Matthew Wilder

  • picks November 16, 2007

    Dawn Kasper

    There are moments, looking at new art in Los Angeles, when one feels trapped in some cosmic-joke undergraduate thesis without end—a purgatory of the puerile. It’s exactly this quality that makes Dawn Kasper’s “Life and Death,” guest-curated by Rosanna Albertini for Circus Gallery, so cagy, so catchy, so eerily on the nose. The show’s highlights are videos of Kasper’s performances as her signature character—a frenetic, mile-a-minute stream-of-consciousness riffer on the meaning and unmeaning of life. A frowsier, more academic, more down-market cousin of Sarah Silverman’s chirping, racist naïf,

  • picks November 01, 2007

    Elsa Mora

    No one in Los Angeles has as sweet a tooth for the exquisite miniature as Darryl Couturier. Earlier this year, he offered up a dazzling roomful of bite-size works by Maritta Tapanainen—diminutive, but one of the most exhilarating shows I’ve seen in ages. Now, Couturier is presenting Elsa Mora’s exhibition “Especimenes/Specimens,” a blithe, sinewy meditation on the intersection of family history and capital-h History, which features a great number of works that could be held comfortably in the palm of a (very small) human hand. Like many Cuban-American artists, Mora is a student of genealogy and

  • picks October 22, 2007

    Tatzu Nishi

    As luck would have it, I saw Tatzu Nishi’s show at Blum & Poe just a few hours after watching Tsai Ming-liang’s hardcore-porn/musical-comedy/Warholian-slo-mo masterpiece The Wayward Cloud (2005), and somehow Tsai’s Taipei and Nishi’s Los Angeles blurred together in my mind (in a most beautiful way). Certainly Nishi’s menacing sculpture Use Your Head, 2007, recalls Tsai’s sinister reimagining of Taipei’s architecture: This hydra-headed streetlamp suggests the uterus of an extremely hostile creature from outer space; plunged through a skylight, its spine shooting up and out into the air, the

  • picks October 09, 2007

    Stephen G. Rhodes

    Everyone knows artists carry around a lot of baggage, but those carry-on items are now manifested more visibly than ever: Show after show reproduces the Stella Artois–stained detritus of studio life in EPCOT-style hyperreal detail. Stephen G. Rhodes’s “Ruined Dualisms” is among the most punctilious entries in this genre. Two prints of paperback covers conjure one’s favorite dog-eared undergrad texts, toted around till their spines turn to oatmeal. (One is a charming British-style “playscript” decorated with Tragedy and Comedy mask emoticons.) In his collages, Rhodes wheels out tropes recently

  • picks October 01, 2007

    Whitney Bedford

    Geistige Körperlichkeit, the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling’s phrase, translates as “spiritual corporeality,” bespeaking a seeming paradox that might be no contradiction at all. At least, it isn’t when the condition manifests itself in the paintings of Whitney Bedford, a brilliant recent UCLA MFA graduate whose current obsession is the shackled body of Harry Houdini. Caught in a state of betwixt-and-between, not yet free of their chains but in performance mode, Bedford’s Houdinis seem firmly planted on the launching pad to transcendence but haven’t quite taken off. Most

  • picks August 15, 2007

    Song Kun

    The antique customs, culture, and philosophies of Asia, vacuum-packed into the 3-D, 24/7 package of postmodernity: Could there be a triter visual subject or one more prone to the most facile of ironies? (Look at Jia Zhangke’s The World and its juxtaposition of geisha and Epcot imagery—each instance coming in for a ten-ton landing.) The been-there-done-that of the subject matter may be why Song Kun’s “It’s My Life” is such an ecstatic, tremor-inducing event. A series of 365 small paintings, created one a day for a year, the show has the shimmering quality of a life passing before one’s eyes,

  • picks August 02, 2007

    Melora Walters

    Melora Walters’s paintings of beasts in crisis have a seismic, upsetting sensuality. Her For Goya (all works 2006) forces gouts of red scribble—angry-child slashes that might be blood or a variant on a comic book’s “!!!”—out of the mouth of a five-legged creature that seems part dog, part horse, and all unmediated rage and panic. In Mother, a parent-and-child pair of animals cavort in a wide-eyed dance that might be protective, playful, or sheerly abusive, depending on where you’re standing. The black-on-white barbarism of Mother evokes the primal starkness of Robert Motherwell, but everything

  • picks July 31, 2007

    “You Will Be Re-materialized Through Your Secrets”

    Utter the words the secret in Los Angeles, and everybody thinks they know what you're talking about—you know, that self-help book that tells you that if you think the word rutabaga, rutabagas will manifest in front of you and so on. Is the secret disclosed in this sly, taciturn collection of artworks—titled “You Will Be Re-materialized Through Your Secrets” and curated by Michael Clifton—really all that different from The Secret? On the surface, the secret alluded to in the exhibition title seems closer to Lacan’s notion of agalma—the elusive objet petit a, the precious nugget of gold contained

  • picks June 20, 2007

    Margaret Adachi

    In his masterpiece “The Oyster,” the great, largely forgotten French poet Francis Ponge found a whole cosmology in that dollop of mucus we drown in Tabasco and quickly imbibe: “Beneath a firmament (properly speaking) of mother-of-pearl, the heavens above recline on the heavens below, to form nothing more than a puddle, a viscous greenish bag that flows in and out as you smell and look at it, fringed with a blackish lace along the edges.” In her nearly-as-great Consider the Oyster, the epicurean writer M. F. K. Fisher views the oyster’s unlikely life as a heroic but Sisyphean saga, an uphill

  • picks June 01, 2007

    “Psychobotany”

    Is it just me or do words like sustainable and organic give off a whiff of xenophobia? Those who long to go off the grid and eat raw foods in a yurt are recoiling in no small part from the human density and hybridity of urban life itself—because what lies behind the hivelike sprawl and technological advances of the city so much as the heterogeneity of colliding cultures? These are a few of the thoughts that passed through my mind at “Psychobotany,” a part-art, part-education exhibition mounted by Machine Project, the genesis of some of Los Angeles’s more advanced riffs on the 1960s paradigm of

  • picks May 24, 2007

    Heather Carson

    Sandwiched between an Arthur Murray dance studio and an old Pottery Barn in an especially small town–like swatch of Beverly Hills, a group of metal cubes, their skeletons highlighted by fluorescent bulbs, sits in a lonesome abandoned storefront. There, they light up and dim out every few seconds, enacting a poignant rise-and-fall, cradle-to-grave saga, like a fifty-first-century Henry Moore family group, distilled from too-solid flesh to pure electronic DNA. Or maybe they’re more like a passel of stress-position cages in some Gitmo on Ice Station Zebra? Heather Carson first came onto my radar

  • picks May 08, 2007

    Maritta Tapanainen

    Like a four-hand piano concerto by Robert Schumann or an insightful paragraph by Edna O’Brien, the collages of Maritta Tapanainen offer an appealingly modest but quietly intense pleasure. While everyone else is chasing the next big something, she is discreetly re-creating the prior old everything. Prior: The very scale Tapanainen works on—most pieces could comfortably lie in the palms of your two hands—recalls an era far before the proliferation of bazooka-huge artistic statements. Old: Creating cool-brown and off-white backgrounds out of what look like antique Band-Aids, Tapanainen collates

  • picks May 03, 2007

    Apichatpong Weerasethakul

    The Thai filmmaker and installation artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul uses indeterminacy and incoherence as his aces in the hole. He frequently consults a fortune-teller for suggestions for key elements of his movies; he conceived a whole feature (Mysterious Object at Noon [2000]) around the Surrealists’ Exquisite Corpse game of chain writing; and even his more deliberately authored works are organized around puzzling narratives that offer few clues to their decryption. In a movie theater, Weerasethakul’s passing of the work of interpretation on to the audience can be maddening or paralyzing,

  • picks April 19, 2007

    Daniel Dove and Tom McGrath

    Daniel Dove and Tom McGrath share an obsession: staging an intense conflict between the sidewinder sprawl of their epic landscapes and the local brush fire of surface incident. This tension between alienated vistas and the pocks, grooves, and sickly-sexy smears gives their work a powerful sense of vertigo. In McGrath’s TBT (Dusk Grid) (all works 2007), a pointillistic rainfall of dark pink smog—a disturbingly two-dimensional form of cloud cover—mars a coach passenger’s view of what looks like the nighttime outline of LAX. In TBT (Headlights), a tree surrenders its twilit mysteries to a series

  • picks April 03, 2007

    Robert Wilson

    Robert Wilson’s brand of suffocating aestheticism creates friction when it collides with a scarily mismatched theatrical text—an obdurate work by Gertrude Stein or Heiner Muller, say. The poorly synced contrast between Wilson’s honeyed, lacquered, Miss Havisham–like imagery and the crackle of a certain kind of impolite, discomfort-making language can lend a Wilson production a creepy, slightly schizzy enjoyment. In Wilson’s imperious display of “Voom Portraits,” however, we get undiluted Wilson. (To be fair, music and whispering appear in some of the high-definition videos—turned down so low

  • picks December 20, 2006

    Dave Muller

    The vicissitudes of history as iPod Shuffle: This is the central conceit of Dave Muller's epic yet eerily vacant “Piles & Globes, Likes & Loves.” Muller conceives the march of the last half century as a literal scrap heap of paper fragments, each seemingly tie-dyed, each representing not some world-historical epoch but an American pop-musical minimovement—most of them too fleeting and obscure even to be called a trend. Is some of this stuff made up? (My favorite candidate for potential fiction: POMP AND DOOM 1982–85.) On a few of Muller’s fortune-cookie shards, a small series of hash marks—a

  • picks December 20, 2006

    Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen

    Here it comes again, that comforting old chestnut: the Constructedness of Sexual Difference. Upon entering the gallery space, the viewer is confronted with two white doors: one marked M, one F, each featuring a familiar gendered icon composed of a weird cluster of bumps—part Braille, part Lego. Walking through the M door, one is staggered by a double dislocation: rolling hills of Astroturf leading to two climactic hole-in-one lumps, while four walls of shiny, reflective, Mylar-like wrap promise the viewer a lifelong case of body dysmorphia. If you kneel down on the Astro-lump, you get a present

  • picks June 08, 2006

    “The Wonder and Horror of the Human Head”

    Sometimes a curatorial impulse is so strong and original that it overpowers the simple fact that the work at hand can’t fully reinforce the concept. Such is the case with this show, inspired by a similarly titled 1953 exhibition at the ICA in London. I'm not sure it's a bad thing that Roland Penrose and Herbert Read's monograph for the original is the strongest element in the current version: The authors’ commentary on sacred and profane uses of the noggin throughout art history suggests Kenneth Clark on a spree. Fifty-three years later, you can bet that the majority of the work focuses not on

  • picks May 30, 2006

    Roe Ethridge

    One plight of contemporary photography is that every imaginable subject floats freely in a field of ambient irony and vague, intangible menace. How is it possible to represent even the most seemingly value-neutral object in a style that isn't “loaded” or “pregnant,” “Lynchian” or “anxious”? Roe Ethridge's new photographs delight by setting their sights on the total evacuation of all peripheral content. The shallowness of field, in which a set of almost-contiguous objects are placed in the same hypercrisp space, lends a Taoist calm to props that might otherwise take on the sense of the American

  • picks March 16, 2006

    Yoshio Ikezaki

    To be sure, Yoshio Ikezaki's “Timeless Auras” has its share of jade-trinket kitschiness, of the kind found at neighboring chinoiserie shacks, and there are some works that might not feel out of place at a Venice yoga-studio gift shop. But then, backed up against an intimidating full-length mirror, you find yourself face to face with The Earth Breathes—Hikkaku, 2006. Handmade out of mulberry paper, encrusted in three layers of slathered-on ink, Hikkaku bears more than a passing resemblance to the terrifying whorls in the Anish Kapoor show currently on view across town. Here, Ikezaki's handling