Ashton Cooper

  • View of “Em Rooney: Women in Fiction,” 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 “Lauren Halsey,” 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 “Always put the rock back,” 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

  • View of “Laura Owens,” 2019–20.

    Laura Owens

    Visitors to Laura Owens’s exhibition “Books and Tables” might be surprised to find that the show consists of just that. Although she has been showing her handmade books for more than ten years, Owens has never before displayed them in a solo presentation without an accompanying installation of paintings. In the absence of the latter, the viewer’s eyes are pushed away from the walls and down toward the ninety-nine books spread out across six tables. Made in a wide variety of colors, sizes, configurations, and paper stocks, the books each ask for a slightly different mode of engagement. Some pop

  • Naudline Pierre, Love Becomes Her, 2019, oil on panel, 34 × 48".

    Naudline Pierre

    In Naudline Pierre’s eight-foot-tall painting Lest You Fall (all works 2019), a tangerine-tinged nude drops out of the sky—head first, legs flailing, arms spread wide—into a field of black flames reaching up from below. Four winged creatures (some might call them angels) plunge after her, using their wide crimson, teal, and hickory wings to scoop up her plummeting body. Meanwhile, a dove swoops in to touch her outstretched finger with its beak. Our rescued heroine, who figured at the center of every piece in Pierre’s exhibition “For I Am With You Until the End of Time,” called to mind a Renaissance

  • Cynthia Daignault, Elegy (House on Fire), 2019, oil on linen, 64 × 96".

    Cynthia Daignault

    In Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s 1945 essay “Cézanne’s Doubt,” the philosopher used the painter’s work to propose that an individual’s process of applying paint to canvas could serve as an index of the artist’s phenomenological experience of the world. “His painting was paradoxical,” Merleau-Ponty wrote. “He was pursuing reality without giving up the sensuous surface, with no other guide than the immediate impression of nature.” While Cézanne repetitively painted Mont Sainte-Victoire from life, Cynthia Daignault has, for the past five years, devoted herself to picturing the American landscape—actual

  • View of “Harmony Hammond,” 2019.

    Harmony Hammond

    Harmony Hammond first laid out a case for abstraction in her 1977 essay “Feminist Abstract Art: A Political Viewpoint.” Building on the feminist maxim that the personal is political, Hammond contended that abstraction is political because repetitive mark-making is a “record of present feeling.” From the early days of her practice, Hammond framed her abstract works as “visual diaries” capable of communicating their maker’s identifications and desires. In Hammond’s formulation, however, abstraction is not a mode of expressing the “real” self or the truths of the unconscious, as had been explained