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Betye Saar

Roberts & Tilton
5801 Washington Boulevard
September 10–December 17

Betye Saar, Serving Time, 2010, mixed media, 64 x 17 x 10".

Bird, hand, globe, eye, ship; cage, hold, fan, mirror, compute. Betye Saar’s dense cosmology of signs and gestures is at the center of this pair of exhibitions, giving viewers opportunity to take in over half a century of this Los Angeles–based artist’s output. The works here are organized into two conceptually connected yet spatially distinct exhibitions: “Blend” and “Black White.”

The first gathers together a sequence of assemblages, works on paper, and a large techno-voodoo altar, Mojotech, 1987, which is still gloriously weird nearly thirty years on. The four antique cages that dot the room are filled with tchotchkes that carry the weight of everyday reality: Three of the many locks, for example, clipped to the outside of Serving Time, 2010, concisely indict the relationship between class, cultural capital, and the carceral state, with their factory-inscribed texts that read: “Yale,” “Yale Vigilant,” and “Made in the USA.” Across the gallery, in The Destiny of Latitude & Longitude, 2010, two clipper ships are tempest tossed on a sea of gray hair, their journey contained, but perilous nonetheless.

“Black White” is a more forceful curatorial take on Saar’s work, its intensity derived, in part, from the gallery’s close quarters—it is a succinct, room-size installation focused on the synecdochal opposition between black and white. The carpet is dark, and the pedestals and walls alternate between the two colors. When one finds, near the end of the installation, a modest 1964 etching titled Sorceress with Seven Assorted Birds, filled with owl-like apparitions surrounding the outline of a sole standing female figure, one is returned to a truth about Saar’s work—that power is in the magic of making, not unmaking, symbolic worlds.

Andy Campbell

“The Ease of Fiction”

California African American Museum (CAAM)
600 State Drive, Exposition Park
October 19–February 26

View of “The Ease of Fiction,” 2016.

“The Ease of Fiction” brings together the disparate work of ruby onyinyechi amanze, Duhirwe Rushemeza, Sherin Guirguis, and Meleko Mokgosi, all of whom were born in Africa and now live and work in the US. Though these artists are in a unique position to comment on what constitutes African art and the stereotypes and caricatures to which it has been subject, the strength of this exhibition is not its ability to levy a cohesive argument but rather its insistence on formal and political diversity.

That said, the artists negotiate between the freedom of play and the responsibility to reflect on reality, a struggle that is often visualized as an interplay between abstraction and representation, which is most clearly seen in amanze’s surreal drawings that circulate her self-portrait in a fantastical world of birds, astronaut odalisques, and tiger-headed creatures. Her drawings give way on the next wall to Mokgosi’s masterwork Democratic Intuition, Exordium, 2014–15, a series of vignettes painted across eleven canvases, depicting scenes from the artist’s native Botswana and South Africa. Compelling figuration lulls us into a narrative that slowly dissipates into passages of gestural paint, exposing the construction of representation. That fuzziness between truth and fiction also manifests in the nearly illegible central canvas, which resembles a sun-bleached photograph, invoking indexicality only to deny us the comfort of history and veracity traditionally implied by the photographic image.

Rushemeza’s richly textured sculptural paintings deceptively re-create aging urban surfaces, while Guirguis’s trio of massive paper sheets are hand-cut into intricate screens derived from Egyptian architecture, interrupted with bursts of colored ink. Guirguis translates the conflict between containment and exuberance into Untitled (El Sokareya), 2013, a floor-bound sculpture comprising interlocking plywood petals that explode into one bold gesture—crystallizing most concisely and forcefully the tensions that ripple throughout the show.

Andrea Gyorody

Lena Daly

Various Small Fires
812 North Highland Avenue
November 5–December 23

Lena Daly, Trix R,G,B, 2016, video and ultrasound projection, UV-reactive paint, wood pedestals, uranium glass, UV-reactive water, flock, HD projection, HSS speaker, LED UV light, dimensions variable.

Before the show comes into view, a nearly imperceptible sonic undercurrent of low drones, subtle swells, and clanging bells layers with the loud rush of street traffic on Highland Avenue. The spectral static of the gallery’s sound corridor clues us in to a ghostly alterity waiting within “Night Bell.” Lena Daly’s solo debut toys with the limits of sound and vision, opting for the hypo and the hyper, the ultra and the infra. She limns the vibratory thresholds of the extra-visual and subsonic realms, braiding their intersections into synesthetic contaminations.

In contrast to the glaringly sunlit courtyard just outside, the gallery’s interior is shuttered in darkness, where we encounter the buzzing shadowed side of things. The surfaces of geometric wall works and a freestanding sculpture of two leaning plinths, Uneasy Listening, 2015, are colonized by the bacteria-like accumulation of UV-reactive paint and phosphorescent powder; they glow in the dark like bioluminescent creatures. Antique vases, bowls, and dishes molded in slightly radioactive uranium glass are arranged throughout on a collection of painted platforms and pillars, forming an assortment of highly luminous tabletop still lifes that cross a Victorian haunted-house vibe with forensic, night-vision versions of Morandi. Creating a dizzying hall-of-mirrors effect, several of the pedestals and their arrangements reappear in two large video and sound projections—Ambient Trix and Trix R,G,B, both 2016—as props that the artist manipulates by mysteriously extending a hand to tweak the position of a vessel or lightly rim a bowl of fluorescent water.

The atmosphere is aqueous and nocturnal, punctuated by cobalt and jellyfish blues, battery-acid greens, highlighter yellows, and neon-coral pinks. Charged up like batteries, Daly’s sculptures and projections suggest ineffable phenomena at the far reaches of human perception, but now, post national debacle, they also read as emergency night-lights and beacons—positing a model of how bodies might generate, radiate, and emit light from within an environment of extreme darkness.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer

Kathryn Andrews

David Kordansky Gallery
5130 West Edgewood Place
November 5–December 17

Kathryn Andrews, Black Bars: Howdy Doody (detail), 2016, aluminum, Plexiglas, ink, paint, certified TV prop, 92 x 73 x 4 1/2".

Get close—such is the suggestion of Kathryn Andrews’s two sculptures (both titled, fittingly, Stormtrooper [all works cited, 2016]) as to the most suitable way to view her latest series of works. In each, a replica storm trooper costume is attached to a large steel cylinder, its feet just inches off the ground. Because each figure is so close to its bulky support, its reflection is hardly distorted at all, and we only share in its condition when we are likewise situated.

This intimacy between object (cylinder) and subject (storm trooper) models how a viewer is meant to encounter the other wall-based works in the show. Each is a screen print on aluminum set within a deep frame, with two large vertical black bars painted on the inside of the Plexiglas covering the print. In roughly half of the works, women and consumables populate the intentionally obscured images; in the other half, Andrews has hidden either replicas of or authentic film props. In Black Bars: T1000, for example, a large screen print of the villain from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) is augmented by a “certified” film prop of an aluminum bullet hole, which can only be seen at a close, oblique angle. References to films such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), and Jaws (1975) conceptually extend the summer blockbuster subject matter. Only one work doesn’t fit this mold: Black Bars: Howdy Doody features an image of the eponymous puppet and felt dots from his backdrop curtain. It is queer because its referent is to the small screen and to the generation that preceded the first Star Wars movie. Twee, earnest, and irregular, these dots are resolutely opposed to the sleek storm trooper sculptures. Drawing near to them is an unexpected pleasure of this exhibition.

Andy Campbell

Kelly Akashi

Ghebaly Gallery
2245 E Washington Blvd.
November 12–December 23

Kelly Akashi, Activity Table, 2016, cherry wood, wax, glass, wick, 72 x 40 x 63".

The objects in this exhibition take shape slowly, crystallizing through a careful, layered process of looking. These works have been blown, cast, twisted, burned, assembled, dipped, duplicated, and printed, creating little trails of existence. Kelly Akashi has clearly contemplated her materials. Devoid of apparent narrative, however, they manifest as stoppages in time.

Hairy Weed (all works cited, 2016) looks like a dead plant, placed strategically in the cracked concrete floor of the gallery. But it is a re-creation, its delicate leaves made of copper, not decaying organic matter. You wouldn’t know it unless you studied it, just as Akashi likely studied the plant that inspired this piece. Sentimentality, or some approximation of it, plays a quirky, sometimes humorous role in other, equally rigorous works, including Be Me (Japanese-Californian Citrus), a stainless-steel cast of a lumpy, lovely citrus fruit, and At Rest, made up of bronze casts of the artist’s hands, hung delicately through slipknots tied in rope.

In Arrangements I, II, and III as well as Activity Table, twisted, shapely candles and sensual blown-glass vessels are assembled on wooden furniture, foregrounding relationships between objects and bodies. Clearly, our environment isn’t shaped solely through space, architecture, or even nature. The slow, tender mutability of Akashi’s work quietly asks us to accept the complexity of objects and the unexpected, in order to remain engaged in a process of discovery.

Honora Shea

Paul Thek

Hannah Hoffman Gallery
1010 N. Highland Avenue
November 11–January 7

Paul Thek, Untitled (Whaddaya Wanna Be a Flower?), ca. 1986, ink on paper, 14 x 17".

In a 1966 interview with Gene Swenson, Paul Thek described his series of “Technological Reliquaries,” 1964–67, as “agnostic,” adding that they “lead nowhere, except perhaps to a kind of freedom.” This profoundly quixotic statement could be handily applied across the entirety of the artist’s output. As is the case of any artist with a wide-ranging practice, a retrospective exhibition of Thek’s work is likely to raise accusations of omission, yet this tight, elegiac presentation manages to give a sense of both scope and depth to a complicated oeuvre.

Each of the three galleries here presents a different aspect of Thek’s work. The first room accounts for a diverse range of media and display strategies. One of the pieces, Untitled (Dinosaurus), 1971, suggests the devices of a traveling salesman—a shipping crate, which, when opened, reveals a painted and sculpted dinosaur diorama. The second gallery is dedicated to a group of graphite drawings, mostly pages from the artist’s sketchbook, which prove that he was a studious draftsman. In the courtyard is a playful hanging of four paintings: an abstract pattern of white, loopy squiggles and pizza-like triangular shapes; a painting of a dinosaur done on newspaper; and two diminutive canvases, with their picture-frame lamps and plastic labels.

In one of the later works included in the exhibition, Untitled (Whaddaya Wanna Be a Flower?), ca. 1986, Thek has scrawled the titular question over a slew of confident yet messy and loose crosshatches. This drawing is installed across the gallery from two of the earliest works on display (both from 1957), a pair of barely there ink drawings of flowers on stained, worn paper—tentative and shy. Separated by nearly thirty years, each drawing rejoins the other, proving that nowhere is somewhere after all.

Andy Campbell

Belkis Ayón

Fowler Museum at UCLA
West Sunset Boulevard and Westwood Plaza
October 2–February 12

Belkis Ayón, La Cena (The Supper), 1991, collograph, 4 1/2 x 10'.

If you have never seen a collagraph by the late Cuban artist Belkis Ayón, her first US retrospective will be a revelation. Created between 1984 and 1999, nearly all of the forty-three works on view are populated by mouth-less mythical characters who face outward to address us, in defiance of their inability to speak—a tension between form and composition appropriate to Ayón’s subject, the Afro-Cuban fraternal society known as Abakuá. The society’s secret rituals and beliefs consumed the artist’s too-short career, despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that she was excluded from participating.

Though the exhibition overly emphasizes Abakuá iconography—a recurring white figure, we learn, often represents a sacrificial Eve-like female character in one origin story—didactics do not distract from the graphic power of Ayón’s work. Singular among print processes, collagraphy uses a board as a substrate onto which an artist can affix a variety of materials; the resulting matrix—one example of which is on view—can have a craggy surface that, when inked and printed, transfers both image and embossed texture to wet paper. Across multipaneled prints such as La Cena (The Supper), 1991, the artist tests the limits of legibility and disclosure through dense passages of grayscale patterning.

The scale of Ayón’s work grew larger over time, culminating in prints that behave more like sculpture or architecture, invading the space of the viewer. Such physically and psychically imposing work directly precedes her final print series, made just before she committed suicide at age thirty-two. These relatively small works are intimate and concentrated, both retrospective and introspective. A murky vortex, swirling like an uneasy mind, occupies the center of Hay que tener paciencia (You Have to Be Patient), 1998, while a black form rises up from the soup of puzzle pieces, fish scales, and vines to portend darkness.

Andrea Gyorody

Beatriz Cortez

Vincent Price Art Museum
1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez
September 24–January 28

View of “Beatriz Cortez: Nomad World, ” 2016. From left: The Jukebox / La rocola, 2015–16; The Fortune Teller (Migrant Edition) / La máquina de la fortuna (edición migrante), 2015.

I now carry in my wallet a receipt that reads, “When the future comes: We will have fought for economic justice / Cuando llegue el futuro: Habremos luchado por la justicia económica.” This carnival-amusement-like “fortune” was produced after pressing the button of The Fortune Teller (Migrant Edition) / La máquina de la fortuna (edición migrante), 2015, one of the four conceptually precise works that make up Beatriz Cortez’s solo presentation at this museum. Culled from the experiences and words of a group of collaborators, all immigrants, Cortez’s fortunes are invocations for collective action, opposed to a newly ossified fate.

The figure of the nomad, incarnated in the current political climate as the immigrant, is central to each of the works here. In The Beast / La bestia, 2015, a repurposed pinball machine dramatizes the journey of an immigrant crossing Mexico’s northern border, wherein the silver ball encounters the US ICE, the Minutemen, and Cesar Chavez’s “wet line.” Lights sometimes flash in this game, but the ca-chunk of the bumpers and the high-pitched ringing of bells are absent here—producing notable silences. Elsewhere, viewers can pose for a photo booth in front of backgrounds of Central American rural and urban landscapes—The Photo Booth / La cabina de fotos, 2015–16—or choose from a custom jukebox filled with sounds as banal as “Rain” or as weighty as a “Burial” in The Jukebox / La rocola, 2015–16.

When the future comes, tell me what we will have done. Tell me in (the aptly named) future perfect tense; the tense of Cortez’s fortune-telling machine—the tense of political aspiration.

Andy Campbell

Guthrie Lonergan

Honor Fraser
2622 S. La Cienega Blvd.
November 5–December 16

Guthrie Lonergan, 9 Short Music Videos, 2006, digital video, color, sound, 1 minute.

In a clip from Guthrie Lonergan’s Bugs in Screens Playlist, 2006, a YouTube user drags spastic rectangles around an ant. The pixilated fleck of the cursor, like the speck-size animal, seems literally trapped between real and virtual space. This, and nearly every other work in a show titled “2006,” can be seen on the artist’s website (theageofmammals.com), which makes the content of the present installation somewhat redundant (the gallery checklist awkwardly lists the duration of most works as “infinite”). A wall-mounted row of identical Dell 5:4 monitors, trailing headphones and cords, displays a dozen videos and websites, framing them with nostalgia for the days of MySpace and Halo 2. The exhibition seems to be selling the past; the works, however, were simply made in it—between 2005 and 2007.

The found-photo slideshow Domain, 2006, shuffles through proud gamers’ photos of their office-toned prefab workstations, where piled-up consoles, controllers, PCs, and DVDs obscure posters of Legend of Zelda’s Link and Halo’s Master Chief. Inside this unimpressive clutter, of course, lies the world-making potential of the gaming apparatus. Lonergan’s sound track, a dissonant and minor MIDI ditty, helps strike a balance between irony and homage, even as—the title’s pun—a flyover of a now laughably crude digital map fades into view. In 9 Short Music Videos, 2005, one of the only pieces made from scratch, the artist stages what he otherwise collects: the warm little material catastrophes of the Net. A line of Macs in a computer lab shifts to screensaver in a cascade, and an opening CD tray bumps another closed. A mechanical routine becomes an image, stuck on loop, one hopes forever.

Travis Diehl

Whitney Claflin

Richard Telles Fine Art
7380 Beverly Boulevard
October 22–December 22

View of “Whitney Claflin: Have You Ever Met a Mime So Real?,” 2016.

Whitney Claflin’s storefront feels more like an eye exam than a department-store display. Where artists such as Andy Warhol interwove art and commerce by putting their paintings in shop windows, Claflin renders the small, collaged objects she places behind glass almost inscrutable. Instead of jettisoning spectacle, though, she suggests it with bright lights that turn the window into a luminous frame, lit 24/7 and visible to passersby. That bright glow stands in tension with the artworks within, where three silver trays hang in a row, each adorned with cut-up typewritten text evoking zine aesthetics, for the series “Have You Ever Met a Mime So Real?,” 2016. Beneath each tray—faux silver and aspiring to sophistication, yet closer to the high-school cafeteria than Tiffany’s—is a plastic comb, one pointing in a different direction from the other two. As in modernist poetry, the scraps of words nearly cohere into meaning but not quite. A further obstacle: The trays and combs are far enough away from the window and the font of the text is small enough that the poems pasted upon them are impossible to read without squinting. The fruits of this painfully close looking are fragments such as “the hair on his arms voted onto the current culture phenomenon.”

Mundane objects are presented as votive relics, and the three aligned platters suggest a religious triptych. They serve not just as grounds for the textual content but also as mirrors that catch the viewer in the act of reading, or the headlights of passing cars. These cast-asides produce an experience of intimacy as one tries to decipher their mysterious messages; the middle tray reads, “everything is normal. / but it’s not.” Words tumble down the metallic surface in a column, continuing: “I wanted someone / someone, really.”

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Mickalene Thomas

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA)
250 South Grand Avenue
October 16–February 6

View of “Mickalene Thomas: Do I Look Like a Lady?,” 2016.

“Do I look like a fucking lady or what?” So begins one of Adele Givens’s many appearances on Russell Simmons’s Def Comedy Jam. She continues, “I like being a fucking lady, especially in the ’90s. We get to say what the fuck we want to, don’t we, girls?” Almost two decades later, Mickalene Thomas, whose solo exhibition is titled after the performer’s brilliant greeting (minus the F-bomb), responds in the affirmative.

At the center of Thomas’s installation is a twelve-minute two-channel video, Do I Look Like a Lady (Comedians and Singers), 2016, which collages together footage of a host of black female performers: Josephine Baker shadow-dancing; Nina Simone singing “I Ain’t Got No, I Got Life”; a young Whoopi Goldberg doing her brilliant white girl routine; Pam Grier kicking ass; Whitney Houston beginning “The Greatest Love of All”; Givens opening her set; and Jackie “Moms” Mabley, who makes repeat appearances throughout, telling jokes and singing. This pantheon of women (some of whom are also represented in the four dazzling silk-screen and mirror paintings that line the room) charts out a genealogy, fulfilling what M. Jacqui Alexander calls the “desire to belong to the self in community,” a political desire that culminates in “radical self-possession.”

Thomas’s installation encourages such belonging: One can lounge on stools and in chairs tufted with a patchwork of seventies-era fabrics and read from stacks of books by the likes of Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Jamaica Kincaid, and many others. It’s a situation that insists on the value and contributions of these writers and performers, and, not insignificantly, of this artist’s own aesthetic. Or, as Givens would put it, “Ladies in the house tonight!”

Andy Campbell

Charles Gaines

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
6006 Washington Boulevard
October 29–December 16

Charles Gaines, Numbers and Trees: Central Park Series II: Tree #3, Susanne, 2015, black-and-white photographs and acrylic on Plexiglas on three panels, 8 x 10 1/2'.

Many who are familiar with the work of Conceptualist Charles Gaines will recognize here the sequence of grids and numbers from his “Numbers and Trees: Central Park Series II,” 2015–16. The artist’s commitment to his system-based methodology for critiquing clichés of artistic impulse is seen in eight large-scale black-and-white photographs of Central Park, overlaid with acrylic Plexiglas boxes: Tree #1, Paula, Tree #2, Elmore, Tree #3, Susanne, Tree #4, Steve, Tree #5, Lucas, Tree #7, Laurel, all 2015, and Tree #6, Fredrick and Tree #8, Amelia, both 2016, which are exhibited alongside eight smaller ink-on-paper drawings from the series “Numbers and Trees: Central Park Series I,” 2016.

In this project, the tree retains its status as the central form of the artist’s painterly deconstruction. His work with such imagery began in 1975 with Walnut Tree Orchard, in which he broke down the organic lines of a walnut tree into a numerical system after encountering Tantric Buddhist diagrams. Within the Plexiglas structures in this show, the vertical row of cells that number zero appear to slice through the photographic version of the tree underneath. From that middle, ascending numbers grow and shoot off to the left and right sides, offering new language to the signification of a tree through movement, color, and shape. These subjects become more layered, complex, and vibrant as the viewer moves from one to the next in an installation as logical as the images’ paint-by-numbers appearance.

In a recent interview, the artist stated: “The entire history of art is political,” owing to individual social and cultural experiences that are brought to bear on any encounter with an object. In this show, which branches out from room to room, we observe that anything ostensibly natural can also be ordered according to human, and therefore political, principles.

Amanda Cachia

Tamara Henderson

Gallery at REDCAT
631 West 2nd Street
October 15–December 23

View of “Tamara Henderson: Seasons End: Panting Healer,” 2016.

Tamara Henderson’s exhibition “Seasons End: Panting Healer” charts a geography of actual places and unconscious emotions. The peripatetic Canadian-born artist’s first solo exhibition in the US is grounded in a traveler’s memories, but the installation feels less like a travel diary and more like a wanderer’s mind refracted onto a set of materials that have taken on a life of their own. This metaphor is best realized in the large sculptural work Seasons End Vehicle (all works cited, 2016), with a working door and seats for the visitor, and in the figure X-Rayed Path, clad in fabric printed with a world map.

The show toggles between the evanescence of dreams and the tangible presence of materials such as fabric, wood, plastic, straw, and film-developing chemicals. Substantial sculptural objects personify jumbled layers of ideas, channeling memory’s overlapping, trace-bearing properties, which Freud long ago compared to a “mystic writing pad.” A dozen or so totemic figures scattered about the room guide the spectator through the installation and its slow-burning magic. Made of rectangular pieces of fabric splayed out like flags, each figure has an assemblage affixed on top, two boxes on the floor for feet, and a pattern that resembles sprocket holes down the left and right sides. Film is an important component of the installation, mostly functioning as material rather than image, although there is a small projection of one of Henderson’s films, Season’s End. The most sizable sculpture in the room, Garden Photographer Scarecrow, is an assemblage-figure reclining on the floor, which is meant to signify a “dehydrated scarecrow on her deathbed” (according to the wall text). The traveler’s memories, as endangered as the scarecrow, are accessible only through the tangible presence of the things that remain.

Jennifer Peterson

Toba Khedoori

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
September 25–March 19

Toba Khedoori, Untitled (Doors), 1995, oil and wax on paper, 11 x 19 1/2'.

The way through doors. The thingness of things. The sheer magnitude of the sublime. With graphite, oil, and encaustic on waxy expanses of paper sheets and the thinnest linen, Toba Khedoori carefully draws and paints the quiet intensity of doorways and windows, simple objects floating in vast space, and natural phenomena so large that even when they stretch thirty feet across the expanse of a museum’s white wall—as in Untitled (Horizon), 1999—their infinite potential can barely be contained.

To see more than twenty-five of Khedoori’s works––silent, restrained, meticulously wrought, and generally massive in scale––spanning almost as many years is to see a life spent in diligent contemplation. The earliest works here capture the oppression of crowds via the rows of closed doors in Untitled (Doors), 1995, and row after row of empty theater seats in Untitled (Seats), 1996. The works grow more intimate and domestic with depictions of fireplaces such as Untitled (White Fireplace), 2005, and finish with the tangle of nature in Untitled (Leaves/Branches) and the dream of a perfect underlying net of reality in the wholly abstract and gently bent Untitled (Grid), both 2015. Her expanses of empty paper, fleshed with wax and battered slightly by the spaces she crafts them in, make all that white less oppressive than the walls around them. Their off-white shimmer fills the emptiness. (The occasional full-bleed blacks, on the other hand, feel as heavy as black holes). Here is a soft, infinite space one can feel but never fully comprehend, except perhaps one tiny pencil stroke at a time.

Andrew Berardini

Isa Genzken

Hauser Wirth & Schimmel | Los Angeles
901 East 3rd Street
October 16–December 31

Isa Genzken, “Schauspieler,” (Actors), 2016, seventeen mannequins with fabric, leather, wool, shoes, wigs, sunglasses, lamp shade, plastic, printed paper, mirror foil, lacquer, tape, radio, glass, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Although it may seem that the work of Isa Genzken and Michael Asher could not be more different—materially, conceptually, and in terms of the history of their critical reception—a connection is nevertheless drawn between them via the titling of Isa Genzken’s solo exhibition: “I Love Michael Asher.” Why the artist loves Asher, and how or if such admiration shows up in the work, is left for the viewer to parse.

Historical influence is one of the trickiest claims to make about an artist, and Genzken seems to know it, exploiting this tight spot to hilarious effect. For example, no images of Asher or his installations exist in the exhibition, yet photo-reconstructions of Archaic Greek statues do—their gaudy colors related to the wild mishmash of bright clothing in Genzken’s 2016 series “Schauspieler,” (Actors). Forget the devil, the pleasure is in these works’ material, highly evocative details. Notice a disco ball casually hanging from the finger of one of the mannequins, dangled near its ass; the overly careful way a piece of Plexiglas is custom cut to conform to the contours of a wall-mounted collage’s jagged edge; a photograph of the artist standing in front of Marisa Merz’s Untitled, 1980, installed in Hauser Wirth and Schimmel’s previous show, “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture By Women, 1947–2016”; the amorphous smudge on an otherwise shiny green top of a work table in an untitled piece from 2016.

Regarding a 1974 installation at Anna Leonowens Gallery at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Asher wrote that, “At a maximum, within artistic practice, [the installation] demands the receiver to take a critical position within the material world.” In this regard, Genzken is in perfect alignment with the object of her affection.

Andy Campbell

Harry Dodge

Armory Center for the Arts
145 N. Raymond Ave.
October 2–January 8

Harry Dodge, Mysterious Fires, 2016, single-channel video, color, sound, 24 minutes, 30 seconds.

A cyborg, a poodle, and an unassembled IKEA bookshelf walk into a bar. The bartender asks, “Let me guess, lost the instructions?” The cyborg says, “This DIY mess is bullshit. Can’t we come up with a more efficient and tidy manner in which to assemble and install our basic needs—our medicine cabinets, our midcentury knock-off nightstands, our interchangeable shelving units?” The poodle says, “I barely defecate anymore. And when I do, my excrement smells like peaches and suntan lotion. I’ve also perfected my haircut to be both aero- and aqua-dynamic.” The IKEA bookshelf says, “Yes, we have lost the instructions.”

In “The Inner Reality of Ultra-Intelligent Life,” Harry Dodge breaks the veneer of spectatorship to reveal a fourth wall that is as flimsy as that box-store furniture set. The single-channel video Mysterious Fires, 2016, uses the nuances of conversation as both medium and fodder. Two characters are engaged in a tête-à-tête that ping-pongs from bohemian discussions of the ethics of robotics to bourgeois arguments over Cardigan versus Pembroke Welsh Corgis. The pair go off-script and ask for lost lines, which are volleyed back by off-screen voices, defying the mastery of a narrative. The duo wears costumes and rubber masks, dissolving and layering their individual identities. What, after all, is the purpose of constructing legible works with bodies that refuse to cohere? And where do the mess, the contamination, and humor of being human fit into the quest for perfection?

The works here, including older drawings and sculptures, absorb a viewer into the drama of Dodge’s world: a zone neither here nor there, nor anywhere. From this uncomfortable place of indeterminacy, Dodge faces the audience in a search for life that recognizes the joke.

Meg Whiteford

Paul Sietsema

Matthew Marks Gallery | 1062 N Orange Grove
1062 N Orange Grove
September 24–December 23

Paul Sietsema, Swipe painting (Chase), 2016, enamel on linen, 44 x 42".

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” asks the New York Times job listing in Paul Sietsema’s ink-and-enamel drawing Vertical newspaper (thin green line), 2016, with some letters obscured by an unctuous mark. That white enamel is materially distinct from the ink rendering of the broadsheet below, but it is also not all it seems—the glob is the base for a painting of a paint-dipped coin, tossed onto the Times.

Such exacting representations throughout the exhibition bring up questions such as What do I see? and How was this made? That they come up simultaneously reflects the interchangeability at the heart of economic thinking, particularly given the objects depicted. In addition to the coinage, Sietsema’s enamel-on-linen work Swipe painting (Chase), 2016, depicts a credit card gliding across a support, evoking the movement of touch-screen commands, while the enamel and oil on linen Carriage Painting, 2016, shows a greatly enlarged collage of a torn hundred-euro bill.

The most intense performance of fungibility comes in the artist’s looped grayscale 35-mm film Abstract Composition, 2014, which depicts a rotating scrap of digitally animated cardboard, perforated with text taken from the descriptions of online auction items. After each has a spin, a new phrase appears. The switch happens offscreen, during the brief moment when only the edge of the turning cardboard faces the camera. The seamless shifting of contradictory content—“no further description” gives way to “multicolored divider”—unsettles the seemingly matter-of-fact subject. If the modernist push toward abstraction aspired to bring viewers beyond this material world, the invisible handling of commercial language in Sietsema’s film casts abstraction as a tool of the market-inflected reality we all live in.

David Muenzer