Critics’ Picks

Lari Pittman, 10 Divinations by Emily Dickinson in Greens and Blues (detail), 2015, acrylic and lacquer spray, gesso, board, 27 x 25 x 4 1/2".

Los Angeles

Lari Pittman

The Huntington
1151 Oxford Road
September 3, 2016–February 20, 2017

Lari Pittman is counting the ways. With titles such as 9 Apparitions During Times of Anxiety and Distress and 12 Verified Occurrences During a Full Moon (all works 2015), the six large-format, unique volumes (cradled lovingly in a rhythmic display designed by architect Michael Maltzan) that make up this show are books of hours for our uncertain times. Unlike those medieval illuminated manuscripts, though, these are large and unwieldy things, heavy and insistent, and yet within the context of Pittman’s oeuvre of densely layered monumental paintings, they are nevertheless intimate and beguiling. Coming on the heels of the artist’s 2015 series “Nuevos Caprichos,” which updated Goya’s vision of a cruel and unrelenting world, these works are caught between doom and possibility, which might be a fulcrum for political activation. The books vacillate in this regard: Over 6 Nights and 6 Days ends with the sentence, “And so it was from now on that everything would be clarified upside-down!” Another work ends with the more hopeful, “Although, the magnificent mundane can be found anytime!”

In 10 Divinations by Emily Dickinson in Greens and Blues, Pittman dots each painted page with the opening lines from one of the nineteenth-century writer’s poems, sometimes adding underlines for emphasis: “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.” Set against imagery of high-rises, columns of books, striped poles, decorated boats, and the occasional figure, all stitched together to stave off visual and structural collapse, Dickinson’s words take on the import of prophesy—an escape hatch, but also a damning confirmation of the now. They are pronouncements from the past tethered unmistakably to our present, intended to shake us from––to crib from a later stanza of the same poem quoted by Pittman above––our “quartz contentment.”