Critics’ Picks

  • Hayden Dunham, RD: hole whole hole :ST, 2018, activated charcoal, DD, metal, platinum silicone, vinyl, glass, porcelain, foam, leather, steel, paper, rubber, volcanic ash, 17 x 42 x 58".

    Hayden Dunham

    Club Pro Los Angeles
    1525 South Main Street 3rd floor
    January 26 - March 4

    A recording of a bird’s song—a canary, presumably—warbles through the gallery’s darkened rooms like a warning of some vaporous danger. It’s no accident that Hayden Dunham’s latest sculptures come off as intentional mishaps. On the landing is a thin, matte spill, untitled (all works 2018), and cracked dry in some places while in others pooling in the joints of the floor. Upstairs, slight LED flashlights illuminate black or dark-blue fluids hardened on black window screens, while other bulbs click on and off in response to flashes from cameras or a flighlight. With slight variations, the artist’s work fixes on the idea, or imitation, of flow—in all its emptied-out, new-age abstraction. In the video Titrate, made with Elizabeth McClellan, slow-moving blue-orange foam trails down a gray staircase as the voice-over talks about the geology of quartz and model fountains. NE: lower den lift :SS and SO: sub mirroring :FT are two porcelain discs fired into draping over sheets of glass. Physically, they are delicate, but visually, they hold firm. Here is leakage on pause.

    Each assemblage suggests a novel significance to fairly prosaic stuff: poured rubber, fired clay, and platinum-grade silicone (the kind used to render synthetic flesh). If there’s a threat in the alchemy of these puddles and shards, it’s a vanishingly subtle one. The materials list for a floor-bound work such as the loosely volcanic RD: hole whole hole :ST, for instance, distinguishes between “charcoal” and “activated charcoal.” Like the plastics, antidepressants, and pesticides circulating through our bodies, Dunham’s sculptures flow in a closed system; left to off-gas in the dark, their ambivalent effects are hard to feel.

  • Young Joon Kwak, Hermaphroditus’s Reveal I, 2017, fiberglass cloth, resin, cast resin, gold enamel, 42 x 28 x 33".

    “All Hands on Deck”

    Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design
    9045 Lincoln Boulevard
    January 21 - April 22

    In her 1994 book The Body in Pieces: The Fragment as a Metaphor of Modernity, the late art historian Linda Nochlin analogized representations of the disintegrated figure to tumultuous moments in the modern period’s political and metaphysical flux. While she linked some examples to the era’s chaotic break from antique notions of unification and permanence, Nochlin argued that others gestured to literal experiences of violence by communities under assault. The logic of the rich array of works in this exhibition bears resemblance to Nochlin’s own in how it addresses social regulation of bodies in the globalized present.

    Young Joon Kwak has titled Hermaphroditus’s Reveal I, 2017, after the mythological child of Aphrodite and Hermes, often portrayed in Greco-Roman sculpture as a feminine figure with male genitalia. Through its coyly placed hands and arabesque ripples of resin-coated fiberglass cloth, the work conjures an abstraction of the act of revealing. Echoes of this maneuver are found in Ellen Schafer’s “Ambiance Apparel,” 2017, a series of silicone-painted totemic T-shirt sculptures; Isabel Yellin’s bulging leatherette-covered human surrogates; and Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s aptly titled photographs (such as Draping [IMG6936] and Draping [R2A7774], both 2015), all of which render yet simultaneously foreclose the erotic potential of perceiving skin among undulating folds and puckers of fabric. Alternatively, in Orr Herz and Roni Shneior’s ceramic and epoxy fountain, Finish the Words from Your Plate, 2015, abject pleasures flow amid the orifices of an exuberantly splayed cavity, the lip of which is accented by gangly fingers.

    Evocative thematic and historic resonances abound in this installation, which underscores the resistive potential of figuration in interstitial forms. Between the works’ various states of visibility, illegibility, fracture, and unity, new corporeal orientations emerge.

  • Ben Wolf Noam, Grandpa Wolf, 2018, charcoal on archival cardboard, 34 x 23 1/2".

    Ben Wolf Noam

    204 S Avenue 19
    January 19 - February 28

    You know things are bad when a young painter like Ben Wolf Noam, used to winding patterns and cheerful gradients, turns to the sooty textures of charcoal on cardboard. Call it the new Neue Sachlichkeit—a certain polemical caricaturizing that, like a market crash or the flu, tends to come back around. The opulent desperation Noam depicts across forty panels, hung two rows high, presents the last thirteen months of the American experience as a wide-angled, roughly cubist mania. Here, contorted figures dance, upside down, above a Mesoamerican pyramid, serpent gods, and a slapdash glass-and-steel skyline (Lets Fukin Party, 2017); there, the little Monopoly man grins beside a gravestone marked “TECH BROS” (Cult of the Entrepreneur, 2017). Elsewhere, bees die, cities gentrify; memes blur into porn; a knife draws blood from a woman’s pregnant belly.

    Several portraits provide calmer, more personal passages. The cigar-toking Grandpa Wolf, 2018, gazes frame left out of a startling geometric shirt; Grandma Lotte, 2017, grips a blank area of the drawing’s composition. But the medium’s powdery nostalgia keeps lurching back to topical twenty-seventeen—another portrait, a flattened nude called Woman Reading (Ferrante), 2017, nods to current debates over an author’s right to privacy, while A Weinstein Picture, 2017, sends the disgraced producer’s company logo into a boxy void.

    The show is titled “Leap Year.” 2018 isn’t one, but it does happen to be the centennial of the Weimar Republic’s founding—and here again is an internecine aesthetic wherein the artist, roughly condemning the age, takes pleasure in his own pastiche. Neue Sachlichkeit? Gesundheit.

  • Barak Zemer, Mouse, 2016, ink-jet print, 64 x 43."

    Barak Zemer

    Night Gallery
    2276 East 16th Street
    January 20 - March 3

    While the photographs that make up “Transit,” Barak Zemer’s first exhibition at this gallery, are descriptive of people and things, their heavily structured compositions—both as individual images and within the group of pictures—trouble a documentary read of the work. The camera often frames an action or a thing, as in Gate, 2017, which centers on a gleaming model airplane positioned at an airport boarding gate, or Transit, 2017, which shows an eerily bright apple cupped underneath a drinking glass on top of a black faux-leather car dashboard.

    Framing takes many forms in these works, whether it comes from the position of the camera, the evenhanded treatment of images from different times, places, and levels of personal connection, or through scale—there are four sizes among the thirteen photographs. Containment devices, as metaphorical extensions of composition, are subjects of special interest and are offered up for comparison: Cliff, 2015, a tightly cropped picture of a huge aquarium with no fish in sight, sits next to Belly, 2016, an image of a domed pregnant stomach topped with ultrasound gel.

    That pairing is only the most direct expression of the entire exhibition’s interest in the interplay between the artificial and the natural. Zemer’s work recasts this well-trodden dichotomy in vivid, immediate emotional terms. Note the affectless Hand and Mouse, 2016, which shows a clean white-cuffed, white-skinned hand holding a PC mouse, a highlighter in the foreground. Consider this next to the nearby Mouse, 2016, which could have had the same title: the latter photograph, printed at a monumental scale, shows large, dirty-fingernailed hands proffering a dead rodent to another, more youthful pair of appendages wielding a smartphone, lens trained on the corpse.

  • Xylor Jane, PeopleMover, 2017, oil on board, 31 x 29".

    Xylor Jane

    Parrasch Heijnen Gallery
    1326 South Boyle Avenue
    January 13 - February 17

    An accidental smudge on the left edge of PeopleMover (all works 2017) reveals Xylor Jane’s geometric paintings to be an incommensurate tug-of-war between the steady work of the hand and the roving pleasure of the eye. Like a well-crafted collection of couturier garments, these ten paintings have in common certain marks and signs—little colorful dots, lists of prime-number palindromes—and most are handsomely framed out in steel with a dull, brassy finish. And yet, each work is unquestionably its own, possessing traits unique to itself. In PeopleMover, this individuated element would be the silvery ground, which appears nowhere else, and upon which Jane has painted a sequence of pastel triangles undulating across the painting’s surface. Similar to works by Agnes Martin, from afar, PeopleMover looks cool and mechanical, but when viewed up close one can see it is filled with little instances of humanity.

    The artist’s paintings vacillate between an enlivening riot of rainbow colors (Magic Square for Earthlings or 91418) and more deadpan, subdued palettes (Zahav [Ninety-four 11 digit prime palindromes arranged in four columns, selected from a group of 42,100]). Information—in the form of integers—seeps from the work, but its use value is anyone’s guess. In this way, Jane’s oil-on-board works put a kind of phenomenological spell on a viewer as she joins histories of Op art and the occult. If they could speak they would chant. And as with any good mystery, paying attention only deepens the enigma.

  • Amanda Charchian, 7 Types of Love, Pragma 1, 2017, ink-jet print, 40 x 27".

    “Future Feminine”

    148 North La Brea Avenue
    January 18 - February 24

    Photography is not a fine art, John Berger wrote, “unless we include those absurd studio works in which the photographer arranges every detail of his [sic] subject before he [sic] takes the picture.” While only one of the five photographers featured in “Future Feminine,” Amanda Charchian, happens to work in commercial fashion photography—where detailed tableaux of objects and people are de rigueur—Remy Holwick and the duo of Prue Stent and Honey Long shoot portraiture whose audacious arrangements and costume would not be out of place in the pages of Vogue.

    Charchian’s series “7 Types Of Love,” 2015–17, channels classical sublimity in the guise of pulp to imbue BDSM imagery with radical tenderness. In 7 Types of Love, Pragma 1, 2017, a naked woman, hands gloved in supple leather and cuffed at the wrist, cradles two eggs. In 7 Types of Love, Mania, 2017, a sheet of plastic suspended between model and lens—she gasps for air, clutches at her chest—confronts the viewer with the arousing alarm of erotic asphyxiation. 7 Types of Love, Agape, 2017, a quadriptych in red, evokes the cinematic iconography of Man Ray vis-à-vis the female gaze; disembodied lips bleed into the ether.

    Stent and Long’s works drop the archetypal Venus figure into the Anthropocene: In Venus Milk, 2015, she is draped in a pink sheet, heavily windblown, emerging not from a clamshell but from a Pepto-pink tide pool. Elsewhere, Holwick’s dramatic portraits of models dressed in jubilant drag—Velvet Moon #3, #7, and Portrait of Artist Millie Brown (all 2016)—could be stills from a haute-couture reboot of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973) but were in fact all shot at the Savage Ranch, the queer artist and designer Love Bailey’s commune in the desert south of Los Angeles.

  • “View of Alyse Emdur: Skunks and Flowers,” 2018.

    Alyse Emdur

    7101 North Figueroa Street Unit E
    January 13 - March 4

    The works in Alyse Emdur’s exhibition are a tiling of Pop art textiles and bold graphics, with most from a series titled “Skunks and Flowers,” 2017–18. The abundance of india ink and matte acrylic-based gouache drawings plastered on the walls elicits comparisons to both the patterns of a groovy 1960s American girl’s outfits and the illustrative satire of French cartoonists like Tomi Ungerer. What we witness here is redolent of a teenager’s self-consciously decorated bedroom, papered over with magazine clippings and political posters. Peppered throughout are texts of the kind that a housebound mother of midcentury America might have referenced—self-help maxims and chestnuts from parenting books about teaching children coping mechanisms for dealing with death. The final inhabitants of Emdur’s burrow, also a place where trauma might breed, are skunks which interrupt the optimism of the suburban imagery.

    The artist plays to our senses, luring us in with a hedonistic display of motifs and color that calls forth nostalgia for an exalted, yet still troublesome, era. Then, as soon as we are aroused by the cosmetic amusement of the work, that little black-and-white mephitis marches in and threatens (or eroticizes, depending) the space with evocations of odor and anal play, turning a docile domestic scene rabid.

    This is the room of an isolated human, a Cassavetes woman under the influence, stuck in a closed circuit of domestic intelligence. Any good housewife knows that a stinky room is embarrassing. Bad smells are for the low class or the unwell. And simply masking the odor won’t do. The disagreeable scents of the domicile must be eliminated. The solution? One large noxious exhale.

  • Andy Robert, Higher Ground: Soon, Higher Ground: Past Present, Higher Ground: Here, 2017, oil and pencil on linen, 88" x 18 1/2'. Installation view.

    Andy Robert

    December 15 - February 17

    Andy Robert’s Smoking Gun (all works 2017) is a mass of speckled paint. The broken brushstrokes on the substrate dissolve and then corrugate in the manner of late Impressionism, Arte Povera, or even tachism. At times, pure, nonlocalized color abuts less welcoming mixtures that approach the hues of mud. From a distance, silvery tones, deeper beiges, and warm ivories read as only slight deviations from the canvas. Up close, at center, a body emerges, a black body. One wearing cutoff blue jeans, a hat, and carrying a firearm slung over one shoulder. The figure is based on a mass-produced image of a Maroon in the Caribbean. Thus is our ingress into Robert’s geography, as the show’s title cryptically hints: “Lakou: One Two Five.”

    The titular Haitian Creole word denotes not only a space of habitation but also the shared environs of ancestry. It is an inheritance that cannot be sold. “One Two Five,” or 125th Street in Harlem, is where most of these paintings were made. Harlem, which has been the heart of so many overlapping diasporic black communities, even appears in the seated portrait Thelma Golden. The iconic Studio Museum director’s face is obscured in a jumble of sienna browns while vivacious purple lines pattern her dress. The museum building behind her, a bedrock for African American artistic praxis, looms larger. In more nonobjective paintings, such as Cross Country D, specific loci go adrift in a work constituted by many small canvases all swarming with blue marks indicative of water.

    Although it is easy to think of the water as some one-to-one stand-in for the slave trade and escape, Robert acknowledges the complexities of these issues as he untangles them in paint. The Maroons were neither freed people nor slaves; not even fugitives, they were resistance fighters who occupied mountainous areas in the West Indies and Guiana, among other places. In the triptych Higher Ground: Soon, Higher Ground: Past Present, Higher Ground: Here, the black body is in a modern city. In these paintings they, the warriors and their descendants, exist in the now.

  • Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Writing not Writing, 2017, fused glass, ceramic, steel, 60 x 28 x 16".

    Jessica Jackson Hutchins and Rebecca Morris

    The Pit
    918 Ruberta Avenue
    January 17 - February 18

    This exhibition, displaying two of Rebecca Morris’s paintings and four of Jessica Jackson Hutchins’s sculptures, feels perfectly tuned. Morris’s signature forms, such as steps reminiscent of a household staircase or front stoop along with blotchy patterning suggesting bacteria or leopard print, are deployed for Untitled (#09-17) (all works 2017), a large canvas glowing in soft salmon pink. The imagery here feels more biomorphic than usual for the artist. Her use of gauzy edges, staining, and pale hues paired with blacks and grays causes the painting to move in and out of focus, a wondrous effect when one is standing directly before it. In keeping with the references to architecture and grids in much of her oeuvre, Untitled (#10-17) resembles a window frame through which nothing can be seen but snow and fog. Together, the works embody Morris’s polar interests in congestion and emptiness.

    Of the four Jackson Hutchins works, two represent an entirely new direction the artist embarked upon last year. Writing Not Writing and Presence place her ceramics on steel shelves that grow from armatures framing colored-glass panels. Jackson Hutchins’s technique harkens back to traditional stained glass but produces results no one could mistake for antique. Using a fused-glass method, she creates pieces featuring painterly, abstract pours as well as spattered, animated line work. These new pieces convey a lightness that contrasts with the massive presence of the artist’s well-known found-furniture sculptures, demonstrating her adventurous pursuit of an unexplored language. These two artists are not resting on their laurels.

  • Lezley Saar, Vesta the Johnny, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16''. From the series “Gender Renaissance,” 2015–.

    Lezley Saar

    California African American Museum (CAAM)
    600 State Drive, Exposition Park
    October 25 - February 18

    For most of the run of Lezley Saar’s jewel-box retrospective exhibition at this museum, a visitor could also see work by Saar’s sister, the sculptor Alison Saar, and mother, Betye Saar, a few paces away, in a separate, traveling group show. Indeed, the Saars are a formidable presence in Los Angeles—they’re the closest thing to an art dynasty we have—but as of yet, far less attention has been paid to Lezley Saar’s research-intensive and wildly speculative work. This installation seeks to amend that, bringing together four series for the first time under the winking title “Salon des Refusés.”

    Unlike the original “Salon de Refusés” in 1863, none of the painted and collaged works here are rejects, but rather the people portrayed in them have been tossed aside and discounted by society. The artist invests in these individuals for their latent potentialities. Paintings from the series “Madwoman in the Attic/Madness and the Gaze,” 2004–12, explore, among other things, nineteenth-century fictional characters, many of whom are brown or black, who subvert societal restrictions on the behaviors of women of color via madness or mental disorders. In Bertha Rochester, 2012, the head of Charlotte Brontë’s famous “madwoman in the attic” is proposed as a free-floating tree of pain and despair, while surrounding keyhole photographs of clocks and stacked dollhouse furniture give one a sense of her isolated life. For the series “Monad,” 2014, the artist blends the organic and the cosmic—eyes float in the heavens, set within a carpet of stars—while the fictional women depicted throughout, with a few notable historical references, appear as explorers of the boundaries between science and the occult. Finally, “Gender Renaissance,” 2015–, investigates personages (including real individuals) who blurred gender lines prior to the emergence of transgender identity discourse. In all these cases, Saar looks to the past—lived and literary—so that we might see how to make the present a more welcoming place for the strange and the brave.

  • Kristin Lucas, Greater Flamingo, Marching No. 2, 2017, laser animation, silent, 2 minutes.

    Kristin Lucas

    And/Or Gallery
    980 S Arroyo Pkwy #200
    November 18 - February 24

    Kristin Lucas’s Sole Soaker, 2015, begins at the base of an impossibly tall staircase. For this video game, a gallery visitor can become a player by picking up a nearby Xbox controller. Ascending the stairs gives one a sense of the landscape; at the edge of a lush and verdant peninsula is a blacktop parking lot, bound on two sides by water. In the distance is a blue car. At sixty meters above sea level a chime sounds and a disembodied feminine robotic voice confirms your progress. Things change quickly as the waters begin to rise, quickly engulfing the landscape, and finally cresting at the tops of scattered trees.

    The artist’s interactive work is less a cybernetic cri de coeur than a confirmation of what we already know to be true. This is the world in ecological collapse—a tidal reclaiming. Sole Soaker is an unsettling centerpiece in an exhibition that otherwise uses the figure of the flamingo as a visual symbol to explore everything from human sociality to the history of recent imaging technologies, integrating lasers, as in Greater Flamingo, Marching No. 2, as well as augmented reality, as in Flamingos, Flocking, both 2017. Kitschy, gorgeous, and enigmatic, for this body of work Lucas sees flamingos everywhere, perhaps precisely because they are becoming evermore vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. This is a well-researched and playful flamboyance of works that, when taken together, gesture toward the deceptively simple yet deliciously complex insight made by anthropologist Anna Tsing that “human nature is an interspecies relationship.” Let the choir sing and honk their affirmations.