Catherine Taft

  • “Psychic Plumbing”

    On the white landing page of the website www.thecanarytest.com, two surveillance-style live feeds appeared side by side and a time signature gave the current hour, minute, and second in Pacific Standard Time. The cameras were trained on Canary, a new downtown off-space housed in a former clothing store. One was positioned at the front of the long narrow space and the other at the back, where metal racks and clothes hangers were still installed. The gallery’s inaugural show, “Psychic Plumbing,” existed in these two locations: the physical space and its 24/7 broadcast online. But this past March,

  • Johanna Went

    Grotesque props, crude puppetry, absurdist costumes, fake blood, and noise characterized Johanna Went’s riotous and scatological performances from the late 1970s and ’80s. A central figure in the Los Angeles punk scene of the time, Went was well known on both US coasts in her heyday and gained a cultlike following in LA underground art and music venues such as Al’s Bar, Club Lingerie, Hong Kong Café, and the Whisky. Alongside her collaborator, the composer Mark Wheaton, and a revolving cast of musicians, performers, and stagehands, Went blended experimental music, sculpture, spoken word, and

  • Liz Magic Laser

    Liz Magic Laser’s best work examines how politics, technology, psychology, and media are used to manage and calibrate human impulses and motivations. Consisting of two recent projects produced for European institutions, In Real Life, 2019, and Handle/Poignée, 2018, this show demonstrated the centrality of analysis and passé pseudoscientific aesthetics (think infographics and cyberpunks, modernism and New Age) to Laser’s practice. Perhaps the latter interest accounted for the vague belatedness that haunted both works, whose investments in semiotic experimentation and technological

  • Judy Chicago

    Not unlike Judy Chicago’s famed installation The Dinner Party, 1974–79, this exhibition took a clear and radical stance against the historical erasure of a woman and her work. Of the thirty-nine pieces making up this survey of Chicago’s prolific output from 1965 to 1972, almost half (nineteen sculptures and photographs) had been refabricated or printed anew within the past fifteen years. This work looked unapologetically fresh alongside older sculptures, paintings, and drawings. Conceived and executed around five decades ago, many of Chicago’s original works did not survive owing to the lack of

  • David Hammons

    In a 1998 profile of David Hammons in these pages, Manthia Diawara observed, “The use of art against art is, of course, a familiar strategy by now, but what remains interesting is what becomes of the artist in his rebellion against convention. . . . In one sense, aura is everything in Hammons’s art.” For an artist known for refusal, Hammons projected a surprisingly strong aura in this loose retrospective, his first exhibition in Los Angeles in forty-five years. New and older sculptures, paintings, installations, found objects, archival ephemera, and works and films by other artists sprawled over

  • GROUP MATERIAL

    IN 1973, while still in graduate school, Suzanne Lacy organized an elaborate happening. Titled Maps, the piece instructed fellow students to travel to points across Los Angeles’s Southland—from campus to a mental-health hospital to a meatpacking factory—carrying butcher-paper-wrapped lamb’s organs, and to reassemble the entrails into approximate anatomical order at the final stop. The performance was quietly provocative, otherworldly. The following year, she partnered with a lawyer to prepare another, similarly visceral work. That piece, titled Body Contract, 1974, took the form of a fourteen-page

  • Glenn Ligon

    Throughout his career, Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini spoke and wrote about his search for the “elsewhere,” which he defined as an alternative to the “anthropologically mutated” West. Indeed, his unfinished five-part film Notes for a Poem on the Third World—which was to be shot in the late 1960s in Africa, India, Latin America, the Arab world, and “the black ghettos” of the United States—would have attempted a revolutionary and anticapitalist political positioning of the real. Glenn Ligon takes on Pasolini’s mode of postcolonial, essayistic storytelling in his sculpture Notes for a Poem

  • SURVIVOR SYNDROME

    DIANA—ROMAN GODDESS of the hunt, fertility, and childbirth—swore never to marry. Neither wife nor mother, she was a celibate separatist living in a forest with a band of virgin maidens. Among the animals in her care were the bear, the boar, the goat, the stag, and packs of wild dogs. She herself was a predatory animal, armed with bow and arrow, breast exposed to facilitate a smooth shot. Diana swiftly punished transgressors of her law, a code that maintained the delicate balance between humans and wildlife. She famously disciplined the hunter Actaeon when he stumbled on the goddess and her nymphs

  • Raúl de Nieves

    The work of Mexican-born, New York–based artist Raúl de Nieves owes much of its sensibility to early-1970s glam: its artifice, excess, and glittering attitude toward gender. But there was nothing nostalgic, ironic, or retro about the seven figurative sculptures, four mosaiclike wall works, and three drawings that comprised this show. Rather, the works’ dazzling, obsessive surfaces seemed earnestly drawn from some collision of nature, Pop, and fantasy in the service of pure theater. The actors here were six three-foot-tall bodies, each a construction of fiberglass, glue, and multicolored plastic

  • “SUZANNE LACY: WE ARE HERE”

    Curated by Rudolf Frieling, Lucía Sanromán, and Dominic Willsdon

    In the field of social practice, Suzanne Lacy is a pioneering and deeply respected figure, having worked for nearly five decades to define this mode of production through activism, performance, community outreach, and pedagogy. With fearlessness, urgency, and, at times, humor, she has tackled complex and vital issues, from rape and systems of violence to international borders, environmental sustainability, and women in leadership. Presented jointly at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,

  • Harry Dodge

    Harry Dodge’s recent works might well be the love children of the machine age and the digital revolution; his exhibition at the nonprofit space JOAN, “Works of Love,” comprised twelve new sculptures seemingly generated via intertechnological commingling, or perhaps through the tinkering of some ham inventor. Objects such as Pure Shit Hotdog Cake and Black Transparency (The Cloud Polis draws revenue from the cognitive capital of its Users), both 2017, looked like homespun satellites, teetering structures of wood, aluminum, resin, and other found hardware (Black Transparency even counts a “rocket

  • Todd Gray

    Writing in these pages in 2013, critic Bruce Hainley asked, “Aren’t the ‘life,’ ‘body,’ and ‘face’ of Michael Jackson in the running for some of the most abstract events of the last century?” Indeed, in his lifetime, Jackson complicated notions around his own race, gender, and cultural identity, and his transformation (what Hainley pointed to as “transgendering”) took place before a critical public eye. Todd Gray was Jackson’s exclusive personal photographer in the late 1970s and early 1980s—and thus enjoyed a proximity that allowed him a privileged view of the celebrity in construction—and many