PRINT December 2013

Michael Ned Holte

Stan Douglas, Hors-champs, 1992, two-channel digital video projection, black-and-white, sound, 13 minutes 40 seconds. Installation view. From “Blues for Smoke.” Photo: Brian Forrest.

1 “BLUES FOR SMOKE” (THE GEFFEN CONTEMPORARY AT MoCA, LOS ANGELES; CURATED BY BENNETT SIMPSON) By all accounts, LA MoCA had a truly woeful year, so it’s fitting that Simpson (one of the institution’s two remaining curators) would lay his stake on the blues. An essay as much as an exhibition, “Blues for Smoke” was noisy (the warehouse space of the Geffen Contemporary was haunted by an Albert Ayler–inspired squall in Stan Douglas’s terrific Hors-champs, 1992), mournful (a gallery of Mark Morrisroe’s photos), mordantly funny (Dave McKenzie’s Yesterday’s Newspaper, 2012–13; Glenn Ligon’s Richard Pryor paintings), practically indigestible (sixty episodes of HBO’s The Wire), and nothing if not provocative. One could keep adding adjectives, and that, perhaps, was the point.

2 “MANET: RETURN TO VENICE” (PALAZZO DUCALE, VENICE; CURATED BY STÉPHANE GUÉGAN WITH GUY COGEVAL AND GABRIELLA BELLI) Hard to believe Manet’s Olympia, 1863, had never met Titian’s Venus of Urbino, 1538, given their constant proximity in art-history textbooks and slide shows. But here they were, together at last, on a plum-tinted wall at the Palazzo Ducale. A nerdy publicity stunt, to be sure, the pairing nevertheless served as an argument for the virtues of being there—in the flesh—in our Contemporary Art Daily moment.

3 “ROSEMARIE TROCKEL: A COSMOS” (NEW MUSEUM, NEW YORK; CURATED BY LYNNE COOKE) Speaking of Venice, Trockel’s wunderkammerlich exhibition (organized at the New Museum by Massimiliano Gioni and Jenny Moore) anticipated Gioni’s encyclopedic Biennale by casting a wide net. Confidently brushing aside the conventions of a monographic retrospective, the artist situated her work, including ceramics and knit paintings, within a “cosmos” that featured James Castle’s cardboard animals, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka’s elaborate glass anemones and sea slugs, and exquisite insect prints by Maria Sibylla Merian—not to mention several paintings by an orangutan named Tilda. The inclusive approach emphasized the promiscuity of the artist’s own output and her estimable generosity as a viewer.

Organized by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.

4 MONICA MAJOLI (L&M ARTS, LOS ANGELES) Best known for her exquisitely crafted paintings of diverse sexual acts that define explicit, Majoli here showed a recent suite of portraits of former lovers—women familiar to many in the LA art community, all shadowed in bruise-like tones—that potentially demonstrated her ability to represent the extraordinary depths of interiority, to depict the implicit. The show’s press release, which I read after first seeing the paintings, nearly brought me to tears—and not for the usual reason.

5 LAURA OWENS (356 S. MISSION RD., LOS ANGELES) A subdued local presence in the decade or so following her 2003 LA MoCA survey, Owens formally announced her reentry onto the scene in grand fashion with a dozen epically scaled paintings that were both raucous and rewarding. The vast warehouse where they were shown, once the studio where these works were painted, has also emerged as a dynamic performance space and a satellite of Wendy Yao’s Ooga Booga store (and—shhh—an LA outpost for Gavin Brown’s Enterprise). The whole venture has established Owens as the most influential LA painter of her generation, if not a den mother for the next generation, too.

Ron Nagle, Unabana, 2013, mixed media, 3 x 6 1/4 x 2 1/2”. From “Grapevine˜.”

6 “GRAPEVINE~” (DAVID KORDANSKY GALLERY, LOS ANGELES; CURATED BY RICKY SWALLOW) In a year that marked the recent passing of Ken Price with retrospective exhibitions of his work, Swallow’s studious show gathered historical works by John Mason, Ron Nagle, Michael Frimkess, Magdalena Suarez Frimkess, and Peter Shire—a small crew of similarly pioneering artists, each unorthodox in a different way, but united by residency in California and the medium of clay. The tightly edited, museumworthy selection of vessels evidenced unexpected continuities between regional West Coast ceramic factions (hence, “Grapevine~”) and several generations of pottery’s expansive outer-garde.

7 PAUL SIETSEMA (MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART CHICAGO; CURATED BY CHRISTOPHER BEDFORD) This survey gathered three of the artist’s films alongside consistently mesmerizing works on paper and trompe l’oeil paintings (on the backs of found, restretched canvases) of brushes, hammers, chisels, coins, and other studio detritus engulfed in illusory puddles of wet paint. Few artists luxuriate in time as much as Sietsema, who consolidates its material effects (in, say, the gradual but inevitable obsolescence of everyday technologies) while exploiting its abstract affect: Slowness rarely feels this urgent.

Organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH.

8 JAY DEFEO (SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART; CURATED BY DANA MILLER) If one knows about DeFeo, one knows about The Rose, a monstrously heavy starburst of clotted paint and vortex at the fulcrum of the late artist’s Bay Area studio from 1958 to 1966. As the predictable main attraction of this overdue retrospective, overseen by Corey Keller in San Francisco, the painting was accorded altarpiece-like reverence. But just as much pleasure was found beyond its center of gravity: in DeFeo’s collages, photos, and unexpectedly delicate jewelry designs—and especially in her grisaille drawings of eyes, goggles, and a cup by Ron Nagle.

Organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

9 STEPHEN PRINA (LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART; CURATED BY JARRETT GREGORY) This homecoming of sorts for an artist too-rarely seen in LA was part of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s “Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.” I visited Prina’s sprawling grid of remakes of R. M. Schindler’s built-in furniture from the 1940s, painted in “Honeysuckle” (Pantone #18-2120) at least three times, but the highlight was a flute sextet staged in the museum’s Bruce Goff–designed Pavilion for Japanese Art, where the show extended, commemorating a building that serves as the sorest thumb of LACMA’s notoriously eclectic campus, if not its sentimental favorite.

10 CENTER FOR LAND USE INTERPRETATION, “ON-SITE OFFICE TRAILERS: INVISIBLE ARCHITECTURE OF THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT” (VARIOUS VENUES, LOS ANGELES) CLUI’s contribution to the Getty’s celebration of LA architecture comprised a survey of a ubiquitous but underappreciated building type: the construction-office trailer. Appropriately enough, the exhibition was housed in just such a unit, which also served as a point of departure for a bus tour of construction sites at LAX airport, along the 405, and at a mixed-use development that once served as a hangar for Howard Hughes’s notorious Spruce Goose. Not surprisingly, a trailer (or a fleet of them) was found at each site, revealing a surprising variety of approaches to utility. Getting stuck in traffic hasn’t been the same since.

Michael Ned Holte teaches at the California Institute of the Arts in LA and is a frequent contributor to Artforum. Recently, his writing has appeared in the exhibition catalogue for “Kathryn Andrews: Special Meat Occasional Drink” (Museum Ludwig, Cologne), and he participated in a reading for Susan Silton’s book project Who’s in a Name? at LA XART. Along with Connie Butler, he is cocurator of the 2014 edition of “Made in L.A.” at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.