Critics’ Picks

  • Servane Mary, Untitled (Mariel Hemingway dancing, burned piece), 2011, solvent transfer and mixed media on silk, 22 x 31".

    Servane Mary

    JOAN
    1206 South Maple Avenue Suite 715
    March 3–April 14

    Untitled (Mariel Hemingway dancing, burned piece), 2011, is the most visceral of Servane Mary’s sculpturally altered, found photographs of women: A folded scrap of silk, wrinkled and stained with the brindled abstractions of a solvent transfer, hangs like a papery flap of singed skin over a gauzy monotone print of the actress in her youth. By juxtaposing the photograph, a static signifier, and the material appendage, a weathered bodily object, this work functions as a pointed surrogate for the desirable youthful female while making tangible the corporeal decay that will eventually swallow her insouciant beauty. Hemingway’s own familial entanglement with fame, mental illness, and tragedy further heightens this tension between mortality and celebrity. Photogenic expiration—and thus, irrelevancy—threatens her vernal body.

    Oscillating between depictions of demure ingenues and seditious “anti-heros” (IRA fighters, Bernardine Dohrn of the Weather Underground), the photographs in Mary’s exhibition are culled from public archives and reprinted on diverse sculptural substrates. However, not all engage as explicitly with time’s deleterious effects on the flesh. Elsewhere, images on sinuous metal sheets and crumpled Mylar repel associations with the body’s vulnerability, instead evoking sheaths that insulate and abstract, complicating the legibility of representation. A roseate print of Lee Miller’s eye, Untitled (Lee Miller’s Eye), 2017, rests in a corner perpendicular to a mirror; the symmetry provided by its reflection completes the absent half of her face. This doubled gaze seems to implicate the (perhaps male) viewer, whose eye might also be caught in the looking glass: Mary’s Medusan gesture invites accountability for our insidious cultural crafting of female subjectivity.

  • View of “Trinidad / Joy Station,” 2019.

    Beatriz Cortez

    Craft & Folk Art Museum
    5814 Wilshire Boulevard
    January 27–May 12

    If you were migrating to outer space, what would you bring with you? Beatriz Cortez raises this question in three interconnected installations at Craft Contemporary. Visitors first encounter Nomad 13, 2017/19, a portable garden in the form of a space capsule that Cortez created in collaboration with artist Rafa Esparza. Displayed in nearby niches are Burned, 2012, a charred tome from Cortez’s “Books of Memory” series, 2012, and seashells from a suitcase she packed in 1989 as she was fleeing the civil war in her native El Salvador for the US. Elsewhere, in Clandestine Garden, 2012/19, verdant shoots sprout from a poetry book.

    Upstairs, Cortez’s installation Trinidad / Joy Station, 2019, transports visitors to a sci-fi realm modeled partly after Joya de Cerén, an ancient Mayan village in present-day El Salvador, and after Drop City, a 1960s artist commune in Colorado. Here, Cortez has recycled rusty industrial refuse into structures for a communal society. A geodesic igloo and a walk-in hut are modularly fabricated from automobile door parts connected by zip ties, allowing for easy and adaptable reconfiguration. The interiors of these shelters are largely empty; viewers are left to fill them with their own visualizations.

    A neighboring seedling garden bathed in violaceous grow lights provides nourishment and calm, but not all is rosy in this cosmic realm. A silver bedroom set nearby lends the room the austerity of a penitentiary; woven from Mylar and chain-link fencing, it evokes contemporary immigrant detention centers. The most radically transmutative work in the show, Jumbo, 2018, reimagines an atomic bomb silo as a repository for seeds of sustenance. With her ethos of hopeful resourcefulness, Cortez makes a strong case for harnessing the relics of destruction as foundations for a different fate.

  • Alex Hubbard, Projector 1, 2018, LED monitor, coated lenses, urethane, LED light bulbs, lighting transformer, Plexiglas, bellow, tables, plinth, digital video (color, silent, 10 minutes 31 seconds).

    Alex Hubbard

    Gaga, Los Angeles
    2228 W 7th St 2nd floor (entrance on S. Grand View St.)
    February 12–March 23

    In his current exhibition, “Projectors,” Alex Hubbard synthesizes the aesthetic and conceptual themes that have informed his work in two films: Projector 1 and Projector 2, both 2019, recall Stan Brakhage’s hand-painted moving images and are screened from projectors built by Hubbard.

    As with much of Hubbard’s oeuvre, these new pieces thematize light and dissolve the boundary between abstraction and figuration. The shorter work, Projector 2, is a kaleidoscopic collage of turquoise and ruby. Bright, dazzling specks of color stand out against the diffuse background to evoke the sense of being underwater, looking through a prism, or seeing particles of dust illuminated in a beam of light. Strips of light and shadow appear and disappear in a staccato rhythm. Hubbard rotates the frame every minute or two, and an arm periodically interjects, drawing attention to inchoate forms that suggest raindrops, stringed instruments, and swimming fish.

    Dominated by vivid greens and reds, Projector 1 is Hubbard’s quirky take on the still life. Over the course of ten and a half minutes, it depicts, among other things, an issue of OK! magazine, a liquor bottle, and a metronome whose swaying arm has a hypnotic effect, reducing the surrounding items to zones of grainy color. The artist plays with surface and depth in both the content and structure of his films; here, wisps of smoke conjure space in a visual field flattened by unnatural illumination and a skewed perspective.

    Though easy to overlook in the darkened gallery, the bulky handmade projectors are impressively sculptural and demonstrate the artist’s attentiveness to process and materiality—even in works made from light and shadow.

  • Mariah Garnett, Trouble, 2019, HD video, 83 minutes.

    Mariah Garnett

    Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery
    4800 Hollywood Boulevard
    February 14–April 14

    Mariah Garnett’s eighty-three-minute film Trouble, 2019, opens with clips from a 1971 BBC documentary about interfaith relationships in conflict-ridden Northern Ireland that features Garnett’s Protestant father, David (whom she didn’t meet until she was twenty-seven), and his Catholic then-girlfriend, Maura. As we come to discover, the program’s airing in Belfast at the height of the Troubles ultimately led to David’s departure from his country, never to return. Trouble is a heartbreaking account of the minute and massive consequences of human identifications—Catholic and Protestant, self and other, father and daughter.

    Garnett’s exhibition consists of nearly ten years of the artist’s work, including her best-known video Encounters I May or May Not Have Had with Peter Berlin, 2012, which exemplifies Garnett’s technique of interspersing documentary footage with fantasies and re-enactments, always including her own desiring body within the frame. In Trouble, Garnett allows her father to speak over the documentary but alludes to the impossibility of historical accuracy by re-creating select clips, casting herself as him. If anything, Garnett makes the historical record queerer, more vulnerably tangled.

    At the end of the film, Garnett reads from one of the many letters that her father wrote to her but never sent: “Making plans is very risky, but I’d love to go home. Does that sound strange? I haven’t been home in 25 years. . . . I haven’t spoken to you for 13. . . . One day we’ll talk together, father to daughter, old man to young girl, friend to friend.” Garnett’s film is profound both for its presentation of the stakes of failed communication and for its optimism about our ability to connect. Its final imagery—footage from her father’s recent wedding—is less an Austenian symbol of reproductive futurity than a record of an important attempt at intimacy in the present.

  • Rona Pondick, Yellow Blue Black White, 2013–18, pigmented resin, acrylic, epoxy modeling compound, 20 1/2 x 17 3/4 x 17 7/8".

    Rona Pondick

    Zevitas Marcus
    2754 S La Cienega Blvd
    February 9–March 30

    For the better part of the still-young twenty-first century, Rona Pondick’s primary material has been steel, out of which she has fashioned fantastical human-plant-animal hybrids that seduce and disturb in equal measure. This modest installation of recent work shows her creatively plumbing a new set of media—resin, acrylic, and modeling compound—and all their formal possibilities.

    One of her first works in these materials,Yellow Blue Black White, 2013–18, is a vibrant yellow cast of Pondick’s face attached to a “body,” a variegated mass covered with blue and black indentations. In its strategic use of color, the piece recalls some of the artist’s earliest sculptures, such as Baby Blue, 1990. One doll-size hand of this bean-shaped being is placed atop its chest (if one might hazard a guess at its anatomy), and the other gracefully rests palm-up on the ground. While her materials might seem to call for a more improvisational method, Pondick is no less exacting in her construction, employing an abrupt (yet somehow still subtle) transition between the opaque and translucent yellows of the creature’s wrist and fingers. Another sculpture, Magenta Swimming in Yellow, 2015–17, also features Pondick’s head, this time cast in a luminous purple. Clear resin rises up from an opaque lemon-colored base to the height of Pondick’s mouth, dramatizing an encasement, or perhaps a glacially paced drowning. Blurred but nevertheless discernable are the outlines of the diminutive body of this figure, who slumps against a couple of carefully placed supports. As perverse as it is, the deep pleasure of looking at these sculptures provides a vision of transformation, for both the artist and her avatars.

  • Emma Webster, Forest Vigil, 2018, oil on canvas, 108 x 84".

    Emma Webster

    DIANE ROSENSTEIN
    831 North Highland Avenue
    February 9–March 23

    Sir Philip Sidney describes his Arcadia as “so perfect a model of the heavenly dwellings.” For “Arcadia,” her first solo exhibition, Emma Webster showcases painted landscapes of a similarly mythic locus amoenus. These canvases feature 2-D oil renderings of 3-D dioramas that she cobbles together in her studio. The maquettes juxtapose surreal bucolic scenery with clay animal figurines, plastic foliage, and art-historical iconography evoking everything from work by Albert Bierstadt to Francis Bacon, Hieronymus Bosch to John Martin, and Western film backdrops to elementary school arts and crafts.

    Although the exhibited works are not collages themselves, that patchwork sensibility remains even after Webster has translated the imagery of her modeled tableaux in paint. These Frankensteinian idylls, with their filmic set design, betray the underlying truth of all landscape painting: Every image of nature is a product of human handiwork. The history of art is a history of artifice, of painters rendering landscapes from their points of view and thereby shaping them, tainting them. Representations of nature are always already spoiled.

    Yet the postlapsarian world of Webster’s pastoral dreamscapes somehow retains an Edenic sublimity through its foregrounded artificiality—these locales, while uncannily familiar, are like no place on earth, each so perfect a model of a model of some heavenly dwellings.

  • Ann Greene Kelly, Untitled, 2019, mattress, graphite, colored pencil, plaster, wood, 82 x 69 x 32".

    Ann Greene Kelly

    Michael Benevento
    3712 Beverly Boulevard
    February 10–March 30

    Ann Greene Kelly toys with the tradition of the ready-made by melding everyday objects with plaster, stone, and other traditional sculptural materials, lending the quotidian an intimate and idiosyncratic edge. In her first solo exhibition at Michael Benevento, “For a Mended Tread,” the artist focuses her work on mattresses and tires, two man-made items designed to facilitate two of our most important activities—sleep and transportation. 

    In Untitled (all works 2019), two deep, black tire grooves fashioned from molded plaster and graphite are embedded in a stained pink mattress, which, slumped heavily against the wall, is clearly a play on the monoliths of Minimalist art; the grooves are either references to Robert Rauschenberg’s 1953 Automobile Tire Print or a wink at the wear and tear bodies exert on beds. In the next room, a stack of five bisected tires opens this private world up another crack. The interiors of the rubber rings are lined with white plaster and carved to mimic the inverse texture of the treads; just a degree out of context, and enhanced with colored pencil, the pattern feels delicate and is evocative of bathroom tiles. Viewed from this perspective, the scale of the whole sculpture shifts toward something like an apartment complex—an association encouraged by the small window-like cutouts Kelly made in the tires.

    Each of these sculptures seems to be guided by a logic lodged within the object. This is especially evident in the stunning Untitled, a small circular mattress with a gleaming drain sunk into its center. Layering the formal and the personal, Kelly not only imbues each object on view with imaginative utilitarian functionality, but also suggests whole worlds of other goods that might revolve around them.

  • Suzanne Jackson, Moons in Double Copper Sea, 2017, acrylic, wood veneer, and detritus on paper, 35 1/2 x 45".

    Suzanne Jackson

    O-Town House
    672 S. Lafayette Park Place Suite 44
    February 9–March 23

    History reverberates throughout this small exhibition of Suzanne Jackson’s recent work. Jackson was born in Saint Louis in 1944, and, in 1953, her family moved to Fairbanks, Alaska; in 1961, she began studying art and dance at San Francisco State University. The O-Town House gallery is on the second level of the Granada Buildings, just a few doors down from the erstwhile location of Gallery 32, which Jackson opened in the same building and ran from 1968­ to 1970. Having studied with Charles White at Otis Art Institute in the late 1960s, she took to heart his injunction that art be a vehicle for community action. Gallery 32 showed artists in her circle, including David Hammons and Betye Saar; held fundraisers for the Watts Towers Arts Center and the Black Panther Party; and generated conversations that lasted late into the night in her upstairs apartment, from which Senga Nengudi, John Outterbridge, Hammons, Saar, and others forged their thinking. A vitrine in the front room holds ephemera from Gallery 32, including a price list from a David Hammons show in which everything was five hundred dollars or less. Only one work sold, for thirty dollars.

    Jackson’s work at O-Town House is mostly from the past ten years. The painting Moons in Double Copper Sea, 2017, appears to be all dirty reddish earth tones from ten feet away, but close viewing reveals fugitive streaks of fluorescent tourmaline and sunset tones of orange, purple, and canary yellow. Beneath these colors, two overlapping circles made of coarse wood veneer are mounted on paper and partially slathered with clear acrylic. Several other works were done entirely in thick paint without any support, laid down on glass or plastic and then pulled up once dry. Jackson’s works are rough-and-tumble, capturing the spirit of an artist who was equally interested in supporting others and herself.

  • View of “Spiritual Material: A Survey of Work by Kenzi Shiokava,” 2019.

    Kenzi Shiokava

    Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design
    9045 Lincoln Boulevard
    January 26–April 20

    Most of Kenzi Shiokava’s sculptures consist of organic matter, like bark and dragon-tree fronds, combined with found materials, such as chicken wire or brooms. In Untitled (Urban Totem Series), 2000, an upright railroad tie narrows into two sharp prongs at the top. Of a similar shape, Untitled (Urban Totem Series), 2005, was carved from a discarded telephone pole. Each sculpture resembles a statuesque humanoid form.

    “For any discarded material that has gone through the process of history and humanization [there] is the potential of presence,” Shiokava wrote for the wall text. Such histories are often violent. Here, his association with other assemblage artists from 1960s Los Angeles—Noah Purifoy, for example, who used debris from the Watts riots in his work—is most pertinent, as Shiokava’s repurposed urban materials are similarly called to represent their past uses and circulation, in addition to the people and communities involved in their transformations.

    In revealing conditions otherwise concealed from the viewer, Shiokava’s sculptures have an almost spiritual function: Belief is often felt as the active presence of an essential absence. This aura can be sensed in five sculptures from his “Elegy Series,” 1994, where netted pool filters gather dead bamboo leaves beneath objects that appear to have been sourced from thrift stores, including painted ceramic flowers. The collected leaves allude to the passing of life; the artist might be the filter, gathering and reinfusing these objects with a latent purpose.