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“Escape Attempts”

Shulamit Nazarian
616 N. La Brea Avenue
February 18, 2017–April 8, 2017

Carmen Argote, Folding Structures (pool), 2016, papier-mâché, paint, acrylic plastic, dimensions variable.

The 1973 Lucy Lippard essay from which this show takes its title offers an account of a certain slice of Conceptualism within the political ferment of New York in the 1960s. For Lippard, Minimalism served as an important foil for the doings of a group of artists who essentially sought to do “more with less.” The same is true for this group exhibition, which is not so much a counter to Minimalism as a reorientation of some of its key strategies—something that artists have been doing since that essay, perhaps most memorably Kirsten Justesen in her Sculpture II, 1968, which pictured a woman’s body inside a cube.

Many of the works here riff on canonical Minimalist forms. Naama Tsabar’s Work on Felt (Variation 9 & 10) Bordeaux and Black (Diptych), 2016, transforms large pieces of industrial felt (still closely associated with a node of Robert Morris’s production in the 1960s and 1970s) into single-string instruments. Because of the physicality of the sculptures, they activate the whole body of the person who plays them, invoking dance alongside sound. Some works directly address political conditions of labor, gender, and visibility, echoing the self-transformation Lippard describes in her original text. Carmen Argote’s four “Folding Structures,” 2016, are sculptures that reference, in form and dimension, Laundromat folding aides, but also look like distant cousins of Lygia Clark’s “Bichos” (Beasts), 1960–66, while Cindy Hinant’s “Makeup Paintings,” 2011, are abstract meditations on the accouterments and effects of whiteness. Together these artists continue a line of thought regarding the shape of art’s history.

Andy Campbell

Anna Craycroft

Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design
9045 Lincoln Boulevard
January 28, 2017–April 16, 2017

Anna Craycroft, Tuning the Room in Constant Amplitudes, 2017, acoustic absorption panels, hand-dyed cotton, wood, fiberglass, foam, Velcro, dimensions variable. Installation view.

What does it take to listen? Like looking and seeing, the difference between hearing and listening is significant—the former is a rote sensory activity, the latter a cognitive and affective process of absorption and integration. Listening, and the architectural conditions that might support it, is the focus of Anna Craycroft’s Tuning the Room in Variable Frequencies and Tuning the Room in Constant Amplitudes, both 2017, which make up her site-specific installation. Of the two contrasting spaces, the first is light and airy—metallic vinyl-tape murals of abstract sound waves line the walls, and three metal benches demarcate a basic gathering space. The second space is darker and much quieter because it is populated with acoustic panels, which have been dyed a range of dark grays. The subtle intersections of the marks of dye optically signal that this is a space to pay attention in: It is not simply a soundproof room plunked in a gallery. Large triangular tiles dot the interior walls of this acoustically modulated space and can easily be transformed into ad-hoc seating, once the Velcro-attached forms are pulled from the wall.

For those who know Craycroft’s previous projects (many of which engage pedagogical design), this is a familiar move. Indeed, the tile/seat is an ingenious bit of design precisely because the artist stresses that the room is made to be activated with events, classes, readings, and the like. Her installation melds two arenas of contemporary museological practice––exhibitions and programming––which, although they’ve become increasingly codependent, are rarely integrated in foundational ways. Tuning the Room models what this might look and sound like and, in doing so, poses particular challenges to the way we perceive our surroundings and subjects within it.

Andy Campbell

Aidan Koch

Park View
836 S. Park View Street, 8
March 11, 2017–April 22, 2017

Aidan Koch, Perch, 2017, wood, leather, string, hardware, 6 x 18 x 41".

In Helen Macdonald’s 2014 memoir H Is for Hawk, the author recounts a period of mourning punctuated by her training of a predatory bird, describing how their new bond tempers her grief. The relationship with this hawk, though, is underpinned by violence as much as affection, and frustration more than familiarity. Such an unsentimental attitude toward animal-human interactions characterizes the drawings and objects by Aidan Koch gathered here, which range from small ceramic sculptures of cats and monkeys to drawings of women arranging their bodies into the shapes of letters. An installation neatly fitted into a closet, Perch (all works 2017) consists of a wood and leather perch fit for a falcon and centrally placed, like a Minimalist totem, in the diminutive space, surrounded on the floor by feathers that, en masse, read as pattern.

Other pieces lampoon orientalism as it intersects with the representation of animals in pop culture. A Very Dangerous Child depicts a leopard carrying a small baby in its maw, evoking, perhaps, The Jungle Book. But this newborn is no Mowgli: If any relations are established between the preverbal human and the slinky beast in Koch’s piece, they are vexed at best. Similarly, the containers made of reeds that comprise Viper’s basket and Cobra’s basket appear straight out of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s oeuvre, except that one is adorned with silk bearing more of Koch’s beguiling imagery. The gallery’s spare architecture provides further occasion for indeterminacy: Stumbling upon a tiny sculpture of a monkey in the bathroom where a soap dish might normally be found is an interesting violation of intimacy, like coming across a family photo in the house of someone you barely know—a sensation typical of the curious zone between the mawkish and the alien that this artist asks us to inhabit.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Justin Olerud and Patricio Manuel Bernal Morales

Visitor Welcome Center
3006 W 7th Street, Suite 200A
March 18, 2017–April 22, 2017

View of “Justin Olerud and Patricio Manuel Bernal Morales: Bangs and Boyfriend,” 2017. Center: Justin Olerud, lone star, 2017.

The concomitant and proliferating desires of sex are at the center of this two-person exhibition. Justin Olerud’s paintings of Western ware, such as a saddle (Dusty Saddle, all works 2017) and a longhorn skull, hang in the first room and are sporadically interrupted by paintings featuring young chiseled, mostly nude white men dressed in cowboy garb (Lone Star and lone star), closely approximating—or appropriating—Bob Mizer’s legendarily camp photo shoots for his AMG studio from the 1950s to the 1970s. Lying about on the floor are large tumbleweeds, presenting obstacles to easy movement throughout the small gallery. In Olerud’s work, sex is in the activity of looking, the careful setting of a scene, and a knowing engagement with one’s props.

In the case of Patricio Manuel Bernal Morales’s installation Powder Room, sexuality appears as “a name for what breaks down the fantasy of sovereignty” (per Lee Edelman and Lauren Berlant’s 2013 philosophical dialogue Sex, or The Unbearable), underscoring the ways that bodies are conscripted into fantasy and in which they also move beyond such calls. This labyrinthine installation of gauzy fabrics structures a viewer’s encounter with the artist’s two other works—a fabric glory hole (In Service) and a small sculptural construction of barbed wire and acrylic medium (Wildflower). On opening night, three performers were sealed up in the nearly transparent walls of Morales’s maze, their faces covered with light-yellow sequins, their bodies pressing the fabric walls out into the passageways. Touching became nearly inevitable as one worked toward the center of Powder Room. Like any good labyrinth, solving the maze is always secondary to what one finds out about oneself and others along the way.

Andy Campbell

“I can call this progress to halt”

Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE)
6522 Hollywood Boulevard
March 8, 2017–April 23, 2017

View of “I can call this progress to halt,” 2017. From left: Michelle Dizon, Civil Society, 2008; Rosalind Nashashibi, Electrical Gaza, 2015.

What is the role of the visual in political turmoil—to be propaganda, or a history lesson? Is it an intermediary between perpetrator and victim, or does it serve as a reminder of the past persisting in the present? The videos, images, installations, performances, and discussions that make up “I can call this progress to halt” seem to argue that there has been movement but no certain advancement—steps taken, but in indeterminable directions. Georgia Sagri’s installation Sunday Stroll, 2016, smells of hot glue, eliciting a nostalgia that contrasts with the pictures of violence loosely placed on overhead projectors, which will be replaced by more of the same throughout the duration of the show. Michelle Dizon’s three-channel video installation Civil Society, 2008, places the Watts riots of 1965 beside the Paris revolts of 2005, to declare that civil conflict is not a foreign phenomenon and that it remains durable over time.

Yet there is egress. In Rosalind Nashashibi’s live-action and animated film Electrical Gaza, 2015, a trio of men sit in a living room. One of the men methodically, almost meditatively, smashes and folds falafel into a pita, reminding the viewer that during upheaval, stopping to feed ourselves can be a start. The sprawling content of this exhibition requires a lingering gait, in order to absorb the causes and effects of the looping story of sites and people under siege. By enduring this, we might then be able to pivot away.

Meg Whiteford

Jennie Jieun Lee

The Pit
918 Ruberta Avenue
March 12, 2017–April 23, 2017

View of “Jennie Jieun Lee: Seizure Cravasse,” 2017. From left: Untitled, 2017; Public Transportation, 2017; Silent Activism, 2017.

By building a wooden catwalk, a vantage raised a couple feet from the gallery’s floor, Jennie Jieun Lee has transformed her solo exhibition of large-scale ceramic works into a total installation. The reclaimed wood out of which this architectural intervention was made, with both unpainted and whitewashed boards, serves to bring together standing sculptures such as Silent Activism and Adeline Boone, both 2017, as well as slab-rolled wall reliefs such as Public Transportation, 2017, while also exaggerating the gallery’s most prominent feature—a steep, grave-like concrete pit, vital to the space’s former life as an auto-mechanic shop. The artist exploits this to dramatic effect, placing two bust-like sculptures, Queen, 2017, and The Witch, 2016, on the edge and at the bottom of the pit, respectively. Hung ceremoniously on the wall over the drop is Untitled, 2017, a wall relief that conjures up a gnarly shield, or a wild cross between a weathered tortoise shell and the underside of an upholstered chair.

The installation supplies a path of circulation, and each work provides a viewer with plenty to see. Lee’s ceramics are so viscerally present that it can be difficult to remember that a history of the medium underlies their form, from Peter Voulkos’s cracked and dissembled vessels to the tippy geometry of Alison Britton’s pots. For her part, Lee piles on layers of glaze, sometimes letting delicately drawn lines peek through. The cracks and gaps across the large pillar-like pieces mark places that could cause them to collapse. Importantly, none of the works have done so, suggesting that resilience is something discovered under great strain.

Andy Campbell

“You May Add or Subtract From the Work”

MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Mackey Apartments
1137 South Cochran Avenue
March 23, 2017–April 23, 2017

W.A.G.E., Wo/Manifesto, 2014, poster for their “Wages 4 W.A.G.E. Campaign.”

In 1977, artist Christopher D’Arcangelo placed a blank centerfold in the journal of the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art along with a note suggesting that readers paste the insert to the institute’s walls. Blank would meet blank: The artist exhibiting there at the time was Michael Asher, who, as usual, hung nothing, but instead hired folks to spend their days in the gallery at four bucks an hour. From that historical intersection comes this show’s historicizing axis. Curators Simon Leung and Sébastien Pluot present original scholarship on Asher and D’Arcangelo, including video interviews conducted by Pluot and Dean Inkster with the likes of Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and Lawrence Weiner; vintage ephemera; and copies of Asher’s collected writings, and a 1978 Artists Space catalogue in which D’Arcangelo had his name replaced by blank space. Recent works by Dorit Cypis, Ben Kinmont, Emilie Parendeau, and Silvia Kolbowski each reflect an explicit engagement with one of these influential artists.

Kolbowski’s video Missing Asher, 2017, for instance, relates her hunt for a previous homage to the artist and presents her droopy 1990 brochure of Asher quotes. D’Arcangelo and Asher would likely have appreciated such recursions. In their way, they both insisted that artworks and art history don’t make themselves. D’Arcangelo once exhibited an hourly accounting of his day job refurbishing lofts. Thus, the curators’ prominent placement of the Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) poster Wo/Manifesto, 2014, the last line of which reads “W.A.G.E. DEMANDS PAYMENT FOR MAKING THE WORLD MORE INTERESTING.” Clearly, it’s not enough to muse over the variously inequitable “conditions” of “display,” nor to top up the slim honoraria of art workers with the vague benefits of brand recognition. The four dollars an hour paid to Asher’s participants, adjusted for inflation, meets the W.A.G.E. standard for performers. Rare is the artist today who could say the same.

Travis Diehl

Charles Ross

Parrasch Heijnen Gallery
1326 South Boyle Avenue
March 16, 2017–April 28, 2017

“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

Jake Kean Mayman

Night Gallery
2276 East 16th Street
March 18, 2017–April 29, 2017

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

Sarah Ortmeyer

POTTS
2130 Valley Blvd
February 19, 2017–May 8, 2017

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

“The Basilisk”

Nicodim Gallery | Los Angeles
571 S Anderson Street, Suite 2
April 15, 2017–May 27, 2017

View of “The Basilisk,” 2017. Center: Mungo Thomson, Negative Space, 2017; Thomas Kinkade, Perseverance, 2000.

Alexander Reben’s mesmerizing five-minute film Deeply Artificial Trees, 2017, is basically Bob Ross on acid: The beloved late painter’s brushstrokes lay down rapidly morphing images of happy little pines, scorpions, puppies, and sinister birds of prey as Bob talks backward, or possibly in tongues. Using a Google visualization program designed to replicate our neural functions, a kind of ayahuasca for artificial intelligence, Reben’s piece taps into our deepest fears and warmest fuzzies simultaneously. It’s also representative of a show preoccupied with the eternal search for higher consciousness and divine light (whether that’s inward, upward, or digital).

The search is internal for Jeremy Shaw, whose video DMT, 2005, is a compilation of various pretty young people in the ecstatic throes of a psychedelic journey. Looking beyond this earthly plane are the followers of Summum, a modern religion that practices mummification, who are represented here by their proprietary sexual lubricants, mummified cats, and a velvet-lined sarcophagus. This exhibition verges on absurdity, but only according to the highly credible standards of mainstream religion and the art world. There’s a strangely existential gravitas to Perseverance, 2000, a rare, real-life work by Thomas Kinkade, “Painter of Light,” mounted alone on cosmos-patterned wallpaper (that is, Mungo Thomson’s Negative Space, 2017). And the quiet gesture that is Lazaros’s 999 Conductor, 2016, appears at first to be a monolithic sculpture but is, in fact, a gold-plated square on a pedestal reflecting a well-hidden spotlight, separated from the viewer by a sheer veil and a railing reminiscent of those found inside Mormon churches. The road toward enlightenment, after all, is paved with holy illusions.

Janelle Zara

McDermott & McGough

Team Gallery | 306 Windward Avenue
306 Windward Avenue, Venice
April 23, 2017–May 28, 2017

McDermott & McGough, Absorbed in the Absolute, 1965/2017, oil on canvas, 18 x 14".

Three large paintings of domestic interiors fill the garage of this bungalow gallery. They depict well-appointed spaces—plush furniture, fresh flowers, and plants are the only occupants of these rooms. Where there are windows, curtains are drawn to cover them. A copy of Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar (1948) hangs out on a red Eames chair in Furnishings, Works of Art, and Other Status Symbols (all works dated anachronistically, 1965/2017), and a short stack of midcentury crypto-homosexual magazines (Male Figure, Grecian Guild Pictorial, and Tomorrow’s Man) touches the bottom edge of the pictorial field in Chamber Comedy of Manners. In each room, a painting or two by the midcentury illustrator and hairstylist George Quaintance is given pride of place. In short, these are queer realms, tying taste and titillation together.

Inside the garage’s adjacent house, another sequence of paintings sets a broader social context, reproducing the web of language and images that hemmed queer lives in during the decades before gay liberation. Two works, Absorbed in the Absolute and Cigarette Smoke Tinged Breath, tell the tales of matinee idols Ramon Novarro and Montgomery Clift, respectively. In both, a black-and-white picture of the actor is paired with a smaller, blue-tinged inset image pointing to the cause of their deaths. In Clift’s case it was alcohol, in Novarro’s, a pair of murderous brothers the famed Ben-Hur actor hired as escorts. The visual that stands in for Novarro’s grisly death is a soaped-up nude of one of the brothers, Paul Ferguson, painted by McDermott & McGough from a photograph taken by Chicago beefcake photographer and founder of the Leather Archives and Museum, Chuck Renslow. At the brothers’ trial, a psychiatrist diagnosed Paul Ferguson as a self-loathing homosexual; to those of us who research pre-liberation LGBTQ lives, this is a woefully familiar story, one that suggests the far-reaching consequences of criminalizing desire.

Andy Campbell

Matthew Ronay

Marc Foxx Gallery
6150 Wilshire Boulevard
April 29, 2017–June 3, 2017

Matthew Ronay, Magnitude Source, 2017, basswood, dye, steel, 19 x 40 1/2 x 12".

No one moves quite as fluidly between art and science, spiritual and urbane pursuits, or craftsmanship and conceptual rigor as Matthew Ronay. In this exhibition, Ronay presents refined, colorfully flocked-and-dyed carved Basswood orbs, black holes, tubes, cones, and bricks, many meticulously built from single pieces of wood and then reconstituted with hidden dowels. His objects connote both otherworldly shapes and eighteenth-century utopian architecture—think C. N. Ledoux—as much as mammal innards, vegetables, minerals, and undulating sea creatures.

The show is titled “Surds” after one of pi’s siblings, an irrational integer reduced to a square root. These sculptural arrangements, displayed in an X-shape on five square plinths that checkerboard the gallery floor, look like a three-dimensional mandala or some alternate universe’s fractal collapse. That said, the installation has a Zen-like calmness about it: The engineered organization of these wild forms is complemented by the wrinkled hand-sewn slipcovers Ronay made to offset the wood’s smooth Pop allure. Inspired by the Mayan system of counting, 13, 2016, looks like a factory town built of hot dogs, while Scanner, 2017, resembles an acorn squash or carnivorous flower with a stamen or pistil structure. The largest piece, centrally installed, is Magnitude Source, 2017, a green, purple, orange, and blue orb with wavy beams of wood radiating from it, like an electrified sun topping a giant, brilliantly queer wedding cake.

Key to the artist’s material metaphysics is the way his wood carvings look gummy, soft, bulbous, vegetal, even spongy, while his sewn objects sometimes adopt harder angles. Ronay’s abject symbolism is carried out through sexualized forms, ruptures between exterior and interior, and objects that elude simple recipes for attraction or repulsion. These sculptures brilliantly challenge short attention spans, inviting us into intimacy.

Trinie Dalton

“Signifying Form”

the Landing
5118 W Jefferson Blvd
April 1, 2017–June 3, 2017

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

Pippa Garner

Redling Fine Art
6757 Santa Monica Blvd
April 9, 2017–June 3, 2017

Pippa Garner, $ell Your $elf, ca. 1990s, pencil on paper, 14 1/2 x 11".

The genre of prop comedy is too easily dismissed. Think of the groans or eye rolls elicited by the mere mention of Carrot Top or Gallagher—two performers who are readily aligned with the form. What often gets lost in this general annoyance, though, is the comic’s ability to fuse, and sometimes counter, cultural norms and expectations via the mechanical processes of prototyping and invention. When done right, the results of such comedy are as compelling as they are challenging and can amount to a critique of labor under capitalism (the gimmick, as Sianne Ngai points out in her recent lecture “The Theory of the Gimmick,” is first and foremost a labor-saving device). Pippa Garner’s work floats a maligned form of comedy into an art context—which she has arguably done for decades, as a 1982 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson attests—wherein drawings, sculptural objects, and videos satirize cultural consumption at every turn.

The zingers come fast and furious in her meticulous comix-like drawings such as $ell Your $elf, ca. 1990s. In this work the artist imagines a “‘foot-in-the door’ shoe,” an oxford whose wings hinge out to literally prevent a door from closing in the wearer’s face; a flat-footed visual articulation of social mobility. This humor is also evident in three videos where Garner performs both male and female personas (even the artist’s own gender transition finds no quarter from her mocking sensibility). Tinker Tantrum, 2013, for example, introduces the viewer to Gadget Girl and Gadget Guy in an “in‘faux’mercial” for various upgrades on traditional headphones. In the words of Gadget Girl: “If you’re going to strap something onto your skull, it should be ornamental and make a personal statement—the perfect way to tell the world what’s on your mind.” Garner is, indeed, the mother of invention.

Andy Campbell

Roni Shneior

JOAN
4300 West Jefferson Boulevard, 1
April 23, 2017–June 4, 2017

Roni Shneior, Tree and smiling moon, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 51".

A large painting of an agave plant, titled Agave, 2017, serves as a fulcrum in this exhibition of painting and sculpture from Israeli-born, Los Angeles–based Roni Shneior. Unlike the agaves that one might find in a nursery, springy and symmetrical with dazzling leaves, this artist’s greenery is filled with a near-human pathos. Its components are variously at attention and rest; some impotently bend over, like half-hearted attempts at origami. The colors are muted—drab, mournful. The ghostly edges of the leaves are echoed in the lozenge-shaped “eye” that hovers above the plant and whose foggy emanations serve as the only source of light in the image. This work, like so many others here, takes the familiar and imbues it with the alien; something’s off, but what?

To be sure, there is humor in this tactic as well. For example, Bloom, 2017, is a ceramic and papier-mâché sculpture of ten hands, whose absurdly long arms are knotted together like the tails of a rat king. Like Agave, it is at once an articulation of difference and divergence. This Hydra-like form enacts gestures that can be beguiling (one hand gently brushes the floor, fingers languidly extended) or brutal (another pounds the cement gallery floor with its fist). The show continues like this, with slow and elegiac paintings, funny and absurd sculptures.

The droopy red flowers of the bulbous bottlebrush tree represented in Tree and smiling moon, 2017, handily evoke the gravity that caused Shneior’s paint to drip informally at the bottom of the canvas. But the moon of the work’s title is thin and wan, looking less like a blessing from the heavens than a thin-lipped curse spoken in the still air of a pink-and-purple sky.

Andy Campbell

Young Joon Kwak

Commonwealth and Council
3006 West 7th Street, Suite 220
May 13, 2017–June 24, 2017

Young Joon Kwak, Herma Herculine, 2017, pigmented plaster, resin, MDF, 41 x 16 x 18".

In ancient Greece, the gods were worshipped via heaps of rocks left on the sides of roads. These rocks were anointed with oil and adorned with wreaths to act as wards against evil. Perhaps desiring a hint of the human in their divine icons, the Greeks transformed these piles into polished blocks of stones, topped with carved heads and accessorized with male and/or female genitals, a gender stuck to an ambiguous base. They called this new form Herma, Greek for “rock.” It is from this tradition that Young Joon Kwak’s multimedia exhibition springs forth.

Working in plaster, resin, and metal, rather than the historically weighted sculptural medium of marble, Kwak mutilates the form of the Herma and disorients the viewer through unconventional and dispersed placements, as in Vaginal Canal Growths (all works 2017), which drips from the ceiling. A shattered disco ball titled Brown Rainbow Eclipse Explosion rotates to the beat of a slow jam. Like any good reveler, Kwak knows the best celebrations include friends—sound work by Marvin Astorga provides a lucubratory accompaniment, and the entry room’s installation of black foam-stuffed bags and waterfall vaginas are a collaboration with Corazon del Sol. The effect is a surreal dance party on an Octavia Butler–esque moon surrounded by all your queer friends. The works here are gooey and carnal—embedded figures wrench out of the stiff forms that attempt to contain them in Hermaphroditus’s Reveal II and Herma Herculine. Clearly, these are objects to pay service to and which ache for a touch of the divine.

Meg Whiteford

Lila de Magalhaes

Abode
840 N Wilton Place
March 24, 2017–June 24, 2017

Lila de Magalhaes, Sun and Moon, 2017, dyed fabric, thread, chalk pastel, each 17 x 14". Installation view.

Spider legs delicately dance on the plush skin of a fresh peach as a haloing fly delivers a golden boot while nearby electric-orange slugs trail paths through dreamy forests veiled in hazy greens and downy pinks—such are the scenes in Lila de Magalhaes’s elaborate embroideries and ceramic creatures for her Los Angeles debut at the inaugural exhibition of this apartment gallery. The space is open for informal dinners rather than traditional gallery hours, and its gatherers cohabitate with a menagerie of webbed, gossamer scenarios and scattered body parts.

A soft spell mists over all of it. A cat’s claws slicing up a girl’s face can look tranquil when colored and crafted just so, doubled here above the mantle in different colors for Sun and Moon (all works 2017). Even a swirl of sculptural shit on the carpet—ssss and ss—can look like ice cream. Throughout the apartment, smooth ceramics snake around and poke out from the walls, resembling loose tentacles. Elsewhere a couple of ears sprout over a mirror while cherry-tipped eyes peer out from a sculpted cat in the kitchen and from atop snail stems in the bricks of a mock fireplace.

It’s a little Odilon Redon, a little Fantasia. With bruised charm, de Magalhaes’s works layer gentility over the grossness and grief of her creations no matter how they might conspire and squirm.

Andrew Berardini

Mai-Thu Perret

David Kordansky Gallery
5130 West Edgewood Place
May 19–July 1

View of “Mai-Thu Perret: Féminaire,” 2017.

When Monique Wittig wrote Les Guérillères (The Guerillas) in 1969, she was already a celebrated author in France. She pioneered a mode of storytelling that put female protagonists at the epicenter, and formulated a writing style that set narrative fragments in loose coordination with one another, challenging orthodox boundaries between prose and poetry (something that fellow feminist theorist Hélène Cixous would later term l’ecriture feminine). Les Guérillères chronicles the goings-on of an army of women. Throughout the text, in which Wittig’s subjects are often referred to collectively, the women tell each other stories, argue about the cosmologies and myths most appropriate to their ideal society, play complicated games, destroy buildings, and attack enemies with rocket launchers, machine guns, and mirrors.

Mai-Thu Perret’s installation takes council from Wittig’s novel, presenting a group of nine mannequin-like soldiers (made out of a heterogeneous mix of materials such as papier-mâché, wicker, ceramic, silicone, and metal) in various states of rest. Although they look anonymous, they’re molded after the visages of some of Perret’s closest friends and associates. Some, like Les Guérillères V, 2016, carry translucent AK-47 assault rifles. This is the army of lovers that cannot fail. Yet their inert aloofness, exacerbated by a high pedestal, puts their countenance on par with more traditional memorials. Together, they face a grid of thirty-two cast ceramic wall reliefs. Some of these, such as Add where there’s lots, reduce where there’s little, 2017, feature a carefully excised, perfectly round circle, a recurring symbol throughout the book. In The mind’s eye is as bright as the moon, 2017, the edges of the ceramic slab are gathered together, fingers having dug into it like a bite, with a graphic red glaze applied so thin so as to show a deep purple underglaze—a body and its viscera, a pliable politics, a picture of action.

Andy Campbell

Peter Shire

MOCA Pacific Design Center
8687 Melrose Avenue
April 22–July 2

Peter Shire, Scorpion (Black) Teapot, 1996–2013, ceramic and steel, 13 x 31 1/2 x 12".

In an iconic 2001 essay by Jules Prown, the careful study of a teapot reveals the values of the Revolutionary War–era United States, a “symbol of the act of giving, of charity,” not to mention serving as “a structural metaphor for the female breast.” What would happen if we took Scorpion (Black) Teapot, 1996–2013, or any of Peter Shire’s many other teapots here, not only as evidence of an artistic repetition compulsion but as psychic condensations of our own cultural unconscious, soothing decanters for our postmodern hangover? The artist’s titles often index a modernist legacy, as in Early Bauhaus Teapot, 1975; Bauhaus Derrick Teapot, 1983; or Right Weld Chair, 2007, a play on the surname of De Stijl designer Gerrit Rietveld. And yet Shire’s works demonstrate a clowning fascination with surfaces, mimicry, and pastiche rather than a purist “truth to materials.” His investment in ceramics does not reveal clay’s earthy essence but rather exploits its plasticity. For Shire, the material can approximate anything: the iconic shape of kitschy cookies in Fortune Cookie Teapot, 1974; the sleek metal of Marianne Brandt’s own teapot in Hourglass Teapot, 1984; or an erotic, gravity-defying column of ceramic fruit, in Stacked Peaches Teapot, 2005.

This pantomime continues in his Memphis-style furniture, such as Harlequin Table, 1983, where white-on-black paint mimics a marble slab. In works throughout the show, such as the Obelisk Cabinet, 1981, or Right Weld Chair’s beachy gradient, a splatter paint of atomized colors makes a fetish of the object’s surface, encouraging the viewer to savor the exterior rather than investigate the core. Tirelessly translating graphic, abstract fantasies into sculptural reality, Shire’s works fly in the face of soft-spoken good taste and formal restraint, as if this were a world without precedent, convention, or oppression.

Grant Johnson

Rosha Yaghmai

Kayne Griffin Corcoran
1201 South La Brea Avenue
May 19–July 8

Rosha Yaghmai, Imitation Crab, 2017, silicone, cotton, pigment, tin weave, bricks, 84 1/2 x 47 1/2 x 4".

This calls for rose-tinted glasses. Rosha Yaghmai’s enchanting exhibition consists of a collection of objects that radiate mauve, periwinkle, and lilac. The assembled furniture—benches, curtains, lamp-like structures—appear still, a carefully arranged tableau. The artist envisions the gallery space as a threshold, a site of transition from interior to exterior, oscillating between public and private. On each wall, heavy silicone curtains affixed to brick resemble doors, portals into—or, perhaps, escape routes out of—her oneiric world.

Infused with pigment and bits of fabric that range from tulle to quilting cotton, her flat entryways also act as paintings displaying bright, geometric, minimalist patterns. In Imitation Crab (all works 2017), blue swirling motifs recall handprints, feeling around the material in an enigmatic trail. Dangling from steel hooks, these silicone sheets seem to pendulate between the space of the courtyard and what may lie just beyond its enclosure.

In her series “Pipe,” thick panes of hardened resin appear to drip from upright rusted plumbing formations. Each resin sheet traps bubbles, imperfections, and, most notably, varying shapes and hues of photochromic-sunglass lenses. The floating purple circles and gray ovals evoke organic forms like sea mollusks or petrified bugs enclosed in amber. These lenses assume an abstract but also ethereal quality. The summarily titled Courtyard, Fiberglass Bench whispers in the same octave, radiating a purple-hued variant of Klein Blue. Viewers are invited to sit here and peer through her opaque figures and distorted windows. Yaghmai’s courtyard becomes a site for reflection, refracting light as it fosters introspection.

Simone Krug

Bernadette Corporation

House of Gaga | Los Angeles
2228 W 7th St, 2nd floor (entrance on S. Grand View St.)
May 17–July 8

Bernadette Corporation, Heliogabalus Beer Sign, 2017, laser etching on half-clear acrylic, aluminum channel, RGB LED light tape, 16 x 13".

The three most common ways to serve in beer pong are the arc, the fastball, and the bounce shot. While the arc is the most efficient at clean entry, the fastball (or kamikaze shot) is an effective technique for wiping out multiple cups at a time, if the house rules that a fallen one be cleared from the table. However, any pro of the game will tell you that no matter the technique, beer pong is a level playing field, as disorderly arrangements of drinks can be repositioned, and experts and rookies alike are at an inebriated disadvantage.

Bernadette Corporation’s exhibition “The Gay Signs” (a wordplay on Nietzsche’s 1882 The Gay Science) teases the dominating double-team of power and class by apposing meticulously fabricated beer pong tables, featuring quotes from the philosopher Sylvère Lotringer printed on vinyl (Sylvere Stream 3 Pong [all works 2017]), with treasures culled from MacArthur Park—a major stomping ground for the Los Angeles homeless population. The scavenged finds reside in an infinity mirror, Heliogabalus Pong, near a sign incorporating the Budweiser bowtie logo and the visage of the child emperor/party animal/gender nonconformist/Artaudian muse Heliogabulus (Heliogabalus Beer Sign). The score in this anarchic arena is kept by a LED banner transcript of Kanye West’s rant at a concert in Sacramento last November, shoved into a plastic garbage bin (I love him who keeps back no drop of spirit to himself [Kanye stream]).

This show takes language, and artmaking, as a sport. The gimcrack affectation of the display confronts the highbrow concepts of the work. With all the players soused, the tactics of sense are struck from the table, and the cups come toppling down.

Meg Whiteford

“Blackout”

Ibid Gallery | Los Angeles
670 S Anderson Street
April 22–July 8

Richard Hamilton, Patricia Knight II, 1982, etching on paper, 15 x 11".

Collages can be construed as a mode of time travel, as they are made from bits of material or images, usually culled from everyday life, that are put into adjacency. Those who seek to interpret collages not only keep in mind the effects a particular work might have on a viewer (surreal and uncanny are old sawhorses) but also that they must record the respective histories of the individual pieces of the whole, relaying how images and text can be repurposed, retooled, and resignified. In this way the technique has been proposed as a thoroughly modern or postmodern (pick your poison) media. It might also describe a particular kind of curatorial approach—this seems to be true of “Blackout,” which brings together three artists from three different generations who are handily more dissimilar than they are alike: Carlo Mollino, Richard Hamilton, and John Stezaker.

Hamilton’s prints look a lot like collages, while Stezaker’s works live and die by the success of their optical effects, with Shades, 2016, as an example of the artist in top form. Hamilton’s aquatints, Patricia Knight I and II, both 1982, feature the actress standing in bare, simply rendered interiors. Disarticulated from their original context—a photographic still from the Douglas Sirk–directed noir Shockproof (1949) in which Knight stands in the middle of a room, the dead body of a man at her feet—the images of the actress dodge the generic conventions of his source material, just as the etching process likewise removes some of the specificity of her facial expression. Here may very well be the blackout of the show’s title, at once a suturing of time and an elision of historical memory.

Andy Campbell

Camille Blatrix

Bad Reputation
2007 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 729
May 21–July 8

Camille Blatrix, Eyes, 2017, dyed resin, steel, paper, 4 1/2 x 2 x 1 1/4"

The three small dyed-resin and metal sculptures that anchor Camille Blatrix’s current exhibition call to mind the injection-molded parts that find their way into modern households as light switches, plugs, or routers. But each of the artist’s sculptures, no bigger than an average hand, imbues these anonymous forms with emotional intensity via the care of his elaborate dye treatments and the memento stuffed in each ersatz device—a ticket stub, a note, or a plastic flower.

Facing the three mounted totems is a framed poster, Unview 2008/18 (all works 2017), in which a pixelated ink-jet print depicting a cap-wearing figure with crossed arms is overlaid with a three-part pie chart. Its colors correspond to those of the sculptures: rose (Skin), ultramarine (Blood), and purple (Eyes). Between the unlabeled chart (about which the press release notes only that it corresponds to an unspecified “election result”) and the portentous titles of the wall sculptures, there is a sense of pent-up energy. The metal pins near the top of each of these canisters go a step further, suggesting an explosive end.

By infusing sentiment and danger into forms that also evoke standard throwaway consumables, Blatrix’s combustible trinkets speak to a fundamental contradiction in commercial values: mass-produced products made of similar materials become desirable by representing a chance to be unique or express personal feelings. Take the perfume bottle, for instance, another vial with a pin. Along a hundred duty-free-shop shelves, year after year, row after row: “Obsession.”

David Muenzer

An Te Liu

Anat Ebgi
2660 S La Cienega Blvd.
June 9–July 15

View of “An Te Liu: Transmission,” 2017.

On the cusp of Y2K—the calendar data bug that marked our inauspicious slump into the current millennium—satirical newspaper the Onion published an article describing the Vatican’s storage problems resulting from an aging, mentally compromised Pope John Paul II “just blessing everything in sight,” which required the construction of a giant reliquary to warehouse the arbitrarily holy trash. In his exhibition here, An Te Liu carves and casts elegant hunks of ceramic and bronze into modernist-looking abstractions whose enduring materials seem at odds with the disposability of the forms on which he draws.

Domestic objects and Styrofoam packaging are amalgamated into chic sculptures with varied allusions. Cast in bronze and looking battered, a disco ball becomes a Death Star (The Party’s Over, 2017) while an anonymous packing block takes on the cinematic gravitas of an ancient alien talisman (Sentinel [III], 2016). The resemblance of Gnomon, 2014–2017, to a 1918 version of Brancusi’s Endless Column is perhaps the wryest riposte to faith in an essential truth of materials. The skewed symmetry of Liu’s modular parts suggests impending collapse, lending the affect of the cold metal shapes an odd vulnerability.

Set upon plinths, platforms, and beveled recesses on one side of the gallery, the installation perfectly mimics the theater of archeological museum display. The dais is recast as a stage (which you are welcome to walk upon if you remove your shoes), and the works pulse with clownish, deadpan brilliance. At the dawn of the next millennium (if our species makes it that far) landfills may reveal more about how we lived and what we valued than the holy trash of museums.

Christina Catherine Martinez

Sabrina Gschwandtner

Shoshana Wayne Gallery
2525 Michigan Ave # B1
June 3–July 22

Sabrina Gschwandtner, Hands at Work Crazy Quilt (for Teresa Li), 2017, 16-mm polyester film, polyester thread, lithography ink, permanent marker 68 x 46".

When Rosalind Krauss wrote in 1979 about grids as one of the mythic structures of modern art, she was clearly not thinking about quilts. But one of her main points—that the grid’s formal regularity represses a spiritual unconscious—is useful for considering Sabrina Gschwandtner’s quilts made from scraps of 16-mm film. The magic of these works is that the geometrical compositions of discards reveal an immanent world of human bodies laboring in tiny images, all lit from behind via light boxes or LED panels. This is no regressive return to the realm of belief, illusion, or fiction that modernism claimed to have banished, though. Rather, these pieces ruminate on film as material and the cinematic image as bearer of the real, encased in polyester and speaking from an earlier time.

The repurposed footage is mostly from educational films about sewing, arranged by color to create what from afar looks like color-blocked square or striped compositions. The entire show is concerned with reevaluating women’s crafts as art. Gschwandtner mastered her process and style for this body of work over a number of years, but two pieces, Hands at Work Crazy Quilt (for Roderick Kiracofe) and Hands at Work Crazy Quilt (for Teresa Li) (all works cited, 2017), mark a new, more gestural command of the technique. Finally, Hands at Work Video productively explores a tension between mechanical and digital reproduction. Here, the grid has been torqued into a composition of elongated diamonds, a pattern of crisply rendered shapes through which we peer into a world of analog vitality: moving images of hands at work.

Jennifer Peterson

Al Loving

Art + Practice
3401 W. 43rd Pl
April 22–July 29

Al Loving, untitled, 1979, paper collage, 40 x 30".

So voracious is the presence of the twelve works in this focused retrospective of Al Loving’s work, set as they are against the inert framing of the white cube, that they might be better described by the activities that resulted in their making: stack, weave, layer, tear, cut, drip. The five works in the first gallery are essentially collages of interwoven spirals and grids, often brightly painted, glittered, and glossed to a gaudy, reflective shine. At once galactic and crafty, they push against orthodoxies of the medium, as they are without ground or matrix onto which the various elements are placed. In other words, they are all collage, with a happy excess of sinuous exposed edges. The largest of these works, Barbara in Spiral Heaven, 1989, carries traces of the artist’s hard-edge paintings of the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as his groundbreaking quilted canvas constructions of the mid- to late 1970s. When one realizes that each work in this gallery was made in 1989, they perform the visual equivalent of placing exclamation points at the end of a sentence. 1989!!! Al Loving!!!

Some of the others in the second room trade in more representational content: the building-like Mercer Street VII, #9, 1988, the two bodies embracing in an untitled work on paper from 1979, and the barbed wire surrounding the Soweto township in apartheid-era South Africa (Soweto #1, ca. 1980). They are also remarkable, if moodier and with reservations about the state of the world. This jewel box of a show will travel to the Baltimore Museum of Art later this year, opening in mid-October. Until then, and if in LA, you should return again and again, like a spiral, deepening and expanding your appreciation for this still woefully underappreciated artist.

Andy Campbell

Lauren Greenfield

Annenberg Space for Photography
2000 Avenue of the Stars
April 8–August 13

Lauren Greenfield, Spring Break, Panama City, Florida, 2000, silver dye bleach print, 11 x 14".

This survey, titled “Generation Wealth,” is promoted as a morality tale, but it’s more of a master class in dramatic irony. For twenty-five years, Lauren Greenfield has photographed those who see money and fame as vehicles to happiness—celebrities, Ponzi schemers, wealthy teenagers, Russian oligarchs, the list goes on—while highlighting the vacancy of that pursuit. Donald Trump is exactly the sort of person Greenfield might photograph, and her artist statement included in the show plainly states that she sees his election as a symptom of such generational sickness. This exhibition sometimes suffers under the weight of its own moralizing impulse, but such acute foreshadowing makes these images vital, if not too late.

A short documentary about the photographer’s many series and own documentaries describes how she began taking pictures of privileged LA teenagers in the early 1990s—which formed her 1997 book Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood—and how she watched their obsession with consumption become a mirror of the larger world. A photograph of a woman who appears to be giving an upside-down blow job while on spring break, Spring Break, Panama City, Florida, 2000, precedes Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers by more than a decade. The cluttered frames of Greenfield’s later work give way to symbols loaded as Chekhovian guns: a Lucite pumpkin carriage at a gauche Disney World wedding; a golf club wielded in a gilded Chinese mega-mansion; a toddler’s tiny, suggestive tongue; a gaggle of designer bags. But she is most subtle, and powerful, when identifying the insecurity that an excess of information brings. In photographs from her documentary on anorexia, Thin (2006), she locates the vulnerability of people facing an overload of aspirational imagery. There is no clear moral to their struggle, and what her subjects long for is intangible.

Alexandra Pechman

Oliver Payne and Keiichi Tanaami

Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
May 6–August 27

Oliver Payne and Keiichi Tanaami, untitled 16, 2015, ink and digitally printed sticker on paper, 18 x 15".

It’s called “bullet hell” for a reason: In this die-hard subgenre of 2-D shooters, the player’s lone plane makes twitchy forays against radiating swarms of missiles and beams. Oliver Payne is a fan of the games, though, he admits, also very bad at them—but never mind, the goal is to mash the trigger while slipping into and through the patterned psychedelia of wave upon Voidborn wave of pullulating munitions. Payne’s present collaboration with Keiichi Tanaami—a pioneer of Japanese Pop art with, among other things, a vintage Jefferson Airplane album cover to his credit—makes a mesmerizing combo of their styles. Stickers of 16-bit missiles and bombs are superimposed onto twenty-nine of Tanaami’s drawings—blooming demigods, mushrooming courtesans, and what looks like the occasional Muppet, rendered in fleshy black lines. All untitled and dated to 2015, the works’ sprays and starbursts mostly mimic actual moments of gameplay. Tanaami’s drawings play the boss, streaming blue-hot death from eyes and crotch. In a few pieces, Payne’s embellishments take on a sense of mark-making themselves: for example, the teeth on a skeleton, like molten fillings, or a bouquet of detonations beside a skull with long lashes. In a previous 2013 series of collages, Payne stuck bullet hell stickers to photos of Greco-Roman antiquities. The Tanaami pieces, too, unlike the video games they reference, feel classically on pause. In the oval calm of this museum’s “vault” gallery, the bombs are poised and the plane is still.

Travis Diehl

“Maven of Modernism”

Norton Simon Museum
411 West Colorado Boulevard
April 7–September 25

Diego Rivera, Blue Boy with the Banana, 1931, oil on canvas, 36 x 22".

Galka Scheyer thought blue was a mystical color. Her Richard Neutra–designed house, built in 1934, still stands in Hollywood on Blue Heights Drive. Her poodle was named Blue Blue. And when it came time to brand her favorite quartet of modernist painters—Lyonel Feininger, Alexei Jawlensky, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky—she went with the Blue Four.

The name caught. “Prophetess of the Blue Four,” proclaimed a November 1925 San Francisco Examiner article marking their West Coast debut. Dozens more shows would follow. A Jewish German heiress in exile since the Weimar years, Scheyer found California more receptive to her blau Bauhaus taste than chilly New York City. From Oakland to LA, she bought, sold, and boosted the likes of Kurt Schwitters, El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Pablo Picasso, and Edward Weston.

Scheyer’s appetite for azure guided her collecting, too. A single blue bar anchors the churning black rectangles of Klee’s Possibilities at Sea, 1932. Blue Four? Try the watercolor Blue Shore, 1938, a birthday gift from Feininger. When Scheyer bought a painting from Diego Rivera, it had to be Blue Boy with the Banana, 1931. These are featured among more than a hundred paintings and photographs, ten vitrines of letters and ephemera, and (inexplicably) a single limestone sculpture in “Maven of Modernism” (the Norton Simon’s try at pithy branding).

Highlighting Cubists to caricaturists, Fauves to Group f/64, this portion of the Galka Scheyer bequest evinces a bohemian eccentricity tempered by good weather—and by good design. Indeed, the real finds amid the maven and her men are the exhibition announcements, business cards, and letterhead, all emblazoned by four blue lines like skinny modernist pillars: the logo of the Blue Four. Scheyer thought blue was a mystical color. It shows.

Travis Diehl