Critic’s Guide: Los Angeles

Jennifer Piejko's guide to the best current shows in LA

BY Jennifer Piejko in Critic's Guides | 20 JUN 17

Brook Hsu, Baby, 2015, dye and acrylic on carpet, 2. x 3.1 m. Courtesy: Vernon Gardens, Los Angeles

Brook Hsu, ‘Signs of Life’
Vernon Gardens
13 May – 7 July 2017

Using cheap area rugs as her canvases Brook Hsu paints uncanny, impossible creatures and phantasms. These, as in dreams, contend with personal, generational anxieties and deficiencies: a figure in outline, half-human, half-watermelon, reclines while wrapped in creepily long plant tendrils (Earth Angel [all works 2017]) and a patch of standard-issue beige wall-to-wall carpeting hosts the blood-red dots of Red Hole. A nearby notebook holds sketches of an asphyxiating butterfly and a glaring dog-baby, which, together with a coat of felted llama wool (Breeder), materialize the artist’s doubts of being able to care for a child. This work hangs from a branch at the entrance to this industrial space, which doubles as artist Ben Wolf Noam’s studio, in the small factory town of Vernon, five miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

Andrea Zittel, Study for Planar Panel #5, 2017, watercolour and gouache on paper, 90 x 69 cm. Courtesy: Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Andrea Zittel
Regen Projects and A-Z West
8 June – 12 August 2017

In the high Mojave desert, adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park, Andrea Zittel has spent almost two decades turning 50 acres of this nearly uninhabitable terrain of ancient rock formations into a thriving laboratory for living and making. A compound of utilitarian metal cubes and shipping containers, including the artist’s home and studio and residency spaces, offers enough shade for pomegranates and chickens to flourish. Her new permanent public installation, Planar Pavilions at A-Z West (2017), continues to substantiate her interest in severe right angles as the boundaries of our personal space: ten sculptures resembling small raven barricades and fence arrangements stand defiant against the relentless sun. One hundred miles west, in the air-conditioned shelter of her Hollywood gallery, Regen Projects, she presents her Planar Configurations (all 2017), a series of modular cubicles delineating – or in contrast to the sculptures in Joshua Tree, closing in on – a room for one.

'Artists of Color', The Underground Museum, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photograph: L n' S Photo Services

‘Artists of Color’
The Underground Museum
3 June 2017 – 4 February 2018

The late artist Noah Davis, founder of the Underground Museum, curated this exhibition of monochrome and colour field works before he passed away in 2015. Harnessing pure colour’s spiritual presence, whether on vaunted canvas – Joseph Albers’s Study for Homage to a Square (1954), Ellsworth Kelly’s Spectrum (on paper, 1973), Carmen Herrera’s Yellow & blue (1970)– or on mundane objects: Lita Albuquerque’s radiant blue orb resting on a salt earth, SIRIUS (2006); Michael Asher’s no title (1966), a square of hot-pink Plexiglas highlighting the drywall behind it. Joe Goode’s Purple (1961–62) allies a large canvas with a humble glass milk bottle, both slicked with the same plum-hued paint in one of the earliest examples of the Light and Space artist’s Milk Bottle series, all use elements of colour to manipulate space. Others push pigment into more assertive stances: Felix Gonzales Torres’s Forbidden Colors (1988) lines up panels in red, black, white, and green (a combination banned in Palestine); while Davis’s own 2004 (1) (2008), a purple square sitting askew on a square linen canvas is part of his Swing State series, painted during President Obama’s first campaign. As he explained, ‘purple is to black people what Yves Klein’s blue is to white people.’

Courtesy: Women's Center for Creative Work, Los Angeles

The Women’s Center for Creative Work

Not so much a gallery space as a creative space, WCCW is a nonprofit foundation hosting a wealth of artistic and educational programmes in the context of the city’s diverse feminist communities, often collaborating with larger art institutions, including the Hammer, East of Borneo, and LACMA. Recent programmes include a concert devoted to the music of Pauline Oliveros; the workshop ‘Navigating Public Health and Benefits under Tr*mp’; a community chorus available for protests and rallies; ‘Against The Grain,’ experimental films by Polish women artists from the Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art’s Filmoteka archive, and an artist roundtable reflecting on the 1992 LA Uprisings. Echoing the sentiment of the historic Woman’s Building established in the early 1970s, residencies, offices, and rooms for screenings and discussions serve as an important resource for the city’s precarious populations, including but only beginning with artists.

Marisa Merz, Living Sculpture, 1966, aluminium, dimensions variable. Courtesy: © Tate London

Marisa Merz, ‘The Sky Is a Great Space’
Hammer Museum
4 June – 20 August 2017

This retrospective – her first in the US – brings together nearly half a century of paintings, sculpture, and installations by the Turin-based artist. As the only woman officially associated with Arte Povera, she distinguished herself with a radical tenderness and domesticity, especially visible in the early decades of her practice: near the exhibition’s entry point are works from her ‘Living Sculpture’ series from 1966, wafting, curved aluminum sheets hung from the ceiling, created in her then-studio, the kitchen of her apartment, forming an immense, buoyant mobile; Altalena (Swing) (1968) also hung from the ceiling, a streamlined structure supporting a hard triangular seat, which was made for her young daughter. Her various iterations of rendering wire and steel so soft as to make them warm and tactile materials for home-sized sculptures and installations, as well as an untitled graphite drawing of various overlain heads, here with a playful, single red-rose smear as lipstick, presage her ongoing figurative series ‘Testa’ (Head, 1984–95), heads molded in unfired clay, smoothed simultaneously abstract and smolderingly expressive.

Cally Spooner, Damning Evidence Illicit Behaviour Seemingly Insurmountable Great Sadness Terminated In Any Manner, 2014, opera singer, YouTube comments, opera surtitles, variable dimensions. Courtesy: Bel Ami, Los Angeles

‘A Rehearsal for What?’
Bel Ami
2 June – 8 July 2017

The title of Bel Ami’s inaugural exhibition is as much a lament as it is a provocation. Housed on the second floor of a Chinatown office block, next door to LACA (the Los Angeles Contemporary Archive), ‘A Rehearsal for What?’ features Cally Spooner's tempered theatrical work, Damning Evidence Illicit Behaviour Seemingly Insurmountable Great Sadness Terminated In Any Manner (2014), which employs an actor to recite the unforgiving YouTube comments under Lance Armstrong's statements regarding his alleged doping scandal on The Oprah Winfrey Show. A ticker tape scroll near the gallery's ceiling feeds our performer her karaoke of backfire to Armstrong’s non-apologetic, maximum-sincerity lines: ‘He's looking rough now ... HE’S LOOKING PRETTY ROUGH.’ Work by Lutz Bacher circulates nearby, as her oil figures of JFK, Jackie, and Caroline Kennedy recline in summer grass, or sit for the audience, looking back at us expectantly (Kennedy Painting 1 [2015] and Jackie & Caroline [2016]), stained in pastel nostalgia. Her 2013 Space Bubble Costume sits in the corner, a stout robot orb standing ready on a chair, composed of arts and craft elements, luxuriously trimmed with sapphire lamé and gold paillettes. Works by Guillaume Maraud, Kent Merriman Jr., and Lily van der Stokker round out the chorus.

Aria Dean, Dead Zone (1), 2017, Cotton branch, polyurethane, bell jar, wood, signal jammer, 34 x 32 cm. Courtesy: Château Shatto, Los Angeles

‘At this stage’
Château Shatto
10 June – 10 August 2017

In the US it’s an acutely difficult time to defend myths of liberty and equal rights for all: politicians in unprecedented union now acknowledge these as semi-fictional and selective ideals. Footage of citizens gunned down by police are looped exhaustively in the media; we have a president who lies plainly, audaciously, on a daily basis. This pensive show cites images of both fury and fragility resulting from our quotidian intake of violence. Hamishi Farah’s Aleeyah or Repatriation for Hypervisibility (2016) shows a painting of Aleeyah Porter retaliating against an attacker under the wingspan and protection of a phoenix guiding spirit; Bunny Rogers’s slumped, roughly animated figure playing Elliott Smith on a piano as snow encircles her in Mandy Piano Solo in Columbine Cafeteria (2016); Aria Dean’s Dead Zone (1), (2017) sees a balletic cotton branch stem preserved under a bell jar atop a signal jammer. The riddle of these loaded works is best summarized by a question posed by artist Manuel Arturo Abreu in notes on the exhibition provided by the gallery: ‘“how can we consider the power of these images when we’re already under their influence?” (I don’t know).’

For more current shows in Los Angeles visit On View.

Jennifer Piejko is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles.