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“Signifying Form”

the Landing
5118 W Jefferson Blvd
April 1–June 3

View of “Signifying Form,” 2017.

Any cursory interpretations of the deeply sophisticated sculptures in this exhibition (curated by jill moniz—formerly of the California African American Museum), which hail from as far back as the 1930s and were made by black women from and/or working in Los Angeles, would be an egregious error. The show addresses race and feminism in America by correcting the repression of the former by the latter, and stakes a claim for recognition of these artists in the art-historical canon. Many of these works have never been formally shown in LA; only one of the artists, Beulah Woodard, has ever had a solo exhibition at a major institution in the city.

Alison Saar’s Cakewalk, 1997, is a life-size marionette, body parts carved from solid oak with old door hinges for joints, hanging from the ceiling by her hair. Visitors are encouraged to pull her strings. In contrast, one must crouch to see Betye Saar’s cages, including Cage (In the Beginning), 2006, wherein captives, such as one in a grass skirt and chains, idle inside a precarious structure of twigs stacked like Lincoln logs. In a red Victorian birdcage, Crimson Captive, 2011, a woman’s dress form draped in chains evokes Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), even before one notices the crow perched on its neck stump.

Cotton spills out of the mouth of a blue-black ceramic head turned askew in Alison Saar’s Cotton Eater (head), 2013, and a massive wooden X has “MALCOLM” spelled upon it for Brenna Youngblood’s sculpture X, 2011. Nailed to the wall just beside it is Senga Nengudi’s RSVP, 1978, and RSVP Reverie Pink, 2011, which feature, respectively, female and male reproductive organs made of knotted, sand-filled pantyhose—red for the fallopian tubes, pink for the scrotum—both fighting gravity under extreme tension.

Natasha Young

Jake Kean Mayman

Night Gallery
2276 East 16th Street
March 18–April 29

Jake Kean Mayman, Valentina Tereshkova, 2017, oil on canvas, 41 x 36 1/2".

The noble history of painting—and of portraiture, specifically—is nearly as authoritative as practicing the medium itself. To paint someone is to lionize them, a method with slackened, if any, obligations to authenticity, precision, or proportion. Take Joan Quigley, the San Francisco socialite turned expert astrologer. A close advisor to Nancy Reagan and, consequently, the fortieth United States president following an assassination attempt in 1981, her personal influence dictated the timing of Air Force One’s takeoffs, State of the Union addresses, and key debates. Her eponymous portrait (all works 2017) by Jake Kean Mayman is an amalgam of photographs, setting her in perpetual, understated command. The bold graph of her background aligns with the neon tartan of her dress as she suppresses a bemused smile—a token of her exception from the executive branch’s codes, but not its reach.

She hangs near a similarly quiet rendering of Nina Petrovna Khrushcheva, the First Lady of the Soviet Union. Having been upstaged by her elegant counterpart, Jacqueline Kennedy, during a lunch at the 1961 Vienna Summit, Khrushcheva steals off alone to rest her standard-issue briefcase and studiously sketch a stylish replacement for her dated polyester frock. Completing the triangle is cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to go to space, a full two decades before American Sally Ride’s trip in 1983. Her apt helmet-head hairstyle implies she could be on a mission at that very moment; instead, she is lost in thought among a field of digitally manipulated flowers. Comically reduced airplanes fly through her bouquet. A gradient of mounting-plate brackets, or scraps of masking tape, appear as tromp l’oeil details on a number of the canvases here, as if they were the seams of our eulogizing starting to give. Grand characterizations offer little calm for our nerves now.

Jennifer Piejko

Charles Ross

Parrasch Heijnen Gallery
1326 South Boyle Avenue
March 16–April 28

“View of Charles Ross: Solar Burns, Prisms and Explosion Drawings,” 2017. From left: Spooky Action at a Distance IV, Spooky Action at a Distance III, both 2016.

On the way to see Charles Ross’s first solo show in Los Angeles, I drove past one of the city’s many parks. There were shirtless men running, families strolling, and sunbathers lying on the grass—a picnic or a joint (or both!) near at hand. This scene provided a strangely apropos lead-in to the artist’s body of work, which, while abjuring any recreational activities under the sun, makes much of the science of sunlight.

Almost half the works that make up this exhibition are from Ross’s long-running series “Solar Burns,” 1971–. These drawings—Ross has referred to them as “portraits of light”—index the changing conditions of sunlight via a magnifying device that burns a path onto prepared wooden panels. While the burns mark time (137 Burns by Minutes Through Seconds to Null, 2015) and cosmological events (HSSB [Human Size Solar Burn] 6/21/16, Summer Solstice, 2016), Ross’s “Explosion Drawings,” 1980–, depict the schematic operations of varying sources of light, akin to something you might see in a physics textbook. But these works, completed by using dynamite, fuses, and a rainbow of colored pigments, appear more exuberant than didactic. Spooky Action at a Distance III, 2016, represents luminescent waves entering and being refracted through a broad circle. A smaller, darker, eclipse-like form in the bottom-right corner of the drawing counterbalances the otherwise colorful work, providing a much-needed visual corrective to the sun worshippers at play only blocks away.

Andy Campbell

Sarah Ortmeyer

POTTS
2130 Valley Blvd
February 19–May 8

Sarah Ortmeyer, INTERNATIONALIS, 2010, embroidered hats, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Is it sad or is it “Sad!” when any embroidered hat immediately evokes the white-on-red MAGA brand? Never mind that the ball caps that make up Sarah Ortmeyer’s installation INTERNATIONALIS, 2010, bear little family resemblance: white and embroidered with generic black sans-serif letters, and instead of slogans they sport the wacky names of cartoon ducks, specifically Donald Duck’s three nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, adapted for foreign markets. Here are Mexico’s Hugo, Paco, and Luis; there, Russia’s Billi, Villi, and Dilli. Hats sit on the ground or hang on pegs in neat orthogonal clusters of two or three, like a kind of scrambled Braille or a carved-up map stitched with singsong. The names themselves, eighty-one in all, are the message—also recited in an audio recording (made in collaboration with LAFAWNDAH) and laid out as the text of an artists’ book (INTERNATIONALISMUS, 2010).

We can’t totally chalk this one up to topicality: The show reprises a project first staged in 2010 at the Kunstverein Heilbronn. Is it clever, prescient, or reactionary to read this work in light of recent American politics? Or maybe what seemed like a heady, prefab dig at globalization seven years ago has tipped into nostalgia for an embattled ideal. Suddenly, the ruthless imperial merchandising of Disney Corp. feels like multicultural pluck. It’s not just these mass forms but also the internationalism they stand for, however ironically, that hang here like the bleached dream of the neoliberal order. Hats are made, not born. But wherever they came from, we know who owns the copyright: Reddy, Whitey, and Bluey.

Travis Diehl