Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer

  • Tala Madani, Bright Eyes, 2007, oil on linen, 11 7⁄8 × 9 1⁄2".


    TALA MADANI’S paintings, drawings, and stop-motion animations of violent men, sadistic babies, and filth-covered moms plumb our most savage depths. To mark the artist’s first institutional survey, now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, critic Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer weighs in on the surprising “cheerful air” and “basic beauty” that underpin the LA-based artist’s deliriously perverted tableaux.

    IT STARTS PLAYFULLY with a cake in the face. Ha ha. Just a joke. Right? Birthday candles burn in eye sockets, confections rise vertically like giant phalluses or balance on the backs of

  • “This Brush for Hire: Norm Laich and Many Other Artists”

    At the art-world Oscars, Norm Laich would be a perennial shoo-in for best supporting role. The Los Angeles–based artist, sign painter, and fabricator has been instrumental in producing the iconic works of a great number of big-name leads, including Kay Rosen, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, and Lawrence Weiner. This survey, organized by John Baldessari and Meg Cranston, both of whom have worked with Laich, brings together a selection of some twenty of these and other artists’ discrete canvases, wall paintings, sign works, and large-scale installations (

  • Laura Owens, Untitled, 2013, acrylic, vinyl paint, and rubber wheels on linen, 108 × 84".


    What else can painting do? With wide-eyed curiosity, maverick humor, and infectious glee, Owens continues to pose this query, producing ambitious, technically rigorous, and surprising pieces unlike those of any other painter of her generation (or the next). Her works both rally and splinter the medium’s history of craft and illusionism: Haptic possibility drives her; democratic intelligence and sly pop subject matter ground her. For this LA master, painting is large-scale installation, embroidered silk-screened textile, ticking timepiece, site-specific manifesto, private

  • Lena Daly, Trix R,G,B, 2016, video and ultrasound projection, UV-reactive paint, wood pedestals, uranium glass, UV-reactive water, flock, HD projection, HSS speaker, LED UV light, dimensions variable.
    picks December 05, 2016

    Lena Daly

    Before the show comes into view, a nearly imperceptible sonic undercurrent of low drones, subtle swells, and clanging bells layers with the loud rush of street traffic on Highland Avenue. The spectral static of the gallery’s sound corridor clues us in to a ghostly alterity waiting within “Night Bell.” Lena Daly’s solo debut toys with the limits of sound and vision, opting for the hypo and the hyper, the ultra and the infra. She limns the vibratory thresholds of the extra-visual and subsonic realms, braiding their intersections into synesthetic contaminations.

    In contrast to the glaringly sunlit

  • Geoffrey Farmer, Boneyard (detail), 2013, paper, wood, glue, dimensions variable. Photo: Jean Vong.

    Geoffrey Farmer

    Geoffrey Farmer succinctly noted, some months back, “My work appears to me as wreckage”—articulating the formal-pileup effect of his exploded-collage installations, the air of obsolescence emanating from the vintage print media he uses so pointedly, and even the way his hundreds of Frankensteined cutouts swarm like the undead and stand at attention. He captures that intoxicating Benjaminian sensation that we experience when faced, like the angel of history, with the quantities of accretion and devastation that constitute the stuff of the archive and “progress.” Monumental,

  • View of “Dianna Molzan: Earthquake Weather,” 2015. From left: untitled, 2015; untitled, 2015.
    picks October 28, 2015

    Dianna Molzan

    Dianna Molzan’s paintings and painting sculptures are still defying my expectations with serious panache. Fine construction and head-turning Pop-formal ingenuity remain a hallmark, while her weirdly reserved flamboyance has a fresh edge in this new group of thirteen oddballs. No less quixotic than her swollen and sculpted canvas objects are the seemingly straight, quasi-genre paintings. How funny. Humor gathers around the soft and stuffed elements in many of Molzan’s paintings (all works untitled and 2015), such as the squishy white canvas tube hugging the perimeter of an exclamatory abstraction:

  • University of Southern California Roski School of Art and Design MFA students and faculty at Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, 1970, Overton, NV, June 23, 2011. Photo: Sean Kennedy.


    IN AN ERA when creative economies are leading the hypermonetization of every aspect of life, from attention and identity to privacy and time, it’s not surprising that this country’s most progressive models of art education are under attack. In fact, the liberal arts and humanities are besieged across the board, increasingly expected to justify their funding, even their very existence, in universities and beyond. We are witnessing a massive cultural shift when we see the corporatization of higher education—with its top-down power structures, bloated bureaucracies, “synergistic” partnerships

  • View of “Jesse Aron Green: Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik,” 2015.
    interviews June 30, 2015

    Jesse Aron Green

    Jesse Aron Green’s 2008 multimedia installation Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik has been exhibited in parts at Tate Modern, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and ICA Boston, among other institutions. His current exhibition at the Harvard Art Museums, which runs through August 9, 2015, is the first time all sixty-five components—including photographs, prints, video, and sculpture—are being shown together.

    ÄRZTLICHE ZIMMERGYMNASTIK is basically a workout video, so it’s no surprise that some people start to exercise in the gallery. Mirroring the thing in front of you—judging its scale and size against

  • Mernet Larsen, Aw, 2003, acrylic and tracing paper on canvas, 40 x 66".
    picks March 27, 2015

    Mernet Larsen

    Encountering the paintings of Mernet Larsen for the first time can feel a bit like discovering a new exotic fruit or hearing an alien tongue: The worldview they picture is strange to the senses and thrillingly outlandish, like a surprise that is meticulously constructed and fully realized, exceedingly complex and fiercely independent. Larsen’s impact registers all at once with the force built up from a lifetime spent gradually developing, maturing, and testing her own eccentric visual language in representational painting. It’s a language that articulates figures through an abstract declension

  • The Cats-in-Residence Program at 356 S. Mission Road. (All photos: Paige Bradley)
    diary December 29, 2014

    Purrfect Lovers

    “ART” CAN’T QUITE COMPETE with life incarnate, creatures in the alert, furry-limbed, tail-twitching flesh. Calico, tabby, tuxedo, tiger stripe, tortoise shell, monochrome: Felis catus are modern, effortlessly stylish, and lux in any situation. Pussies are the ultimate icons of elegant self-possession—excessively aesthetic. Of course, it’s neither fair nor necessary to pit art and animals against each other, and anyway, who would want them to be separate? (Certainly not Pierre Huyghe, whose LACMA retrospective across town is a buzzing menagerie of bees, crabs, fishes, a masked monkey, that

  • Jesse Fleming, The Halftime Show, 2014, four-channel HD digital video projection, color, sound, 13 minutes 38 seconds. Installation view, 356 S. Mission Rd., Los Angeles. Photo: Brica Wilcox.

    Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer

    1 356 S. MISSION RD., LOS ANGELES As soon as it opened, just under two years ago, 356 S. Mission Rd. made a major—and majorly uplifting—impact on LA’s local culture. The effect has only deepened with each exhibition, performance, screening, conversation, workshop, and culinary event presented there since. Combining commercial gallery, kunsthalle, bookstore (an outpost of the much-beloved LA institution Ooga Booga), and artists’ studios, the collective compound represents a new, fluid, seemingly self-sustaining institutional model that gives me great hope. (I pretend no distance: I’m

  • Chuck Nanney, telepath, 2014, acrylic on plywood and pine, zinc hinges, 14 1⁄4 x 74 1⁄2 x 3⁄4".
    picks August 12, 2014

    Chuck Nanney

    Chuck Nanney’s first solo exhibition in over ten years is a spare tableau redolent with magical thinking. In “Body Parts & Oracles,” the wraparound whiteness of this new gallery’s single room is dotted and dashed at various heights by small colorful blocks, tall vertical sticks, and diminutive decorative wings that angle off the walls to toy with fantasies of architectural liftoff. But as much as the latter are wings, the oblong protrusions presented here are also pink tongues and purple thumbs, stiff schlongs and saggy sideways sacs, skin flaps and mottled scabs punctuating the space and