Critic's Guide: Los Angeles

A round-up of the best current shows in the city

BY Summer Guthery in Critic's Guides | 29 MAR 16

Martine Syms, 'COM PORT MENT', exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and Karma International 

Martine Syms, ‘COM PORT MENT’
Karma International

9 Mar – 23 Apr

Martine Syms’s ‘COM PORT MENT’ fits neatly into Karma International’s upper floor office in Beverly Hills. Metal-framed posters, each in ‘movie poster standard’ 22 x 28 inches, line the walls, running squarely into the corners. The second room opens with a large wall text, ‘LIFE IS BETTER WHEN I’M CRUEL’, while more posters show young black faces, sidewalks, the silhouettes of hands and more bold sentences: ‘COME ON MAN’, ‘STAY BLACK AND DIE’, ‘IS IT OK TO LOOK OUT SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOW’.

The exhibition feels like a film set, with the encircling posters and a C-stand holding two acrylic sheets positioned in the centre of the room – one silver, one Syms’s trademark shade of purple. Titled Cookie (2016), the work is based on a production tool of the same name that is used to create dappled shadows on film sets.

Drawing on the tools and tropes of the entertainment industry, Syms is able to analyze its numerous gestures and linguistic twists and point out their not so subtle implications. One poster reads: ‘When entertainment frames the future, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy’.

Laure Prouvost, 'A Way to Leak, Lick, Leek', exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and MOT International; commission: Fahrenheit by FLAX © Jeff McLane

Laure Prouvost, 'A Way To Leak, Lick, Leek'
31 Jan – 9 April

‘A Way To Leak, Lick, Leek’ at Fahrenheit, an exhibition curated by Martha Kirszenbaum, is the premiere of the French artist’s most recent film, Lick in The Past (2016). Shot during her 2015 residency at Fahrenheit, the work follows a group of adolescents whose playfully sexualized dialogue is interspersed with Prouvost's own voiceovers and richly tactile imagery. The teens hang out in a concrete parking lot, drive through industrial areas and end up in the desert, a journey that is highly atmospheric but too lo-fi to be cinematic. The well-loved LA tropes of slow-burn sensuousness and flat effusive desire are central to the work, as the group wax poetic about the natural and the urban: the curves of their car, rainbows reflected in the asphalt, the warmth given off by an iPhone.

The gallery directly mirrors these themes, with an entire floor of poured resin embedded with electronics, eggshells and foliage. The solo presentation – Prouvost’s first in LA – is perfectly situated within its environment, the artist’s playful semiotics and sensualized sensibilities very much at home. 

Kelly Nipper, Floyd on the Floor: Performance Notes, 2007, one of 6 collages, 28 x 38 cm each. Courtesy the artist; collection of Gloria Sutton and Henry Rath

'Performing the Grid'
Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design
23 Jan – 15 May

Curator Kate McNamara’s inaugural exhibition at Otis College’s Ben Maltz Gallery references the modernist interest in the grid as a map of time, movement and sound. It also showcases a number of contemporary artists who utilize it as a performative strategy. Seminal works such as Lucinda Child’s DANCE (1979/2016) are positioned alongside more contemporary offerings like Emily Roydson’s two-channel video Sense and Sense (2010), which portrays the artist lying on her side, pretending to walk through Stockholm’s Sergel’s torn, the central square and site of numerous political demonstrations.

Nearby are the seldom seen calendars of Xylor Jane, an artist best known for her intricate line drawings that are informed by complex, number-based systems. The calendars were often given as gifts to Jane’s friends, each coming with a set of instructions on how to best utilize the calendar and continue its demarcation of time.

Referencing the various political and social strategies that originate within ‘the grid’, ‘Performing the Grid’ takes some interesting risks and inspires some important reconsiderations.

Nathaniel Mellors, Ourhouse, Episode -1: 'Time', 2015-16, HD video still. Courtesy the artist and The Box; photograph: Fredrik Nilsen Studio

Nathaniel Mellors, ‘Prequel Dump’
The Box
27 February – 9 April

LA-based British artist Nathaniel Mellors’ ‘Prequel Dump’ revolves around his most recent video, Ourhouse Episode -1: Time (2015-16), the prequel to an eponymous series of absurdist videos about an eccentric British family who blindly follow their clueless father. The video is scatological in every sense of the word and has a penchant for the ludicrous and the crude, with the family encountering well-read Neanderthals, a time-travelling commode and cannibalism.

Weaving through the back rooms of the gallery, you are invited further into the artist’s bizarre world. There are additional videos, animatronic sculptures and a table covered in what appears to be the leftovers of a cannibal’s feast, yet more fantastical characters to mash together the high-brow with the very, very low, and process that questions pre-existing notions of taste and intellectualism.

Hito Steyerl, Factory of the Sun, 2015, single channel HD video still. Courtesy the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York

Hito Steyerl, Factory of the Sun

21 Feb – 12 Sep

Hito Steyerl’s video installation, Factory in the Sun, which debuted last year at the German Pavilion in Venice, opens with the line, ‘You will not be able to play this game; it will play you’. Now housed at MoCA, positioned within a floor-to-ceiling LED grid, the work predominantly takes the form of a video game, complete with the obligatory inventory of characters and weapons. There is no clear mission here; instead, the characters are ‘labourers’, each forced to follow a complicated dance routine, accompanied by a thumping electronic soundtrack. In gold motion-capture suits, their movements are said to accelerate the speed of light, an action and subsequent reaction that for Steyerl is a clear representation of commerce and capital. With dance battles repeatedly interrupted by breaking news bulletins of political uprisings and drone attacks, Steyerl uses the YouTube-dance-video-craze as a platform from which to deliver her own astute political commentary on technology, activist resistance and global politics. 

'A Shape That Stands Up', exhibition view. Courtesy Art + Practice

‘A Shape That Stands Up’
Art + Practice
19 Mar – 18 Jun

‘A Shape That Stands Up’, a Hammer Museum off-site exhibition curated by Jamillah James, features a group of paintings, drawings and sculptures that are founded in figurative abstraction. This may appear as well-trodden ground, but there are two striking aspects here that set the exhibition apart: firstly, the integration of both well-known and emerging artists, and secondly, the common sense of burden that is present amongst the works: a heaviness, a frenzy, a grotesque-ness.

Math Bass’s And Its Shadow (2014), for example, a metal sheet resembling a headless figure, slouches heavily against the wall. Jamian Juliano-Villani’s To Live and Die in Passaic (2016), portrays a partially peeled orange carrying its own heavy pulp across the canvas on small legs. And Sue Williams’s violent mash of gyrating cartoon organs in Democratization #3 (2006) is set alongside the grabbing and kicking disembodied limbs of D’Metrius ‘DJ’ Rice’s Ultimatum/Dig Me Out (Maturity) (2015), a work located somewhere between the crude aesthetic of punk zines and the harsh realism of Otto Dix.

Alice Könitz, Pantry, 2016, bamboo, copper, wood, plastic crate, plastic cups, aluminum can, strings, nuts, pickles, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Commonwealth & Council

Alice Könitz, ‘Commonwealth’
Commonwealth & Council
12 Mar – 16 Apr

Alice Könitz directly references the name of the host gallery for her latest exhibition, ‘Commonwealth’, with the works – most of which have a useful community function – drawing on the archaic definition of the word, which pertains to public welfare.

The primary work in the main gallery is titled Kiosk (all works 2016), and acts as a functioning information point; Pantry is a structure rendered in copper pipe that holds nuts and pickled vegetables; Untitled, is a tangle of hammocks with a central hanging table; and in the final room, Periscope gives visitors a peek out of the gallery’s skylight. The clean lines and geometric shapes of the sculptures echo those of mid-century modernist design, but contrastingly, the choice of materials – wood, cardboard, copper pipe, paper – portray a more modest temperament, one that rings true to the communal nature of the artist run space.  

Summer Guthery is a curator and writer living in Los Angeles, USA. She is the co-founder and director of the non-profit visual art space, JOAN.