Ashton Cooper

  • Anita Steckel, My Town, ca. 1969–74, gelatin silver print, 37 × 49".

    Anita Steckel

    In the late Anita Steckel’s large-scale gelatin silver print My Town, ca. 1969–74, a busty recumbent nude stretches out across several city blocks on Manhattan’s East Side, resting her elbow on a squat little building just to the right of the United Nations. Nonchalantly making the skyline her own chaise longue, the woman possesses a body transparent enough to reveal the architecture behind her. Pictured with Steckel’s own face, the figure collapses images of private and public during the same time that “The personal is political” became a feminist rallying cry. In an emphatic assertion of

  • Thornton Dial, People Will Watch the American Tiger Cat, 1988, corrugated tin, epoxy patching compound, and enamel on wood, 48 × 72 × 9".

    Thornton Dial

    Thornton Dial’s nearly thirty-year career in the art world began in the late 1980s, when the artist was then approaching his sixtieth birthday. This show of about a dozen works, titled “Thornton Dial: The Earliest Years, 1987–1989” and curated by writer and artist Phillip March Jones, took us back to that moment and to an oft-repeated origin tale—one that featured prominently in Dial’s 2016 </span>New York Times obituary. The story goes that Dial didn’t make artworks or even fully grasp the concept of what those in the know might call “high art” until he was visited at his home in Bessemer,

  • Xylor Jane, Walking to Your House (Counting by Threes), 2020, ink and oil on panel, 18 1&#8260;2 × 19 1&#8260;2".

    Xylor Jane

    When tasked with explaining Xylor Jane’s paintings, writers often start with the numbers. They explain that Jane uses magic squares, prime palindromes, and counting spirals to construct her systematic, grid-based paintings of geometric forms and numerals. They often comment on the exactitude of her nearly lenticular application of brightly hued pigments and wrap it all up with references to the transcendent, the occult, the magical, or the cosmic. This pairing—matter and spirit—has been identified by several art historians as the special paradox of modern painting. In her 1978 essay “Grids,”

  • Bri Williams, Precipice, 2020, metal, soap, curtain rod, 45 × 45 1/2 × 46 1/2".

    Bri Williams

    “The Ghost in Me”—the title of Bri Williams’s first solo show in Los Angeles—could easily be read as a self-descriptive statement written by the sculptures themselves, almost all of which contained spectral and slowly decomposing objects trapped inside shells made of hard soap. Expanding on her use of this material as a sculptural medium, Williams created these works by placing found items with personal significance—such as a crucifix; Mardi Gras masks; and an antique sign featuring Reddy Kilowatt, the former mascot for US electric companies—into molds that get filled with cut-up and molten bars

  • View of &#8220;Em Rooney: Women in Fiction,&#8221; 2020 at François Ghebaly, Los Angeles. Photo: Em Rooney and François Ghebaly.
    interviews December 15, 2020

    Em Rooney

    For her first solo show in Los Angeles—on view at François Ghebaly from December 12 to January 9—Em Rooney unveils a new body of sculpture alongside her photographs. While Rooney is known for creating sculptural framing devices for her photos, this marks her first exhibition of stand-alone sculptures, almost all of which assume the form of flowers. An emphasis on tactility and process has always been evident in Rooney’s photographic “containers,” which deftly merge two differently valued modes of knowledge acquisition: sight and touch. Focusing on sculptural forms allows Rooney to continue

  • Senga Nengudi, Sandmining B, 2020, sand, pigment, nylon mesh, sound, dimensions variable.

    Senga Nengudi

    During this past summer’s groundswell of demonstrations against police brutality across the United States, Senga Nengudi was putting the final touches on her installation Sandmining B, 2020, for her solo exhibition here. Inevitably, along with Bulemia, 1988/2018, another large-scale installation in the show, the works feel marked by these historic national expressions of pain and outrage—not to mention the decades of protest that preceded them. And yet, despite so much anguish and horror, Nengudi’s show manages to be a balm—a reclamation of Black history grounded in hope for the future. Like

  • Joe Light, Joe Light, 1986, house paint on plywood, 22 × 13 1/4".

    Joe Light

    Joe Light’s painting Kiera, 1989, is an undulating, almost corporeal landscape anchored by three red hills set against a light-blue sky. In the pink foreground are a trio of pronged forms that resemble the branches of denuded trees—or perhaps even desert wanderers with their arms outstretched to heaven. The composition calls to mind Georgia O’Keeffe’s early abstractions based on New York’s Lake George, in which sloping ovoid forms become mountains and clouds. But zooming out to take in Kiera, alongside the seven other house-paint-on-plywood works at Institute 193, the viewer might have apprehended

  • Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Figure (0X5A0918), 2019, pigment print, 75 × 50".

    Paul Mpagi Sepuya

    Paul Mpagi Sepuya makes images that coyly invite close looking. In what are essentially studio portraits, Sepuya photographs his subjects—himself, his friends, and his cameras—in mirror reflections that are often doubly echoed on the luminescent screens of iPhones held aloft. The intricate relay of signifying surfaces in Sepuya’s photos may bring to mind Foucault’s essay on Velázquez’s 1656 painting Las Meninas. Explaining the viewer’s relationship to the painting’s ambiguous subject, the theorist writes that the painting contains “a whole complex network of uncertainties, exchanges, and feints,”

  • RJ Messineo, 4:00 Universe, 2020, oil and wood on canvas, 8' × 19' 2".

    RJ Messineo

    RJ Messineo’s recent works emphasize painting as a process of accumulation. In ten pieces gradually assembled over twelve months, Messineo painted the view from her studio window, recording fluctuating atmospheric and seasonal conditions in abstracted strokes, scribbles, and patches of color. The exhibition’s largest painting lent the show its title, “4:00 Universe.” That hour marks for Messineo a sweet spot in the studio, a moment of clarity before the day’s light dissolves. The title also illuminated a certain logic in the works on view: Each encompassed moments as small as 4:00 (a cloud

  • View of &#8220;Lauren Halsey,&#8221; 2020.

    Lauren Halsey

    Stepping into Lauren Halsey’s latest installation was akin to entering a three-dimensional mise en abyme. The wall-to-wall phantasmagoria—built primarily out of modules of large stacked cubes that were part mirror, part painted sign, part color field—seemed to be constantly in motion as the silver floors, mirrored reflections, and overhead lights animated the images and hues into a kaleidoscopic collage of sculptural media. The experience of moving deeper into the space, through the snaking aisles, was overwhelming, but mesmerizingly so.

    Halsey’s subject matter is South Central Los Angeles, often

  • Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, Moving Backwards, 2019, HD video projection, color, sound, 20 minutes.

    Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz

    In a glowing fifteen-foot-wide projection, a figure walks into the video frame, taking measured steps despite the fact that the individual’s orange sneakers are on backward, such that the toes are awkwardly pushed into the shoes’ heels. Over the next nineteen minutes, four other performers move in and out of the slowly tracking frame, carrying out various other reverse gestures in brief vignettes. The premise of the film, titled Moving Backwards, 2019, is explained in a letter written by the artists Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz on the occasion of the work’s debut this past summer in the

  • View of &#8220;Always put the rock back,&#8221; 2020.
    picks February 28, 2020

    Aidan Koch

    Aidan Koch plucked the title of her show from a bulletin board at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, where a child had left behind the unassuming advice to “always put the rock back” over beach-dwelling creatures. This spirit of observation and curiosity tempered by carefulness and consideration unites the distinct bodies of work on view, which include recent drawings and an animation in the graphic style that Koch is known for. A charming series of sculptures literalizes the show’s title: The artist has placed rocks on miniature beds made to fit the bodies of animals in her