Critics’ Picks

  • Ian Markell, RISER, 2018, carpet, wood, galvanized steel, laser printed image of three presumed gay men, Plexiglas, hardware, 18 x 16 x 120".

    Ian Markell

    Bad Reputation
    2007 Wilshire Blvd Suite 729
    June 1 - July 29

    In 1977, Douglas Crimp explicated a turn in pictorial signification—a gradual distancing of image from context that freed up the imaginary. In this distance, both psychological and material, the caption takes on a solemnity, as these spectral pictures—resistant to meaning, hospitable to vagaries—now house secrets. Social media has since changed our relationship to pictures, with captions facilitating not just meaning but, increasingly, monetization. Moments of secrecy are all the more noteworthy for their evasion of capitalist mechanisms.

    Ian Markell seems indebted to secrets, the dispossessed kind. His sculptures become hosts for the strange or foreign. For instance, the steel pipe and half-moon of Plexiglas affixed to a worn wooden tabletop in HUB99 (all works 2018) are odd appendices but not particularly referential. Similarly, the roll of canvas nestled inside an inoperable street lamp (0.72AMP ARM) appears precisely measured to fit but reveals little about its significance. RISER operates differently: A shoddily carpeted DJ platform retrofitted with a clear cubby safeguards several underexposed photographs. Gracing the top of the stack are three men wearing white shirts. The impulse toward concealment is undermined by the medium noted on the checklist: “laser printed image of three presumed gay men.”

    That disclosures of this kind get sheltered within a DJ platform isn’t unprecedented, recalling the empty stages in Chameleon Club, 2002–2004, a photographic series by Kevin McCarty of gay bars across Los Angeles. The depicted platforms serve as spaces for rehearsing queerness. The same can be obliquely said of Markell’s constructed intervention: A locked vault contains traces of context, a note that remains both private and public, marking the potential for a caption to reframe subjectivities without commodifying them.

  • View of “Closed Down Clubs,” 2018.

    Fiona Connor

    MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Mackey Apartments
    1137 South Cochran Avenue
    May 11 - August 12

    In the fifth century BCE, a Greek cult emerged that was dedicated to the demigod Asclepius, whose province was healing and medicine. Before retiring to the holiest chamber of his temple to engage in sacred sleep, adherents of the faith would pray to Mnemosyne—goddess of memory—in the hope that their dreams would not be forgotten. Instead of soliciting the facility to remember, Fiona Connor’s sculptural replicas of club doors, “Closed Down Clubs,” 2017–2018, point to the potential foreclosure of public memory. Connor is meticulous with her reproductions, which encompass everything from the unsightly residue of tape left on glass to the small “This Saxophone Kills Fascists” fliers tucked into the panic bar of a darkly painted door. Sometimes such ephemera adhered to the doors gives up their identity (Club Tee Gee, or Café Avanti), but most of the portals remain unnamed and anonymous, even as their utter specificity is made spectacular.

    Each of the nine doors in this installation stands upright without the walls that would support it and define it as a threshold. In allowing the viewer to see the front and back of the doors without passing through them, Connor permits one to inhabit two distinct positions in quick succession—that of the patron, suddenly closed out of a favorite haunt, and that of the owner, who must confront the final view from inside. Both of these psychological states involve grief, but their charge is different, and their investments and losses are asymmetrical. Never before has blue painter’s tape appeared so melancholic, a neon list of upcoming performers so prized, or a door so sacred.

  • Amanda Vincelli, REGIMEN, 2015–17, medications, towels, vinyl, pleather, headphones, sound, dimensions variable.

    “take care,”

    2315 Jesse Street BBQLA
    June 9 - July 20

    Los Angeles is one big pop-up. There’s Kim K. West’s beauty shop at Westfield Century City, Dean Baldwin’s restaurant One Top, and even a gallery or two—one of which, Gas, is housed in a truck. The space’s current exhibition examines another Angeleno preoccupation, self-care, by calling on nine artists to reassess a claim once made by Audre Lorde. Is self-care a radical, political act?

    Not quite, says Amanda Vincelli, whose REGIMEN, 2015–17, documents the drug routines of adult women chained to big pharma for their medical needs. Nor for Darya Diamond, whose emergency call buttons challenge the distinction between the luxury and the urgency of wellness. Jules Gimbrone's and Young Joon Kwak’s sculptures surveil bodies through cosmetic residues, while Ian James’s image of a woman wearing a gold face mask attests to the blind faith put into beauty rituals. Is this a response to national anxiety? Post-election news headlines suggest yes: An article in the Washington Post offered “Self-care tips for those who are terrified of Trump’s presidency.”

    Though it may provide short-term relief, self-care is not a catch-all solution. Maybe we need non-quantifiable alternatives to the data-driven Fitbits and health apps that appear to offer immediate improvements; perhaps healing soundscapes like C. Lavender’s Sagittal Plane Interference, 2018, afford greater solace. Take a deep breath and— Oh heal me pls! cries Hayley Barker’s drawing, in a spectrum of pinks and yellows. It’s a hypochondriac’s plea to which the disparate works respond with an equally untenable suggestion: Better to log off, lie low, and steer clear of public panic. The collective ailment, so it seems, is the relentless allure of short-lived trends.

  • Stephen Prina, galesburg, illinois+, John Cage, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, April 1983, Photographer unknown. All documentation of John Cage’s visit to Knox College in February 1972— including photographic documentation and an audio recording of his talk—is missing from the Knox College Library. This photograph holds the place of the earlier event., 2015, digital C-print, fabric, wood, 27 x 23 7/8".

    Stephen Prina

    Sprüth Magers | Los Angeles
    5900 Wilshire Boulevard
    May 12 - August 11

    Are you a lefty or a righty? How about your earlobes—attached or unattached? The codes that make up a genome and determine such traits are immensely complicated, but the categories these traits are sorted into can appear strangely arbitrary. After all, what is the significance of flesh (or lack thereof) connecting the head and the earlobe? Stephen Prina’s exhibition “galesburg, illinois+,” which has been shown at various venues since 2015, links seemingly consequential and coincidental biographical details to question deterministic understandings of personal histories.

    Prina’s project presents the small Midwestern city of his birth via an aerial photograph (Harbor Lights Supper Club, Galesburg, Illinois, 1947–1986, former site, 2015, Photography: Foley Photo Studio, Galesburg, Illinois, 2018), artifacts (a penny acquired as change at a Galesburg drug store and a photograph from the Knox College Library in Galesburg), and two anecdotes, which appear as wall texts in the gallery. In one of these epigraphs, the artist describes an unexpected cameo by his hometown supper club in a video screened at the Kitchen in New York. In the other, Prina recounts performing in a band at the local Taco Hideout Lounge, only to discover that John Cage may have been in the audience.

    These stories about the collapse of perceived distance (physical or cultural) add another dimension to his long-running series Exquisite Corpse: The Complete Paintings of Manet, 1988–, in which the artist produces brushy monochromatic analogues of each work in Manet’s catalogue raisonné. Monochrome painting was once seen as a transcendent conclusion to the progression of modern aesthetics. But within the exhibition’s matrix of personal biography, the 45-degree (right-handed?) back-and-forth strokes of Prina’s abstract ink-wash drawings are notably grounded in the ineffable complexity of context while offering deadpan matter-of-factness to the supposedly subjective gesture.