Critics’ Picks

  • Jessie Homer French, Spring Snow – Chernobyl, 2019, oil on plywood, 12 x 23 1/2".

    Jessie Homer French, Spring Snow – Chernobyl, 2019, oil on plywood, 12 x 23 1/2".

    Jessie Homer French

    Various Small Fires
    812 North Highland Avenue
    By appointment

    Creation and destruction coexist in the natural world; their interplay features prominently in the work of Jessie Homer French. The artist, who lives in Southern California, has experienced the flowering and withering of the landscape up close, as wildfires and earthquakes have ravaged her environs.

    Homer French’s flat colors and simplified figures evoke outsider or naive art, but those labels belie her artistic depth. Her sensitive layering of storylines, existential themes, and site-specific commentaries is informed by the work of her artist friends and local peers, including Ed Ruscha. In “Chernobyl,” the self-proclaimed “regional narrative painter” looks at the return of wildlife to the exclusion zone surrounding the titular nuclear power plant. (The paintings predate the April 2020 fires that sent radioactive material across the region via smoke.) In Spring Snow – Chernobyl, 2019, two wolves trudge through snow in front of a hazard sign and the iconic abandoned Ferris wheel of the never-opened amusement park in Pripyat, Ukraine; in the background of the tiered composition is a row of trees speckled with green buds.

    Curious details crop up in many of Homer French’s paintings: In Death & Resurrection, Chernobyl, 2018, a deer walks by a crucified Christ statue near a drab Soviet-style building. Yet the artist doesn’t dwell on these oddities. She gives equal weight to nature and culture, life and death, studying the rhythms of her area and others that have seen decimation and rebirth. Her pictures of Chernobyl are paired with images of other calamities—mostly those caused by humans, such as infernal wildfires—as well as pristine blue vistas (Hemet Lake, 2018, and McKenzie River Guide, 2019). Together, these works project hope that nature will exist despite, and long past, human recklessness.

  • Catherine Opie, Untitled #2 (Swamps), 2019, ink-jet print, 40 x 60".

    Catherine Opie, Untitled #2 (Swamps), 2019, ink-jet print, 40 x 60".

    Catherine Opie

    Regen Projects
    6750 Santa Monica Blvd
    February 27–June 20, 2020

    Although it opened before the coronavirus-related shutdowns in the United States, Catherine Opie’s exhibition at Regen Projects, “Rhetorical Landscapes,” seems perfectly attuned to the mixture of political rage and cabin fever that so many feel under quarantine. Nine photographs of swamps in the American South hang on the walls and serve as a counterpoint to the animated collages playing on a loop on a circle of Brobdingnagian iPhones (all works 2019). The photographs read as meditations on ecological otherness. Architectural historian Vittoria Di Palma reminds us in her study of early modern land use and cartography, Wasteland: A History (2014), that swamps are places of indeterminacy—they often form around or after lakes and are defined by their status as between land and water—and that our engagement with them is too often exploitative, limited to “rehabilitating” or draining them into compliance with capitalist conceptions of the earth as a contiguous resource exclusively for human gain. If there is an argument in these photographs for a reckoning with this reality, it is a byproduct of the artist’s reveling in the heterogeneity of swamps. Here some vistas are humid, lush, and dense, as in Untitled #4 (Swamps), while others are sparse and potentially dangerous, as in Untitled #2 (Swamps). Far from ciphers of indeterminacy, Opie’s photographs are celebrations of wild difference.

    The animated collages operate in another affective register, as they are overt screeds that betray (and extend, via ironic intensification) the egregious political hypocrisies and deficiencies of the US, such as the stockpiling of guns despite the steady increase in mass shootings, the continuing decimation of black and brown people, and the cavalier belligerence toward our shared ecology amid its collapse. The rage is palpable and righteous; the collages assuage and agitate. This is a moment for wailing, yes, and also for recognizing, especially under quarantine, the extraordinary potential of political imagination.

  • Christina Fernandez, Lavanderia #1, 2002, ink-jet print, 30 x 40".

    Christina Fernandez, Lavanderia #1, 2002, ink-jet print, 30 x 40".

    “Southland”

    Gallery Luisotti
    2525 Michigan Avenue B2
    Open by appointment only

    Of all the Los Angeles streets, apartment facades, and interiors depicted in “Southland,” the modern 1960s-style living room in John Divola’s photograph X18F5, 2002, may seem the most familiar and uncanny. The image is from Divola’s “X-Files,” 2002, which features sets from the titular TV show; this interior is a re-creation of a set from The Brady Bunch, repurposed for the long-running science-fiction series.

    The slippages in X18F5 between reality and illusion, between a sense of absence and an unseen gaze, pervade the exhibition. Photographs by Peter Holzhauer, James Welling, and Mark Ruwedel (who co-organized the show with gallery director Theresa Luisotti) cast a noir shadow across ordinary scenes, reflecting the gulf between Hollywood’s filmic magic and the banality of daily life for many Angelenos. (The phrase “expect everything” on a Budweiser billboard above two dingy houses in Holzhauer’s 2007 photo says it all.)

    Ecological and sociopolitical issues surface in Chelsea Mosher’s richly textured close-ups of industrial netting from the Port of Long Beach and in Christina Fernandez’s images of laundromats in Latino neighborhoods. The latter, photographed from outside, evoke the city’s separations between insiders and outsiders, specifically the othering of LA’s largely lower- and middle-class non-white communities by white, moneyed residents.

    The most unsettling works may be Steve Kahn’s photographs of motel room windows and mirrors from his mid-1970s series “The Hollywood Suites.” The voyeuristic gaze is palpable in these works, which capture the complexity of a city that is at once mundane and unsettling—a city where, as in Divola’s works, The Brady Bunch and The X-Files collide.