Critics’ Picks

  • Hannah Kim Varamini, Dalgona Ghosts, 2020, Dalgona candy, sugar, baking soda, found bullet, 2 x 4 x 1".

    Hannah Kim Varamini, Dalgona Ghosts, 2020, Dalgona candy, sugar, baking soda, found bullet, 2 x 4 x 1".

    Los Angeles

    “No more land West”

    Visitor Welcome Center / Arm Gallery
    Contact for viewing.
    March 11–December 12, 2020

    How will galleries and alternative spaces survive 2020? This seemingly endless refrain obscures the rich history of unorthodox approaches to presenting art as well as the potential for innovation that lurks all around us. One such example is Arm Gallery, a two-by-four-inch rectangle tattooed on the left forearm of artist John Burtle. Since 2007, Arm has presented sculptures, paintings, performances, videos, and more with the help of some spirit gum, medical tape, and straps. These artworks can attach themselves to Burtle for just a few hours, days, or even months. When the artist-run Visitor Welcome Center (VWC) closed its brick-and-mortar location in Los Angeles’s Koreatown this past March, Burtle offered up his body in order to host VWC’s “No more land West,” an exhibition that features the works of forty artists.

    Some of the works that have occupied Burtle’s arm for this show include a text piece by Ruiling Zhang, which considers being a person of color exhibiting on white skin, and Victor Yañez-Lazcano and Livien Yin’s project incorporating sunscreen and tanning oil, which laid bare our strange fetishization with manipulating flesh tone. Hannah Kim Varamini’s edible Korean confections were modeled after a bullet dislodged from a wall of the actual VWC—possibly a remnant of the 1992 LA riots—echoing the city’s violent and complicated past. To my mind, this patch of skin illuminates more about life in LA now than most of the art currently hanging in SoCal galleries.

    A transient location without fixed viewing hours, “No more land West” can be tricky to track down. You could check out photos of the show on Instagram, but you’d miss out on Arm’s special qualities, which can only be experienced in the flesh. Instead, keep an eye out the next time you’re waiting at the bar or in line at the grocery store. You might be standing next to a living reminder that the only resource art truly needs is an artist’s perseverance.

  • Amir H. Fallah, The Animals of the World Exist for Their Own Reasons, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 96".

    Amir H. Fallah, The Animals of the World Exist for Their Own Reasons, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 96".

    Los Angeles

    Amir H. Fallah

    Shulamit Nazarian
    616 N. La Brea Avenue
    September 12–October 31, 2020

    Known for his maximalist, floral tableaux and portraits of people shrouded by richly patterned fabric and often surrounded by objects referencing their own histories, painter Amir H. Fallah presents a new body of work here that departs from his earlier style. The three large tondos in this exhibition are closest to his previous efforts because they repeat signature floral motifs. While still suffused with all manner of flowers and ornamentation, these have now been infiltrated by illustrations taken from children’s literature. The show itself is a kind of children’s book, each piece conceived to communicate core values to the artist’s five-year-old son. Paintings in the main gallery are structured in ways novel to Fallah’s oeuvre, every canvas subdivided into blocks of appropriated imagery in apposition, reminiscent of James Rosenquist’s iconic F-111, 1964–65. But while F-111 portrayed a national cultural moment (as understood by white Americans specifically), Fallah explores his own experience and ethics.

    Set against saturated color gradients and motifs from geometric abstraction, the appropriated tableaux within each painting encompass four main themes: racism, animal rights, pride in his Iranian heritage (rug patterns and figures from Persian miniatures abound), and science. Fallah is an immigrant, a vegan, and an atheist, and his central concerns are linked insofar as the predominant human attitude toward animals—and nature more generally—is characterized by the same exploitative entitlement and cruel disregard that underlie the genocides and enslavements of colonial history, which were often justified in biblical terms to suit the colonizers’ needs. Strikingly, Fallah’s pictures glow with an unmistakable optimism, laments expressed in radiant colors. What the paintings may lack in subtlety (a clenched fist is paired with a raised paw in The Animals of the World Exist for Their Own Reasons, 2019) they make up in chromatic wealth, inventive design, and pitch-perfect rhythm. There is magic to be found reading between the lines, where somber commentary collides with pictorial play, further enlivened by a father’s love for his son.