PRINT December 2014

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer

Jesse Fleming, The Halftime Show, 2014, four-channel HD digital video projection, color, sound, 13 minutes 38 seconds. Installation view, 356 S. Mission Rd., Los Angeles. Photo: Brica Wilcox.

1 356 S. MISSION RD., LOS ANGELES As soon as it opened, just under two years ago, 356 S. Mission Rd. made a major—and majorly uplifting—impact on LA’s local culture. The effect has only deepened with each exhibition, performance, screening, conversation, workshop, and culinary event presented there since. Combining commercial gallery, kunsthalle, bookstore (an outpost of the much-beloved LA institution Ooga Booga), and artists’ studios, the collective compound represents a new, fluid, seemingly self-sustaining institutional model that gives me great hope. (I pretend no distance: I’m an active member of its community.) Of all its shows this year, each of which could have its own entry here, I was most entranced by the amazing suite of Alex Katz’s towering, panoramic flower paintings, which confirmed what 356’s inaugural presentation of Laura Owens’s work had already suggested: This is the best room I have ever viewed large-scale paintings in, period. Meredith Monk’s epic vocal performance and, on another occasion, Michael Clark’s dance amid Katz’s parade of immense blooms were historic for those present. More recently, I’ve been bewitched by Jesse Fleming’s stunningly affective video installation, The Halftime Show, 2014, which felt like an alien percept or a slow-motion fall through psychic space.

2 MARIA LASSNIG (MoMA PS1, NEW YORK; CURATED BY PETER ELEEY WITH JOCELYN MILLER) A lifetime of excessive introspection, skillful curiosity, and exuberant self-doubt is a heroic thing indeed. Over more than seventy years, Lassnig’s long-haul conviction in art as a searching pursuit of precisely such reflections led her to develop a unique technique of self-portraiture, feeling the self and its vacuities from the inside out through a demanding practice she called “body awareness.” Laying bare the distortions, liquidity, and engrossing grotesquerie of subjective perception, she depicted the somatic sensation of being in a body: intense, trapped, confrontational, alien, fragmented, warped, and sensual. Her film Kantate, 1992, is an astounding and moving document.

Co-organized with the Neue Galerie Graz, Austria.

I will be challenged, thrilled, and electrified by Hainley’s mind-expanding study of the proleptic and vertiginous force of art and intellection known as Sturtevant far longer than the decade or so the author spent meticulously investigating his razzle-dazzle subject (now, sadly, deceased). Constantly questioning the written form that criticism and history take, Hainley’s book is, miraculously, both detective story and sci-fi yarn, an act of love and an act of war, play and manifesto, poem and polemic—in sum, killer art.

4 MARIA BAMFORD AT THE COMEDY PALACE, LOS ANGELES I peg my best hopes for the future of critical thought on stand-up comedy, and none more than Bamford’s. Always deep in character, she is a high-strung virtuoso of voices, a sensei of psychological pain and self-conscious sensitivity, a comic of complex neurosis and compassion. The only thing more fun than watching her live is getting to see her refine material over multiple appearances, as she did during a residency at my neighborhood venue’s free weekly stand-up show.

5 MARK ROEDER (MICHAEL BENEVENTO, LOS ANGELES) The deadpan regionalism of Roeder’s black-and-white “Antipaintings,” 2008–, is a personal consideration of place as a golden state of mind—becoming-native as geohistorical intimacy, landscape as self-discovery. Yet when it comes to painting, he prefers feeling not entirely at home. In these one hundred paintings about photography and the digital circulation of pictures, Roeder’s melancholic emphasis on the last native Chumash in California, the last grizzly, and the century plant’s once-in-a-lifetime blossoming aptly sums up the zeitgeist: Our tides need turning and ways of life are ending.

Samara Golden, too many teeth in my mouth, 2014, Rmax insulation board, resin, faux abalone, paint, cellophane. Installation view, Night Gallery, Los Angeles.

6 SAMARA GOLDEN (NIGHT GALLERY, LOS ANGELES) Golden’s cinematic installation “Mass Murder” began the year with an eerie, vaguely threatening, and utterly seductive immersiveness that continues to burn like a neon afterimage. A life-size living room/lounge set was provisionally constructed out of her characteristic foil-faced foam board and positioned against a lush projection of sunset over the sea. The atmosphere was familiar, like a dream of the ’80s or that weird teenage trip where you thought you were trapped in a screenshot from Leisure Suit Larry: electric purple and reflective flatness. For heightened visual drama and pure balls, this scored big.

7 KATH BLOOM, LIVE AT TIF SIGFRIDS, LOS ANGELES (JANUARY 15) Her sadness is legendary. Her groove, compulsive and consuming. Her sensitivity, radical. Her struggle, heavy. Her spirit, laughing and light. Her lyrics, devastating—rough, raw gold. Her voice, a throbbing organ, capturing the broken romance of, as she sings it, “this dream of life.” This is all clear enough on recordings (most memorably the astonishing ones she made with Loren Connors in the late ’70s and early ’80s), but live, Bloom is downright chilling.

8 LEW THOMAS (CHERRY AND MARTIN, LOS ANGELES) A favorite among the many exciting, underrecognized historical artists Cherry and Martin gallery has introduced to me lately, Thomas provides an important missing link in the development of Conceptual photography on the West Coast. In stark, formalist, rule-bound metaphotographs from the ’70s, his structural allegiance to basic black-and-white is so succinct yet capacious—depicting imagery that resonates metaphorically, often in racial terms—that it acquires an intense social dimension. At the same time, its literal, one-to-one indexicality anticipates both the copy-and-paste re-presentational logic of the Pictures generation and all the digital peregrinations that have followed.

9 T. J. MILLER ON HBO'S SILICON VALLEY Finally, good start-up satire! Silicon Valley’s rampant dot-com culture and VC mania continue to define our corporations-are-people, people-are-corporations age, and have long been as ripe for parody as they are overdue for self-reflection. Yesterday’s spunky start-ups have become today’s tax-evading megacorporations—and are now the ominous new model for our universities, museums, and civic institutions. As the perfectly pitched, bombastic buffoon Erlich Bachman, comedian Miller steals the show, dubbing his banal suburban domicile an incubator and, aided by a fistful of psilocybin, rattling off evangelical tech gibberish: “Technolojees-us . . . Cloud-based disruptive platforms . . . Making the world a better place through cross-platform business facing!”

10 THE INSTAGRAM FEEDS OF FRANCES STARK, STANYA KAHN, AND BRIAN CALVIN Happily, new digital technologies have a way of escaping the control of their creators. I was a lazy, skeptical late adopter of the smartphone, so this was my first year beguiled by Instagram. Even if my participation flags, I consistently find joy, impetus, pep, and vigor in the daily offerings of these three artists, who go by the handles of therealstarkiller, highfivesinhell, and nowhereboogie, respectively. Picture being an artist today: Highlights range from glimpses of home and studio life with kids to “homie” art life, from new and old paintings to such obscure aesthetic treasures as Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer is a writer in Los Angeles who publishes the journal Pep Talk, co-runs the Finley Exhibition Space, and teaches at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Lee Lozano: Dropout Piece (Afterall, 2014).