PRINT December 2010

Michael Ned Holte

1 Joel Kyack, Superclogger (LAXART, Hammer Museum, and various freeways around Los Angeles) This summer, a random sample of LA’s commuters were treated to an unexpected puppet show from the back of a Mazda truck, with a sound track transmitted to its audience via short-range radio. The subject of the four occasionally heartbreaking acts, written and mostly performed by Kyack, was chaos. And depending on who witnessed it, Superclogger either added to the insanity of the freeways at rush hour or provided an improbable calm at its center. While in the works for several years, the mobile guerrilla theater seemed a crafty riposte to the spectacle of Marina Abramović occupying the vast atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in New York all spring: This artist, too, was present, albeit anonymously and briefly, before disappearing into the traffic without further explanation.

2 Michele O’Marah (Kathryn Brennan Gallery at Cottage Home, Los Angeles) I laughed out loud when I heard rumors that O’Marah would be remaking—I prefer “approximating”—three scenes from the 1996 Pamela Anderson sci-fi vehicle Barb Wire, mostly because I knew from her earlier work that she would treat it (and its pneumatic star) seriously. Casting a different woman as Barb/Pam for each part of the project, “A Girl’s Gotta Do What a Girl’s Gotta Do,” 2009, O’Marah transformed a cartoonish source into three compelling case studies about the complications of gender, celebrity, persona, and identification. The results are funny and endearing but also awkward, painful, and all too human.

3 Steve Roden (Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA; curated by Howard N. Fox) Complementing the Drawing Center’s smart Iannis Xenakis retrospective a few months previously in New York, this bewildering twenty-year survey of Roden’s polymathic output reveals a similarly restless mind at work, fluidly shifting from painting and drawing to sound to sculpture to film—all driven by an exploratory mission remarkably indifferent to preconceived results or good fashion.

4 Maggie Nelson, Bluets (Wave Books) File this lean tome under “color theory”—albeit a version of that strange genre that offers an intimate account of a color deeply imbued with bouts of loneliness, loss, lust, and unfixed wonder. “I like blues that keep moving,” Nelson confides, and these blues certainly do.

5 Lesley Vance Just like her earlier still lifes of seashells and wilted flowers, Vance’s recent abstractions (on view at this year’s Whitney Biennial, in various group shows, and in David Kordansky Gallery’s solo presentation at the Frieze Art Fair) are concise and seductive essays—on how things gather and evade light; on the way layers, strokes, smears, and juxtapositions of paint can (still) reconstruct the world. Historically grounded, these natures mortes are startlingly fresh.

6 Hollis Frampton: Circles of Confusion” (various venues, Los Angeles) Following the publication by the MIT Press of Frampton’s collected writings last year, Los Angeles Filmforum and Khastoo Gallery organized an ambitious five-part screening (with commentary by David E. James and other film scholars, as well as artists such as Erika Vogt and James Welling) of the late filmmaker’s surprisingly varied meditations on the medium’s language—picture and sound, and their anxious coexistence. Although Frampton died in 1984, at age forty-eight, his achievement as both filmmaker and theorist (and filmmaker as theorist) is staggering. To my mind, he deserves a position in the second half-century of cinema equal to Eisenstein’s in the first. A simultaneous screening series at the University of Chicago Film Studies Center might be evidence of a slow-growing cult devoted to Frampton’s “infinite cinema.”

7 Haptic temptations Little irritates me more than the sight of people touching art, but several memorable solo shows in Los Angeles galleries this past year almost turned me into a hypocrite/ic. Shana Lutker’s sculptures in wood, steel, rope, and leather (at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects) simultaneously evoked letterforms, body parts, and instruments of torture. Rachel Foullon (at Ltd Los Angeles) called forth an agrarian history with structures of stained western red cedar and canvas colored with dye and Hawaiian sea salt. Emilie Halpern (at Pepin Moore) fluently incorporated ancient meteorites, a lovebird feather, and magician’s flash paper. And Marie Jager (at François Ghebaly Gallery/Kunsthalle LA) summoned the elements by “painting” canvases with pollution and blasts of vehicular exhaust and treating blueprints of the city to the effects of sunlight and rain.

8 Mateo Tannatt (Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles) In Tannatt’s performance piece Rendezvous Vous, 2010, a well-appointed but elusive vagrant drifted through his sculptures, silk-screened paintings, and photographs. Tannatt theatrically situated this character—a likely stand-in for the artist or, well, arton the line between work and play: all dressed up with no place to go. The exhibition itself, meanwhile, suggested the backstage of a magic show, with its objects precariously propped between smoke and mirror. MY MOUTH CAN MAKE SOUNDS BUT THESE SOUNDS ARE NOT WORDS, read the curious lyrics on one painting of undulating musical staves without notes. I know the feeling.

9 Drew Heitzler (Blum & Poe, Los Angeles) Months before footage of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico provided a real-time document of apocalypse, Heitzler’s elegant and ambitiously researched installation of videos and found images (originally slated for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles—their loss) revealed a complex social history in which everything from local politics to rock ’n’ roll to the occult was tied to the oil industry in the artist’s adopted home of Los Angeles. The LA oil industry? Yep. And the history is one that’s often hiding in plain sight, obscured by Hollywood-centric mythologies of the city. Marlowe-like, Heitzler connected the greasy dots.

10 John Baldessari (Los Angeles County Museum of Art; curated by Leslie Jones and Jessica Morgan) If we’re to believe the standard line, Baldessari is the tall, funny West Coast guy who popped the balloon of Conceptual art seriousness with a series of drily humorous jabs: cremating his paintings, singing Sol LeWitt’s 1969 “Sentences on Conceptual Art,” and so on. The better story, evidenced in this retrospective, is that Baldessari stayed seriously—if sometimes covertly—committed to the act of looking, presciently absorbing narrative strategies from the local film industry while consistently pointing to art’s history as much as goosing its present. Besides, humor is not the opposite of seriousness, even when one’s singing LeWitt.

Co-organized with Tate Modern, London.

Michael Ned Holte is a frequent contributor to Artforum. His writing has recently appeared in the exhibition catalogue Richard Hawkins—Third Mind (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2010) and the Web journal East of Borneo, for which he profiled legendary independent filmmaker Roger Corman. This past summer he was an artist-in-residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts, California, and he is currently visiting faculty at the California Institute of the Arts.