Critics’ Picks

View of “Euan Macdonald: Selected Work.”

Los Angeles

Euan Macdonald

The Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Cal State L.A.
5151 State University Drive California State University
January 19–March 15

Surrealism’s patron saint Comte de Lautréamont wrote of “the fortuitous encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on an operating table.” Changed to “the fortuitous encounter of American piano music and a tumbleweed on a Los Angeles freeway,” Lautréamont's quote begins to elucidate the poetic practice of Euan Macdonald, the subject of this eleven-year survey, which captures the same disparities and chance encounters that so interested Lautréamont, but with an explicitly musical bent.

In a Los Angeles thrift store, Macdonald found an old stack of sheet music for American standards that, when flipped through, happened to create a narrative of love gained, then lost. The ninety-four scores that make up Selected Standards, 2007, are hung in roughly the same order in which they flash into view during Macdonald's video Where Flamingos Fly, 2005, the sound track of which is composed of bits from the passing tunes. But in Selected Standards, the covers are also framed and paired with either aerial photographs of Los Angeles or drawings made by the artist. Sometimes the pairings can be literal, at other times more oblique. The image on the cover of “December,” a composition by Al Rinker and Floyd Huddleston, depicts an ideal, domestic Christmastime scene, complete with crackling fireplace and ornamented tree. It’s paired with a black-and-white photograph, shot from overhead, showing two lonely cars and a transport truck crossing the wide cement expanse of a freeway overpass that spans a channelized river. The photo is lonely and more than a little bleak, though in the end, not a bad depiction of Christmas in LA.

Another series of works on view charts the path of a tumbleweed, tumbling across the Mojave Desert, that Macdonald tracked from afar using GPS. On display are photographs of the maps and, in Russian Thistle, 2007, a tumbleweed in a Plexiglas case. The wandering tumbleweed, zigzagging across the desert, captures something of American myth and, like the work of Macdonald, though marked by its seemingly random path, seems on the whole to move forward.