Museum Pick: Peter Voulkos, Marvin Harden This Peter Voulkos retrospective concentrates on one enduring aspect of his oeuvre: its source in Japanese ceramics. Voulkos was deeply influenced by Japanese claywork, especially the postwar revival of folk pottery traditions dating back as far as the 16th century. Throughout his career he sought to make the aesthetic of rough, worn beauty — the sabe no wabe — his own, and to do it beyond the affectations of abstract expressionism and other modernist idioms. Voulkos valued certain of those affectations (several of his ab-ex canvases and drawings augment the ceramic items), but wanted ultimately to put them at the service of an Asian sensibility rather than the other way around. He largely succeeded, producing cups and vessels even early on that were every bit as endearingly coarse and straightforward as their models.
Marvin Harden’s microspective touches briefly on several facets of his work, including its basis in nature, the honesty of its materials, and its often jewellike sensuosity. Whether making tender and exquisite renderings of birds or practically caulking slabs of earthy pigment to a support, Harden has always valued the tactility of the art object — that is, both the evidence it yields of the artist’s hand and the seductive invitation it extends to our own. As ethereal an abstractionist as he can be, Harden celebrates the material world with his own intimate sabe no wabe.
The popularity of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea makes it one of those albums with “cult favorite” and “myth machine” permanently affixed to it. And since NMH songwriter Jeff Mangum has since disappeared into seclusion, it stands to reason fans are all Salingering over the new tome by local writer Kim Cooper, editor of Scram journal. Cooper’s written a detailed account of the making of the record as part of publisher 33 1/3’s series of cute little books that delve into the making of one particular album. If they ever need anybody to detail Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play, I’ll be waiting by the phone. Cooper signs and reads at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; Wed., Feb. 8, 7 p.m. (310) 659-3110. (Libby Molyneaux)
The Mae Shi at the TroubadourRemixing Beck’s “Que Onda Guero” wraps up Mae Shi’s 2005 — which consisted of a European tour, an EP and the less-hyper, song-based Heartbeeps (5RC). Like a Krakatoa of spermatozoa, they expel shimmering sonic fractals and melodies to create new life and chaos. The current quintet numbers Ezra Buchla (Buchla synthesizer heir and collaborator with Scarnella’s Carla Bozulich), Cartoon Network musician Brad Breeck, bassist Tim Byron, possible Boom Bip rhythm monkey Jeff Byron, and Corey Fogel, who once lived for a week in a gallery’s front window performing nothing but the music of Busta Rhymes. Expect all the Buchla modules, guitars, basses, drums, tambourines, noisemakers, computer programs, omnichords and glockenspiels inherent in their motto: “Instead of having babies, we have rock bands.” Also tonight: Abe Vigoda, Lion Fever, Silver Daggers. (David Cotner)
Jay Johnson got his big break when he saw a casting notice for a ventriloquist on the TV sitcom Soap. He auditioned with his wooden sidekick Squeaky. Jay got the part but Squeaky didn’t. In a funny and curiously touching scene, Jay breaks the news to Squeaky in a way that we share Johnson’s belief in the reality of his characters. In addition to Squeaky, there’s belligerent Bob from Soap, a severed head or two, a talking snake who’s afraid of snakes, a jive-talking monkey who goes ape and a vulture who calls himself The Bird of Death. The show is a genre-bender, which combines a history of ventriloquism, a bit of autobiography, hilarious comedy and the moving tale of a 71-year-old ex-vaudevillian who came out of retirement to carve Squeaky for young Jay, and shared with him his rich craft. Johnson considers ventriloquism an art, and he is truly an artist — as remarkable for his near-magical skill as for his anarchic wit, charm and humanity. And he’s certainly the only ventriloquist who ever moved me to tears. Richmark Entertainment at the Brentwood Theater, Veterans Administration Grounds, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., W.L.A.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 3 & 7 p.m. (added perfs some Wed., 2 p.m., call for schedule); thru Feb. 19. (213) 365-3500. (Neal Weaver)
The awkward renderings comprising “Ab Ovo” turn out to be illustrations to children’s stories — stories woven by peers of the 19 artists (some as well known as Thomas Lawson and Marnie Weber but most just now emerging) around the responses given by 19 other artists (e.g., Mike Kelley, Martha Rosler, Jim Shaw) to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, an extensive preference quiz used to determine the shape of people’s psyches (usually for legal purposes). The whole megillah was organized by Steven Hull; for the full impact, the book he compiled anthologizing the writings and images trumps the stuff on the walls, so be prepared to sit down for a while and read. But cruising through the exhibition alone yields its own strange pleasures.