Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Dona Nelson: Painting the Magic Mountain,” 2019.

    View of “Dona Nelson: Painting the Magic Mountain,” 2019.

    Dona Nelson

    Michael Benevento
    3712 Beverly Boulevard
    September 14–November 2, 2019

    A lesson in the ardors  of making, Dona Nelson’s work thickens the experience of looking; paying attention means training oneself to revel in the little dramas erupting all over every surface as much as taking in a painting’s gestalt. Since 2003, the artist has been making double-sided paintings, often set in freestanding metal or wood frames. In their transformation from painted pictures to sculptural events (implicating the ambulatory viewer), Nelson’s canvases emphasize that presence is a prerequisite for perception. From the hundreds of decisions that inform each painting, and the works’ precise orientations in Michael Benevento’s warren of skylighted galleries, one gets the impression that everything has been carefully considered. Some efforts are elaborate, such as Crow’s Quarters (all works cited, 2019), the only painting to hold a room on its own. Others court splendor. Particularly notable in this regard is the copse of totemic, stelae-like rectangular and trapezoidal pieces, each titled either Shorty A or Shorty Q, and many of which involve colored string playfully piercing the warp and weft of the cotton canvas.

    Viewers can take pleasure in reverse-engineering Nelson’s processes. Hairy Chest, for example, features two grids of different scales and orientations on either side. Using cheesecloth saturated with gel medium to define these grids, Nelson poured pools of pigmented tar gel in their interstices. In some places, she pulled the hardened cheesecloth off the canvas after the paint dried to craft gnarly plateaus and brittle ridges. Demonstrating one among many innovative techniques the artist has honed over her career, the results remind us that painting can be a method of redefining the possible. And as the artist remarked in a recent interview with The Brooklyn Rail, viewing them “asserts vision through the body.”

  • Veli-Matti Hoikka, Untitled (Devil take the hindmost), 2018, acrylic on paper, 22 5/8 x 30 1⁄4".

    Veli-Matti Hoikka, Untitled (Devil take the hindmost), 2018, acrylic on paper, 22 5/8 x 30 1⁄4".

    Jacinto Astiazarán and Veli-Matti Hoikka

    Queens
    2601 Pasadena Ave.
    September 29–October 27, 2019

    Queens
    2601 Pasadena Ave.
    September 29–October 27, 2019

    The Queens program template involves a larger show accompanied by a modest presentation in a flat file set into a gallery wall. This fall, Jacinto Astiazarán’s Red Saturn, or Images of a gratification that would dissolve the society which suppresses it, 2019, a two-channel video, holds the main space, cycling through cosmic and cellular imagery, pictures of homegrown tomatoes and emergent life, scenes of the Los Angeles sky fading into flashes of color with a propulsive force. It literally casts its light across the blacked-out space, edging toward the files.

    There, each of the five wide and shallow drawers holds a framed work on paper by Veli-Matti Hoikka (all from 2018). Thin layers of aqueous acrylic are organized into complex spatial relations of overlapping colored veils, forming cresting waves and conjuring would-be figures (most surprisingly, an elephant in a gray field of short strokes, and a cluster of bodies slipping in and out of view). The horizontal viewing angle preserves the works’ direction-less appeal and exaggerates the profound ambiguity inherent in the material-cum-images. Hoikka deferred their resolution, and in his absence (he died earlier this year), this contingency remains.

    The work in Hoikka’s last drawer features a male torso and the handwritten phrase “Devil take the hindmost,” a critique of the idiom expressing putative disregard for others. Astiazarán and Hoikka both graduated with MFAs from USC in 2015 and, for a time, worked together in a space in West Adams. Hoikka's work was curated by artist Ben Echeverria, a fellow alumnus who founded Reserve Ames (whose burgeoning archive Hoikka managed). So beyond a formal pairing—the violet of Hoikka’s nebular wormhole, for example, matches a mainstay of Astiazarán’s palette—the exhibition is a portrait of friendship.

  • View of iris yirei hu and ivan forde, 2019.

    View of iris yirei hu and ivan forde, 2019.

    iris yirei hu and ivan forde

    Visitor Welcome Center
    3006 W 7th Street Suite 200A
    September 21–October 26, 2019

    Visitor Welcome Center
    3006 W 7th Street Suite 200A
    September 21–October 26, 2019

    At the center of iris yirei hu’s installation is a tapestry hanging from a Navajo loom atop clay shards that resemble dry earth mounded over a grave. The woven image is of a weaver, a picture hu pairs with a print of a woman weaving silk (the source image is a Chinese work found in the nineteenth century), which rests on the clay bed. Elsewhere in the gallery is hu’s rendition of an ancient diagram for the development of qi, a practice akin to weaving with life energy instead of with thread. On the wall are two large pictures of flowering yuccas (made in collaboration with Paula Wilson) that involve woodblock prints, cyanotypes, embroidery, and collage. Yucca is used for food, fiber, and medicine; hu’s engagement with it here clarifies her interest in reasserting the symbiotic relationships between humanity and nature that have long existed in some cultures but, due to colonialism and industrialization, are now endangered or extinguished. A nearby compost bucket places these concepts within the larger cycle of life, death, and renewal.

    Attached to the ceiling of hu’s installation and flowing into the neighboring room is ivan forde’s ten-yard-long scroll, also concerned with colonialism’s legacy. Made by combining cyanotype, drawing, and painting, the scroll describes an epic journey through sea and sky. Bulls, serpents, and amphorae appear. Male figures (all sourced from photographs of the artist) fall through the sky like Icarus or roam around while making dramatic gestures, evoking Greek mythology. The phrase “Eternity to Season / Wilson Harris” in inscribed on the scroll, referencing the name of a British-Guyanese writer and the title of his 1954 book of poems, in which characters from The Odyssey appear in modern Guyanese villages. Using himself as a model for classical gods and heroes, forde—who, like Harris, was born in Guyana—complicates the power relationships of conquest by remaking Western mythos in his own image.