Benjamin Weissman

  • diary May 20, 2007

    Garden of Eatin'

    Los Angeles

    Last weekend, I visited the Hammer Museum three times in thirty-three hours to check out “Eden’s Edge: Fifteen LA Artists,” the Hammer’s fourth invitational and Gary Garrels’s first major exhibition since taking the position of chief curator and deputy director of exhibitions and public programs. First, I attended a press preview early Friday morning. Participating artist Matt Greene, with whom I’d been snowboarding the previous three days (Mammoth Mountain, with its perfect mid-May snow), graciously drove. Garrels gave what the professionals call a “walk-through” for the assembled journos with

  • Sue Williams

    Sue Williams has taken doodling to remarkable places, the grimmest areas a mind and body can go, or rather the doodle has taken her and her audience there. Tidbits of her autobiography—that she was physically abused by slimes—are by now well-known. In her paintings trauma is viewed with both objectivity and a dark mirth. Part of their power, why they have worked, is in their presentation of a type of comedy no one had really seen before—what Americans are now afraid to call black humor—especially from a woman, and in what medium? Painting? The bluntest approach to picturemaking in a long time.


    FROM FRANK STELLA’S fat and fucked-up objets de hood to the highly caffeinated überabstractions of artists like David Reed, Fiona Rae, and Fabian Marcaccio, ultraneurotic painting continues to make the global rounds. In a quest for true emptiness, every conceivable nonrepresentational utterance—whether the hand of the artist is manifestly present or totally absent (well, how did those brush strokes get there, Doctor?)—has been well rehearsed, walked through, and played out. Sure, the fate of contemporary painting is sublime/tragic: painting as painting, or painting as “painting” (the canvas as

  • Jory Felice

    Jory Felice’s exhibition was one of the raddest shows in the first half of 1995. In a universe of either the “anal retentive control freak show” or the “super ‘fuck it’ slackfest installation,” Felice has quietly gone about the business of making amazing pictures. Retreating into the lush imagination of tender boyhood, Felice conjures a to-scale cardboard model of his own ’83 Toyota Corolla. Held up by strings from the ceiling, the fragile auto sat in the middle of the gallery like a big, shy fool in gorilla drag.

    Felice took the quintessential L.A. emblems, the car and the freeway, and built a

  • Nancy Evans

    There are several independent painters working in L.A. who do strange things and don’t give a rat’s ass about the worldwide hit parade. Or if they do, the parade never went around their block and they learned to live without it. This isn’t to say that these painter are unambitious, it’s just that they have better things to do than look over their shoulders for applause and cuddles, winking knowingly at last year’s model and throwing fits about their new-and-improvedness. They’re more into freaky problems in the studio, the weirdness of making marks, colors and surfaces, the intoxicating language

  • (Sigh)

    IF A CURATOR from a large institution asks you, a young artist, to be in a group show entitled “Liver Tartare: The Blanche DuBois in Us All,” you cross your fingers, try not to be cynical, and say, Yes. The same goes for “Bad Girls West.” You either produce specific works that address the idea of a girl being bad (beating up boys or playing with yourself) or you forget about the theme and simply show your current work. After all, you were invited to be in the show because you or your art are apparently synonymous with badness. Maybe you drink too much, you’ve had sex more than once, or you don’t

  • Thomas Trosch

    Thomas Trosch is an amusing, playful painter whose work could easily be dismissed as idiotic, as the farthest thing possible from serious painting. Remember Philip Guston, whose audience said, “See ya Phil,” the minute a figure stepped onto his buttery abstractions and rerouted his career. Fans and practitioners of “pure painting” get hives if they see a recognizable form—or even worse, text. Reading words on this precious surface destroys the potential for a voyage to the bottom of the sublime. By contrast, Trosch kind of paints like a baby. The paintings look like they’ve had a tantrum. In

  • Ann Preston

    Ann Preston is one of the strangest, most inspired, reclusive, and underrated artists working in Los Angeles. For over ten years the 51-year-old Preston, a 1980 graduate of CalArts, has produced an astonishing body of beautiful, disturbing work. But since her work doesn’t assault the viewer in the shrill vernacular of dildos, blood, sex organs, and lipstick, and since she is too old to bask in the glory accorded the diaper-clad art pups who tumble fresh from the MFA crib, she is relegated to cult status—an artist’s artist. Preston, whose strategy is subtle, her esthetic infinitely more complex

  • Don Suggs

    Entitled “Old Genres (photoworks),” Don Suggs’ recent show included landscapes, still lifes, and nudes covering, with encyclopedic range and ambition, a fair portion of the world’s terrain. In Periscope (Balthusian Garden), 1992, an image of a landscape is repeated twice to recreate the scene as it appears when viewed through a panoramic camera, a juxtaposition that reproduces the effect of looking from the left and then the right. From a distance, the rounded sides, flat tops and bottoms of the image itself take on the appearance of two oversized razor blades. Amid the dense greenery are two

  • Tom Knechtel

    The world within Tom Knechtel’s drawings and paintings consists of two principle elements: animals and sex. Under that potent big top the material expands and divides in a carnival of raging extremes—psychogiddy riffs on fairy-tale and childrens’ book illustration; the flexibility and beauty of paint; the disruption of composition; and decoration frenzy. Knechtel’s pictures detail the extravagant inner-workings of the body, animal and human, to the point where the artist becomes a dandyish vivisectionist who presents a strong visual spiel about individuality, solitude, and teeming feelings of

  • Thaddeus Strode

    Thaddeus Strode employs the Zenned-Out-Euphoric-Get-Stupid Principle to great comic effect. It is a way of thinking/not thinking, of messing with one’s playthings, that’s often misunderstood. Strode’s objects respond to the critical dig “Not going to learn anything big here” with a “You’re damn right and to hell with you”. But the work isn’t that rude. It’s kind of friendly and only demands close attention in order to charm and babble, not reprimand or elucidate. It’s a modest and astute body of work, loaded with and simultaneously drained of possibilities. Strode wants you to believe, to get

  • Jan Munroe

    Dying dads invariably push witnessing children off psychic cliffs: into a hotbed of treacherous narrative material. The desire to inflate a father to mythic proportions, and to kill him again in the retelling of the story that terminated his life, might be considered a natural, or historically intuitive, (oedipal) urge.

    Writer/performer Jan Munroe addressed the death of his father under the title Nothing Human Disgusts Me, 1992, and managed to keep this gargantuan project small: the tour includes his extended southern family (a picaresque group) and his once brilliant, now schizophrenic

  • Mitchell Syrop

    Mitchell Syrop’s gargantuan installation of approximately 900 high-school-yearbook photos possessed a peculiar subtlety. The aluminum supports, which Syrop calls “extrusions,” and the gridlike stacking of rectangular images lent this work an industrial, living-on-top-of-eachother, cell-block quality. Blown up via laser printing to 8 1/2 by 11 inches, the photographs were assembled into ten separate male and female Caucasian “constellations” of 500, 300, 24, 12, etc., ranging in size from 14 by 27 feet to 24 by 35 inches.

    Though these photographs reeked of institutional control—as in a roll

  • David Humphrey

    David Humphrey’s paintings are a vision of family members in the Freudian funhouse, a whirlpool of holes and poles, of leering toothy smirkers with painfully swollen ears. There’s an everybody’s-talking-about-me quality, a buzzy self-consciousness thing going on that jumps from painting to painting and causes the entire body of work to hum with big-time anxiety. A sort of laugh-track esthetic is operating here, in which gaps pave the way to humiliation. These paintings kick around ideas of carnality, of growing up, of composing a facial identity for the camera, of being found out—the compulsion

  • Michael Joaquín Grey

    In Michael Joaquín Grey’s show the trouble begins with the first seductive photograph. After its abstract first impression fades away, a tiny, cryptically muted image is detectable—an upside-down rubber replica of the Tin Man’s helmet. One thinks of The Wizard of Oz—rusty, cheerful, and void of a heart. But no; perhaps the photograph is to serve as a metaphoric “funnel”—a starter button to a body of work that wishes to address seemingly everything: animation, logic, genetics, electricity, human development, animals, play, sexuality, evolution, erosion, and ecology. With the aid of the funnel in

  • Ellen Phelan

    To look and think about the dolls in Ellen Phelan’s 42 doll drawings, a 15-year project, is to submit in some way to their rule, which is really only to submit to one’s own narrative impulses. A refusal to regard the secret lives of our plastic and furry likenesses is to cast oneself as a no-fun doll boy or a disbelieving doll girl. Phelan presents us with a play-before-you-paint situation; indeed, in order to paint dolls, she had to spend a great deal of time moving them around, imagining the world from their points of view.

    In Reconciliation, 1991, a green frog wearing tight red shorts puts

  • Tom Wudl

    Tom Wudl’s tour of earthly delights takes two forms. Tiny paintings (as small as four by three inches) of isolated objects—a goblet, a yellow fish, a bird, a hand holding a bullet paradoxicallyfeel as expansive as the gigantic The Rapture of Dionysus (all works 1991), a painting that features an explosion of information—a burst of flora, a clock, a deck shoe, a violin, and the Challenger spaceship exploding in a galaxy studded with stars and planets. Small paintings have a tendency to be awkwardly constricted, but Wudl’s diminutive works do not fall prey to rigidity and stiffness; they

  • Lari Pittman

    In Lari Pittman’s Victorian domestic utopias, the most terrifying nightmares and the ripest euphorias take tea together within the cozy parameters of the rectangle. The vocabulary is gaudy and hallucinogenic—an ornamental chaos maxed out with information, in which the artist proposes an anxious unity between things humiliating and pleasurable.

    In this new body of work—a virtual masquerade ball—Pittman represents himself as a highly socialized, carnivorous female owl, with large saggy breasts and humongous vaginas. In Transubstantial and Needy, 1991, an oversized owl wearing a bejeweled crown that

  • Terry Allen

    As bronze sculptures go, a male bust being whacked in the back of the head with a baseball bat is pretty appealing. This image becomes all the more pleasurable in the context of a gallery, where violence is usually kept safely at arm’s length—denounced as political atrocity, or repressed through earnest yammerings about gender and politics. Consider all the figures who have achieved the status of bronze or plaster bustdom and try and restrain yourself from taking a baseball bat to the back of at least one esteemed cortex. The striking of a skull also speaks of the need for art that takes viewers

  • Charles Arnoldi

    When Charles Arnoldi began exhibiting in the early ’70s, his work offered a delicately organic alternative to the high-gloss formalism that dominated current Los Angeles painting. While everyone was flexing their heads about flatness, surface, and edge, Arnoldi was making paintings out of tree branches. Debarking the branches, gluing them into rectangular formations, and painting them with various colors, Arnoldi coasted for over a decade, but, as so often happens with art-world innovations successful enough to become trademarks, Arnoldi wore the gesture out.

    While adopting the conventions of