what came beneath and paradoxically suggest figures. In the big canvas Underbite (all works 2015), the artist submerges outlines of teeth and gums in several layers of expressive slurry, as if to say that figuration still won’t shut up. Equally wry is the way his successive almost wash-thin scribblings-out suggest a sense of depth—an optical feat immediately mocked by the cat litter that lends zones of his otherwise smooth paintings a kind of bargain texture. Throughout, melding with the dusty bold primaries of old Chevy trucks, are—not what are called acid hues, but—per the title of Tums—antacid. Tame, pastel mint, dirtied with yellow, finishes the twin calamari-like tori of Untitled.
Pestoni’s advanced color maneuvers perform the anxiety of painting—which nonetheless overpaints a very real self-effacement. So what if every abstraction is a small battle with the self? Pestoni maintains that even when painting is a cruel joke, maybe art isn’t.
In his early work, Charles Gaines pursued a cool hunt for the unknown at the far end of the hyperrational. Sol LeWitt claimed that Conceptual artists were mystics rather rationalists, but his branch of the movement certainly employed the most rational means possible to reach their spiritual ends. With correspondence between Gaines and LeWitt on view in this early-career survey, “Gridwork 1974–1989,” the elder artist’s gnomic utterances function almost as geometric postulates, but Gaines takes that Conceptualist affection for algorithmic indices to their logical conclusion and beyond.
Staring down a grove of trees, Gaines carefully breaks them into constituent parts and grids them by color (in Falling Leaves #10, 1978) to gridded Plexiglas overlays transforming black-and-white deadpan snapshots into richly hued brocades (Numbers and Trees V, Landscape #8: Orange Crow, 1989). His arbitrary but exhaustive systems, with their dependence on precise handwork and no discernable utility, can only mean the exercise is done for some other purpose. Seurat becomes a weird reference and not just in their procedural deployment of color, but also because the Impressionist obsessed over his own system, finding through science a rigid hypothesis for pictorial and emotional harmony (though Gaines clearly favors the joy of the process).
After 1989, issues of race, class, and power began to define Gaines’s material. Instead of trees or the lyric whirl of Trisha Brown dancing (“Motion: Trisha Brown Dance,” 1980–81), Edward Said and Frantz Fanon began to cameo in more explicitly political work. With a restrained quietude, Gaines’ early examinations into structures that underlie perception began to hint at other systems, those crafted by human's and marked by their inequalities, and which also truly shape the way we see.
A long projection wall cleaves the space in two. The first half, daylit, contains a veritable chromed forest of warped, Seussian C-stands, composed along with piles of pristine apple boxes, potted plants, and the occasional parabolic-mirror pod or monitor. Here, the accoutrements of photo-media production are pretentiously made into sculpture, the artist expressing, barely, an attempt at expression.
The second portion is a darkened theater screening Tribe’s three-channel video The Aphasia Poetry Club (all works 2015), narrated by three members of the titular group. “I’m aphasic,” says one, “and you are an artist, but we have a commonality: trying to express ourselves.” Over broad, beautifully edited shots of minerals and fruit, which the speakers haltingly describe, as well as CT-scanned images of arboreal blood vessels (aphasia is often linked to stroke), each narrator tells the story of how they suddenly, seemingly at random, became stricken with the inability to process language. The video ends in a kind of poignantly zany cartoon, envisioned by one sufferer, a screenwriter: The Loste Note (from which the show takes its title). A spider conductor leads a choir of singing pill bugs and shrubs: “I can’t speak, but I can sing / I have seen some awful things, / but it’s OK when we sing together.”
This backstory reframes the sculptures, allowing them to be read as practical objects, “things,” abstracted and bent toward poetry. Two sets of silk-screen prints hang opposite each other: Stroop color word test / Moondust, a simple set of mismatched color words used to detect brain damage, and Is Popcorn Alive?, another cognitive diagnostic tool—here reframed as text art. Other sculptures including minerals and a miniature mill illustrate the narrators’ stated interests, and seem to suggest a therapeutic utility—which the artist’s recontextualization subverts, somehow compromises, yet to which Tribe’s art aspires.
A perfectly sculpted, slightly larger-than-life-size head of yellow salted butter with the exact face of the artist, including her eyebrows, her lashes, and her hair part carved precisely down a yellowed scalp, is what greeted visitors at the opening of “As Above So Below Zero Zero Zero.” Butterface, 2015, is Dylan Mira’s oleaginous likeness, with eyes serenely closed and a slight smile, that was served up with various loaves of artisanal bread and knives, encouraging viewers to partake. The piece blurs the roles of artist and viewer, as visitors literally consumed her, while problematizing art’s easy consumption. Popular culture’s misogynist references to the fuckability of women (“but her face”), questions of race (is yellowing a whitening?), and the performativity of decomposing things all play about the piece in tides of swelling, conflicted possibility.
Mira’s practice radically multiplies meaning to both resist and critique conventional forms of narrative, the stories they make possible, and those that insist on telling them. Her video A Woman Is Not a Woman, 2015, threads together elements as seemingly disparate as the silence of the Little Mermaid, the beheading of a mermaid statue, female divers of South Korea’s Jeju province, and a mother’s advice on maintaining firm facial skin, opening links among them that disturb as much as they connect. Frames interrupt and obstruct other frames, numbers fall in and out of sequence—what we see diverges constantly from what we hear, and Google fails to translate but instead produces poetics. This is Mira’s world of pleasure and proliferation: the deliberate dismantling of conventional signs and their elements that makes space for meanings and beings that remain yet to come.
The specialization of “social insects,” such as bees and ants, is a tempting parallel with Communism in action; the difference, though, per Karl Marx, is that humans have free will. What ant, for example, would film itself crawling over the cracked ex-grave of Marx—a monument that now points toward his current monument in England? Leave it to artist Milena Bonilla to do so—her Stone Deaf, 2009–10, puts the insects’ segmented bodies to work as symbolic capital.
The installation An Enchanted Forest, 2014, traces another poignant anamorphosis prompted by twentieth-century Communist states. A video tells the story of red deer on the Bavaria-Czechoslovakia border that were divided by the Iron Curtain, differentiating over decades into two distinct populations. Even after the fall of the wall, the two sets of does refuse to cross no-man’s-land. An accompanying wall work draws the paths of the animals in string, reproducing a mystic-looking sigil taken from the cover of a book on the subject (included near the exhibition’s start). Bonilla’s piece offers a striking metaphor for how the lines of the Cold War still mark scars, divides, and ties.
Elsewhere, the artist’s symbolism is more heavy-handed. In Third, 2015, two large balls of black thread, resting on low plywood plinths, represent the lengths of the Iron Curtain and the US/Mexico border—a display whose formal elegance negates whatever sympathies exist between these two infamous fences. The video Monologue of a Dizzy Beast, 2013, pairs footage of animal-themed monuments from Versailles to Vatican City with extremely loud scenes of coins spinning to a stop. Quotes about the fearsomeness of beasts appear over the images, didactic despite their reduced context: “power” crudely figured by “money.” More productive to unpack the Iron Curtain fairy tale of Enchanted Forest than to read oppression written plainly.
One could easily group Anne Truitt’s drawings and sculptures under the art-historical category of Minimalism. Some have done so. Indeed, the black-and-white works currently on view undoubtedly exhibit the clean geometry and monochrome surfaces endemic to the now familiar—mostly male—canon. Truitt’s three-dimensional works similarly confront the categories of architecture, painting, and sculpture with a malleability that became ubiquitous by the end of the 1960s. White: Four, 1962, for instance, conveys both the austerity of a tombstone and the domesticity of white wood siding in its slender, ridged form. Yet there are fundamental differences between Truitt and some of her better-known male contemporaries, whose objects came from steel and industry. Truitt's works were born of craft and carpentry, meticulously layered with paint. In North, 1963, the mostly black surface of a tripartite, monolithic block has also been treated with a tiered field of dark, shadowed green, a color that barely registers as more than a shift in light. The “black” trapezoidal drawing, 28 Dec ’62, upon closer inspection, reveals faint streaks of twilight purple that simulate iridescence. In both pieces, Truitt cultivates multiplicity with the most singular and rigid of hues, rendering black as a color in flux.
By accepting the rare form of perceptual intimacy that these works propose, the viewer is also directed to aesthetic flaws and inconsistencies,subtle blemishes that collect at the work’s peripheries: peeling paint, rough edges, and stained surfaces. Truitt anticipated these signs of aging. The artist wrote she choose wood so that her sculptures would "disintegrate in time at something comparable to the rate at which we human beings disintegrate.” If Truitt sought a kind of equivalence between form and experience, it might be found within these intervals or breaks, where there are moments of separation but also contingency.
Jeffrey Stuker’s new video, Fulgora Laternaria, 2012-2015, unfolds over nine minutes in punishing detail. The camera swoops and bobs around a winged Amazonian insect resting on a marble slab while an Attenborough-like narrator fires verbal salvos at the inert creature. This is not just any insect: Fulgora laternaria is famous for mimicry without any apparent goal or source. It can resemble both a juvenile alligator or a peanut—and scientists find that neither ruse saves it from being eaten by predators.
The slabbed insect appears dead, but as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that this particular specimen never lived: It is a painstakingly accurate drawing made in a computer. Stuker goes so far as to model a specific lens with which to “film” the “insect.” The obvious target here is photography—in the “What happens to it after computers?” vein of inquiry. Even the title of the exhibition, “This Lantern Lacks a Candle,” returns us to that primal scene of projected photographs, magic lanterns and the kinescope. This insect is the most semiotically overdetermined being ever—the sheer inexplicability of its camouflage seems to undo a rationalist view of evolution, in a way that enchanted the Surrealists, Lacan, and a swath of others. Now that anything can be “photographed,” even if it has never existed, this fantastic insect, whose evolution produced a strategy without a goal, stands as an icon for an age of images without referents.
A plot summary of Asha Schechter’s film The Bucket, 2015: A quadracopter drone, hungry from a long night surveilling Los Angeles from above, decides to spin by the Western Avenue Kentucky Fried Chicken early one morning, only to find the restaurant is closed. The drone flies around and around the structure, even buzzing through the drive-through, but no luck. This KFC is an LA landmark: A Gheryesque deconstruction of the iconic chicken bucket explodes out of the ground, spiraling upward, fracturing and twisting as it goes—an alarmingly forward architectural statement for a fast-food chain, even for a flagship franchise.
The video is remarkable as much for the oddity of its subject as for what surrounds it. Lazy early-morning traffic moves through the streets; in effortless synchronization two cars turn left into the same intersection from opposite directions and move away again in perfect concord. As the quadracopter leaves we see the sunlight imprisoned in the morning haze over the city, all pearlescent and ground-glass-smooth—there’s nothing quite like it. These details transmit a kind of gentle optimism in the work and give it an air of curiosity as opposed to a rote critique of our commercialized Western lifestyle, a real risk for a film where a robot probes a brand known for the worst excesses of fried, factory-farmed food. The Bucket instead feelslike a study of how weird objects that we create interact on their own, relating to one another in a language we don’t speak. The feeling that soon we will become as dully familiar with how things look from the air as we are with how they look from the ground almost fades away, revealing that morning in LA can be really great, and even our drones know it.
Rainbow-colored amoebas are among the sculptures posing with selfie sticks in Rachel Harrison’s latest exhibition. Banned in over forty art institutions worldwide, the selfie stick perhaps best expresses the pictorial excesses of our time, collapsing the distinction between author and subject. In addition to this object, Harrison also assimilates other types of support structures—easels, pedestals, and even the metal framing that braces the white cube itself, the latter invoking Michael Asher. A plaster busts rests on raw plywood while cinder blocks, covered in Styrofoam and painted in a Dr. Seuss palette, hug aluminum studs. Elsewhere, a framed print of Marilyn Monroe leans against the sheetrock of an old gallery wall. It’s a construction site meets sci-fi wonderland, a futuristic landscape that echoes the way our identities themselves are endlessly constructed and reconstructed through new technologies.
Far from a jeremiad against what’s been called the “wand of narcissism,” Harrison examines how the selfie stick both endows and jails individuals with a new agency to depict ourselves as we wish to be seen. In the exhibit, this power also extends to the inanimate: The selfie stick brings the sculptures to life, each seeming to crane toward the phone in search of its own reflection. As the abstract forms face off against the tiny screens, they seem almost human.
Olaf Breuning’s latest presentation features a row of mural-scale oval stickers crammed with a circus of humans, ranging from life- to palm-sized, all wrangling their own modern problems. In Life III (all works 2015), a man slumps under the weight of dozens of empty champagne bottles. Above him, a woman applies a plunger to her face. Another is covered head to toe in iPhones; undaunted, she places a call (Life IV). Throughout, tiny figures wearing hundred-dollar-bill beach towels prance around like money imps.
Others grip “shaped balloons”—a beer mug, an Elmo—in further recourse to the iconic conditions reflected in emojis (though there are none here, Breuning’s concurrent show at Metro Pictures in New York swarms with curling poops, old-woman faces, and emoting cats). Less tech, but darker still, is a suite of over-cute ink drawings; Sound of Love, the most complex of these, depicts a town of kissing things—trees, cars, snakes—even two airplanes smooching nose cones in midair.
Maybe Breuning channels the neurotic optimism of twenty-first century Western civilization. His faux-naif mode of choice, however, offers only a parody of insight—exemplified by a pun from Life II, where a man rides a designer vacuum on which is written “LIFE SUCKS.” The result is a depressing trip through smooth circles of bad faith—from black humor to mockery to a totally detached self-satire—wherein the work’s tautological vision of a just-barely-bearable life creates a gallery-sized world where it’s true.
Women have often been written out of revolutionary history, but Nao Bustamante’s multimedia exhibition “Soldadera” reignites the figure of the female soldier for the present moment. Soldaderas fought alongside men during the Mexican Revolution. Inspired by a pilgrimage she made to visit the last living soldadera, a woman named Leandra Becerra Lumbreras, Bustamante’s show expresses a utopian wish that one might transmit gestures of care, protection, and ferocity across historical time.
Bustamante is best known as a performance artist; this show combines video performance with a reconceptualization of Mexican women’s historical experience through the materiality of fiber and photographs. The yellow fighting costumes on display are made out of Kevlar®, a synthetic material most famous for its use in bulletproof vests. Modeled after early-twentieth-century styles worn by actual soldaderas (with puffed sleeves and floor-length skirts), the dresses function as a kind of retroactive armor, their sturdiness contrasting with the delicate cotton needlework made by Lumbreras, on display in vitrines (Gallina, Post Revolucíon, circa 1920, and Peacock in Profile, circa 1978). Lumbreras herself (reportedly age 127 at the time of filming) can be seen in a stereoscopic video installation titled Chac-Mool, 2015, wordlessly expressing herself through clapping hands.
The exhibition includes a five-minute looping video intervention into Sergei Eisenstein’s legendary unfinished film, ¡Que viva México!, one unfilmed segment of which was titled “Soldadera.” Bustamante’s realization of this missing reel uses black-and-white archival photographs as a historical backdrop before which vibrant women in yellow Kevlar® dresses dance triumphantly. Bustamante does not attempt to mimic Eisenstein’s cinematic style, but rather her video serves as an invocation of the soldadera’s radical spirit for postmodernity.
Poetry, said Robert Lowell in 1960, divides between the Raw and the Cooked. Today we might rephrase the split as the Relatable and the Pretentious—perennially popular emotive verse; and insular, academic gestures conceived as text. Cocurator Vanessa Place practices the latter. Included is her Statement of Facts No. 28, 2012, one of a series of silk screens of transcripts from appellate rape trials (Place is both a poet and a lawyer), “stripped,” insofar as such a thing is possible, of everything but truth. What survives redaction are phrases such as simply “The man was naked.” See also Lisa Jarrett’s How Many Licks? II (Conditioned #13,763), 2015—hundreds of suckers made of beer, sugar, and African American hair—a racially charged work whose punny title reads, in this context, as cynical wordplay. Indeed, “The Slick & The Sticky” doesn’t state a new binary so much as inflect, somewhere in between, the word sick, as in feeble, sweaty, broken, possibly contagious. Thus Antoine Catala’s motion-activated, plastic punctuation marks (>(///)< and </3, both 2014). Impaled on motorized rods, when triggered, the sculptures lurch across the floor.
Against these viscerally cryptic works others are flat and cold. Jacob Kassay’s brass-lined “conversation pits” invert Minimalist sculpture into a discursive framework—yet an unappealing one, set in an antisocial, unshaded gravel lot. But Why Does Fred Sandback’s Work Make Me Cry?, a recording of a 2014 lecture by Andrea Fraser, otherwise casts Minimalism’s “impossible” empty spaces (delineated by a bit of yarn, a few works of art) as heartrending absence. “Is there an identification,” she asks, “of the washing away of excess of form and the washing away of an excess of feeling?” Fraser weeps as she reads—at last, melting the Relatable and the Pretentious into the tragedy of academic affect.
For his latest outing, Joe Sola lets a live miniature horse named Riba roam free in this gallery, which has been transformed to resemble the dining room of a well-off collector. The horse’s fur has been painted in an abstract design suggesting fanciful reinterpretations of ungulate fur patterns (giraffe, zebra, gazelle), running heavy on the red and brown. Her presence is both calming and inscrutable.
Riba seems quite content to wander around the small gallery space, standing patiently before paintings and drawings by Matthew Chambers, Sayre Gomez, Rudy K. Slobeck, and others. This is not a group show, however; one of Sola’s most interesting moves is to use these artworks as part of an interactive installation. All of the pieces are abstractions (except for two small figurative paintings, which seem to function as portraits of the fictional collector and his wife). Likewise, Riba is a kind of living abstract painting. Just as these works are valuable within a highly cultivated economy, so are mini horses—they have, since the seventeenth century, been bred as exotic pets. Sola provokes dialogue about the economics of collecting. How does cultural value cohere around objects of visual pleasure, including things as disparate as living creatures and art?
A. L. Steiner’s first solo effort at Blum & Poe makes a formal presentation of the personal photo archive she has exhibited, in parts, for years. Meanwhile, a projection on the far back wall shows a website tracking deforestation, pollution, and other dire metrics of the world’s collapse. Clearly there is no more time for bullshit—except, maybe, that most exquisite bullshit of love. Love Changes the Lover, 2015, a big, framed digital collage, unites a ravaged ATM and bales of iridescent e-waste with the prosaic warmth of people gazing at the ocean or out windows. On a long wire, two cliché views of ocean bracket several unframed portraits of the artist’s coterie (Highlites: Week 1, 2005–14) in poses from candid to confrontational, graphically nude to all dressed up. Even the most unguarded moments feel curated: one friend’s breasts tipped with paint echo another’s top-surgery scars.
Steiner’s “confessional” documents of her circle refuse gloss and deny sleaze; and ignore photographic tradition. Instead, her photos take up space—gallery space, conversation space, mind space—representing, and producing, the artist’s community. Grounding the more exhibitionist work is an elegant birchwood desk and set of drawers filled with 4x6 photos (Selexxx: 1995–2025, with Shin Okuda, 2015). Courtesy of a librarian, visitors can select from dozens of categories (“Scars/ bruises” follows “Ryan’s Wedding LA”) then flip through stacks of prints on a brass tray. This mediated, fetishized, yet unculled version of Steiner’s archive runs contrary to the relative permanence of the collages—and the relative frailty of digital images—while reiterating the artist’s simple insistence that her experiences have value. Such intimacy appears without trying to please. Yet there’s also something powerful about all these glorified snapshots of someone else’s friends: They’re not for you.
As lawns are let to die across a drought-stricken Southland, the Center for Land Use Interpretation mounts an exhibition, curated collectively by the CLUI staff, dedicated to our love of grass. Or rather, of golf, the game that needs lots of it. We learn, in an introductory didactic, that America’s golf courses stitched together would cut a swath a mile wide from coast to coast. Green Astroturf, crunchy underfoot, swaddles the gallery floor, complete with a golf bag and putter, a hole, and a flag. Covering one wall is a photo of a pond-side green at murky sundown.
You might think you know what golf is, yet the Center’s analysis, illustrated by a dozen prosaic ground views of area courses, opens up new metaphors. For example, the idea that the game’s tripartite structure—teeing off, traversing the fairway, and putting the ball into the hole—symbolizes birth, life, and reproduction, a dramatized planting of seed.
Buy it, or don’t. But this innate knack for the ridiculousness of observed facts is the closest CLUI gets to criticism. Their bureaucratic art, however, blends curiosity and concern in a scrutiny that seldom flatters their subjects. While not roasted outright, the whole game starts to seem perverse (if also a bit charming in its folly)—a fertility dance as pathetic as plastic grass. Indeed, few games involve as much virile green. In this meeting of plant and human species, who is playing whom?