Catherine Taft

  • film September 21, 2008

    Doom Towns

    LAST YEAR, the CIA reported that if California were to become an independent state, it would have the tenth-largest economy in the world. Despite the state’s steady rise as an important center of production, there still exist a number of severely depressed and abandoned towns scattered just outside the county lines of California’s largest metropolitan areas. These sites—former boomtowns established around specific industries and occupied by laborers—are the subject of Lee Anne Schmitt’s haunting new film, California Company Town. Since 2003, Schmitt has been researching, visiting, and filming

  • diary September 20, 2008

    Hide and Seek

    Los Angeles

    Printed on the lower corner of a back page of Taryn Simon’s new book of photographs is a fax the artist received from Disney Publishing Worldwide that reads, “Especially during these violent times, I personally believe that the magic spell cast on [our] guests . . . helps to provide them with an important fantasy they can escape to.” Although this fax goes on to outline the reasons Simon was denied access to photograph the Magic Kingdom’s backstage area, it might have explained the bands of revelers flocking to the fantasyland of Rodeo Drive last Saturday for the artist’s Gagosian opening of “

  • picks June 04, 2008

    Sandeep Mukherjee

    It’s almost too easy to relate Sandeep Mukherjee’s cosmic abstract paintings to the work of Lee Mullican, Jay DeFeo, or Lee Bontecou. While Mukherjee seems indebted to this vein of midcentury abstraction, what’s more interesting (and surprising) about his newest paintings are their intensely filmic—as opposed to cinematic—qualities. Mukherjee’s particular use of patterning; deep, saturated colors; and organic, spiraling forms seem more akin to the experimental, “direct” techniques of filmmakers Len Lye, Oskar Fischinger, and James Whitney than to painterly precursors. The twelve works in this

  • picks December 12, 2007

    Barbara T. Smith

    In 1968, Barbara T. Smith began fabricating her visionary Field Piece, a technologically innovative installation of 180 translucent resin columns. Standing nine-and-a-half feet tall, these narrow, somewhat phallic objects, meant to signify blades of grass, incorporated an electronic system that, when activated by the viewer, caused the sculptures to light up and to emit harmonic tones. Although Field Piece had a successful exhibition history—having been shown in forward-thinking LA galleries F-Space and Cirrus, as well as outside of the Long Beach Museum of Art—wear and tear and a lack of funding

  • picks November 07, 2007

    William Pope.L

    To many Angelenos, “The Grove” is synonymous with a West LA retail shopping experience, one of the ubiquitous outdoor malls that crowd much of the American landscape. William Pope.L’s new, large-scale installation of the same name could perhaps be the environmental subconscious of such a site, the residual ghost of nature overrun by capitalist drives. The Grove, 2007, a forestlike arrangement of potted palm trees power-sprayed with white paint and slowly dying, is one of three parts of Pope.L’s first major West Coast museum exhibition, “Art After White People: Time, Trees, & Celluloid.” Drawing

  • diary October 16, 2007

    Over the Moon

    Los Angeles

    Any conspiracy theorist will tell you that the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing was a cold-war hoax staged in a Hollywood studio, but thus far only Tom Sachs has had the wherewithal to show us how this might have been possible. Marking the closing of his five-week-long exhibition “Space Program” at Gagosian Gallery, on Saturday night Sachs proved, in a private performance activating the show’s sculptural elements, the plausibility of a simulated moon mission.

    I arrived at the Beverly Hills gallery at 6:30 PM sharp. With clearance from a beefy doorman, a twiggy gallery assistant, and a spiffy attendant

  • picks July 25, 2007

    “Substance and Surface”

    Bortolami’s summer group show, “Substance and Surface,” claims as its point of departure a single Piero Manzoni “Achrome,” or “colorless,” painting, made ca. 1959. However, this group of monochromes from sixteen international artists—Ghada Amer, Bozidar Brazda, Thilo Heinzmann, Mike Kelley, Lovett/Codagnone, and Donald Sultan among them—revisits formal considerations that may be better understood as post-Minimal. Like post-Minimalism, which reacted to the tired authority of stiff, geometric objects, these recent works return to a more nuanced relationship between viewer and form through commonplace

  • picks June 14, 2007

    Timothy Hull

    Timothy Hull’s new paintings, drawings, collage, sound work, and “scent” meticulously revolve around representations of the early-twentieth-century European spiritualist G. I. Gurdjieff. Titled after the mystic’s book LifeIis Real Only Then When “I Am” (1974), this body of work proves to be a study of a cult persona that stops just short of fanaticism. In works on paper, Gurdjieff’s emblematic image—a dignified man with a handlebar moustache and an Astrakhan hat—is repeated, mirrored, silhouetted, traced, sketched, and decorated with horror vacui patterns and geometric diagrams. Other portraits

  • picks April 06, 2007

    David Askevold

    To reproduce a painting that never existed is to induce memory, and in this exhibition, titled “Three Easy Pieces,” David Askevold attempts to do so as an exorcism of his early aesthetic considerations. In his painting The Missing Link, 2006, the artist offers thumbnail views of four nearly identical canvases that he did not produce between 1963 and 1966 (a period when he was studying art in New York). An adjacent canvas, 1964, 2006, presents one of these images, a magenta-hued abstraction composed of translucent layers of Giclee ink, at full scale. In this and other works, Askevold uses

  • picks March 12, 2007

    “Restricted Access”

    The Performing Archive, 2006–, Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz’s recent project, questions the functions of performance art, historical documentation, and sculpture while testing the limits of all three. “Restricted Access,” the first exhibition of this ongoing endeavor, offers a dialogue between two generations of women artists about these ideas (and their relevance to feminism today). The exhibition is an experimental context for the (mostly paper) archives of Lacy and Labowitz’s women’s activist organization Ariadne: A Social Art Network, which includes personal correspondence, photos, props,

  • picks February 12, 2007

    Justin Lieberman

    Attempting to impose a quasi-sociological order on the bedlam of a distinctively American subsistence, New York–based artist Justin Lieberman turns a flux of capitalist odds and ends—receipts, magazine clippings, found photos, counterfeit dollars, lottery tickets, small sketches, public signage, fridge magnets—into a subjective material history of late-modern life. Playing off the show-and-tell conventions of the natural-history museum, Lieberman presents four sizable collages in thick-glass vitrines, accompanied by hand-drawn and -numbered keys cataloguing the origins of the remnants. These

  • picks January 02, 2007

    Ed Ruscha

    During his two-month fellowship at Los Angeles’s Tamarind Lithography Workshop in 1969, Ed Ruscha cultivated his “liquid word” images, a theme he had developed through paintings three years earlier. These images, sometimes based on arrangements he staged in the studio, present short, often monosyllabic words—like EYE and AIR—figured as splotches of liquid on flat fields of color. Fourteen of these works, on view in this exhibition, evince Ruscha’s technical knack for graphic art while marking both his attention to language and his unmistakably American sense of humor. In these textual works,

  • picks December 19, 2006

    T. Kelly Mason

    T. Kelly Mason’s multimedia installation Rain Is an Emotional System, 2006, deploys text and sculptural materiality to structure sound, space, and concept. Beckoned by the nearly ambient patter of rain and intermittent guitar tunes resounding from suspended colored cubes, the viewer must enter Mason’s sculpture—a narrow, angular passage formed by interlocking aluminum poles draped with industrial packing blankets—to reach the video monitor at its center. There, a looped DVD transmits vague outlines of letters, which slowly form thought-provoking phrases as a raindroplike image descends from

  • picks October 03, 2006

    Andy Warhol

    Warhol’s “Diamond Dust Shoes” of 1980 and 1981 invoke the early commercial success of the artist’s mid-‘50s hand-drawn shoe ads while hinting at the celebrity, sex, and money that had flavored his subsequent life and practice. In 1985 and 1986, Warhol again presented a shoe motif, not as a symbol of his talent for recycling, but rather as a heavy and anxious form. This selection of his black-and-white ad paintings, a series of silk screens made two years prior to his death, is full paranoia. An overt example is Untitled (Puma Invader), 1985–86, a loose outline of the brand-name athletic shoe

  • picks October 03, 2006

    Untitled group exhibition

    Though September typically denotes an end to summer’s onslaught of emerging-artist group exhibitions, Richard Telles bucks convention to introduce his gallery artists at the start of each new season. As in Septembers past, Lecia Dole-Recio, Lisa Lapinski, Thomas Eggerer, and Richard Hawkins are featured, this year alongside Ginny Bishton, Roy Arden, and Nate Hylden. Characterized by forward-thinking abstraction and subtle figuration, the showcased paintings, collages, silk screens, and photographs have little to do with any overriding theme, but rather benefit from the understated, unexpected

  • picks September 21, 2006

    Katie Grinnan

    Katie Grinnan’s sculpture, Rubble Division, 2005–2006, a multiplanar construction supported by bungee cords, rebar, steel, and chunks of concrete, is the point of convergence for “Cheerleaders and Bandwagons,” the culmination of Grinnan’s summer tour across the American landscape. Last May, Grinnan moved her sculpture from High Desert Test Sites in Joshua Tree, CA, to Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, NY, making stops along the way in Aspen, CO; Crawford, TX; Washington, DC; and New Orleans. Rubble Division’s latest installment links four videos documenting its various incarnations

  • picks August 14, 2006

    “Tom of Finland: Rough

    Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, widely known as Tom of Finland, once remarked, “If I don’t have an erection when I’m doing a drawing, I know it’s no good.” This uplifting barometer of “good" art also reveals the motivation behind Laaksonen’s underground practice. Spanning fifty years of Tom of Finland’s prolific career, this show presents some 130 erotic drawings—amassed from early sketchbooks, unfinished compositions, and completed works—of well-endowed men engaged in gay sex scenarios (though female bodies ornament a few of the orgiastic scenes). Rendered with a silvery graphite that

  • picks August 09, 2006

    Kalup Linzy

    The official website for the ABC television show All My Children boasts a commitment to social issues through dramatically addressing “AIDS, abortion, teenage alcoholism, racial bias, acquaintance rape, spousal abuse, homosexuality, Reyes syndrome, Vietnam MIAs, drug abuse, the risks of motherhood over 40, safe sex and organ donations.” The odd juxtapositions alone are ripe for parody, yet Kalup Linzy’s Conversations wit de Churen II: All My Churen, 2003, maintains an unexpected sincerity while emulating daytime television drama. As the second work in a series of episodic videos, All My Churen

  • diary July 30, 2006

    Chain Store


    Encountering a cracked sheet of bulletproof glass on which the gnomic half-question “Just an Image in the Room in Which This is Happening of Good Taste?” was spelled out in drippy enamel, I knew I had found what I was looking for. The piece, along with other drawings and text works hung in storefront windows, lured visitors into Monica Bonvicini’s “Not for You,” the second coming of Emi Fontana’s West of Rome, inc., a series of exhibitions the Milan dealer sponsors in various cities, scouting alternative real estate for contemporary art projects. Installed in the former Pasadena retail outfit

  • diary July 12, 2006

    Ottmann Empire

    Santa Fe

    “I’ve participated in many biennials, and I’ve learned that the earlier you get there, the better they treat you,” advised Stephen Dean, one of thirteen artists featured in this year’s SITE Santa Fe International Biennial, “Still Points of the Turning World.” Unfortunately, the tip came late and so did I, arriving Friday afternoon, just in time to make the exhibition’s opening reception. The fête for curator Klaus Ottmann’s unconventional biennial (which has been likened to a series of solo shows) was the first event in a weekend tailored to local and international tastes and punctuated by