By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Wally Hedrick: War Room
(Click to enlarge)
Wangechi Mutu, A'gave you (2008)
(Click to enlarge)
Judy Fox, PRIDE (2008)
Thank heaven for old dead hippies. As we whisper past five years and 4,000 American soldiers lost in Iraq, at least Wally Hedrick shouts from the grave. Korean War draftee and decorated veteran, onetime husband of the better-known Beat painter Jay DeFeo, art teacher to the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, co-founder of San Francisco’s The 6 Gallery, where Allen Ginsberg first read “Howl,” and a trailblazer whose broad-ranging activity prefigured practices and movements from Pop to Funk Art to happenings, Conceptual Art and Neo-Expressionism, the Pasadena-born Hedrick was also a serious protest artist.
In 1953, a year before Jasper Johns turned the American flag into a Pop Art icon, Hedrick, home from Korea, painted a similar composition, but overlaid his with the word Peace, and around the same time created another vision of the flag with stars morphing into daisies. Those paintings are quiet predecessors to the later and angrier painting of Old Glory overlaid with the phrase Burn Me! that is among Hedrick’s works on view at the Box.
Though a few paintings here deal in clear imagery, from cartoonish political satire to mandala-like abstraction, much is obscured by multiple coats of paint. Between 1957 and 1973, Hedrick produced the Vietnam Series, a collection of black monochromes he created by slathering previously painted canvases with a layer of thick, tarlike black paint. The central work of the series, and the centerpiece of this exhibition, is The War Room, a structure comprising bolted-together canvases, occupying a footprint of roughly 5-and-a-half square feet and standing 11 feet tall. On the outside, you see the backs of the stretched canvases; entering through a small door, you’re surrounded by mucky black surface.
Hedrick first painted over these canvases in 1967 and ’68. He repainted them in 1992 in response to the Gulf War and, shortly before his death in 2003, gave them another coat for the war in Iraq. All that back story loads the work with a more specific charge than you might get by simply stepping inside, but there’s no mistaking the general gravity of this work, which surrounds you with surfaces through which you still make out the underlying marks. There is vitality, even exuberance, in these canvases, but it is smothered. An immersive experience oddly akin to the Rothko Chapel in Houston and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Hedrick’s space shares the solemnity of those others but not their cleanliness or openness. It is claustrophobic, and it is messy; it is not a place in which to heal or transcend. Rather, it is a place in which to feel dirty, and to know that what is lost is just beneath the surface, and seemingly palpable, but irrevocably gone. The Box, 977 Chung King Road, L.A.; Wed.-Sat., noon-6 p.m.; thru April 26. (213) 625-1747 or www.theboxla.com.
Wangechi Mutu: Little Touched
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I wrote an essay on Mutu for a catalog produced by Susanne Vielmetter a few years back, so you can write this off as chamber-of-commerce fluff if you like, but there’s nothing fluffy about Mutu’s works in collage and assorted media on paper. The Kenya-born, Cooper Union- and Yale-schooled Mutu, based in New York, grafts together images with an approach that varies from the scalpel handling of a surgeon to the cleaver wielding of a butcher, and such a description applies both to the pieced-together physicality of the work and to the sensibility guiding the combination of imagery. Installations dominate this crowded exhibition, and at their best, they create spaces that both awe you and creep you out. Here, they provide a backdrop for the main event, which consists mostly of small works on paper. Rearranged, rebuilt and reidentified, mechanized and animalized, the humanoids and mutants populating Mutu’s works tap into not just a new world of face transplants and plastic surgery, but an old human story of brutality, preoccupations with freaks and, going all the way back, fertility idols and chimera myths. Mutu manages to make all that fodder hot, horrid and haunting at once. Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 5795 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 11 a. m.-6 p.m.; thru May 3. (323) 933-2117 or www.vielmetter.com.
Judy Fox: Sculpture
Delicately painting statues made of terra cotta and bonded-marble or Aqua-Resin casts, Judy Fox updates the sorts of polychroming techniques used by artists of the Baroque period to give a fleshy glow to religious figures. At ACE Beverly Hills, it’s so uncanny that one feels both embarrassed and awed in the presence of Fox’s renditions of Lakshmi and Krishna; the longer you look at the powdery skin of a nude, post-poison-apple Snow White, the more you remind yourself she’s a sculpture, not a young lass about to wake up and tell you to stop staring. But the characters who really steal the show are the seven deadly sins, replacing the usual dwarfs, in what seems like a porn plotline. Like garden gnomes that might have been generated if God allowed Dr. Frankenstein, the Marquis de Sade and the surrealist sculptor Hans Belmer to dabble in creation while overdosing on Spanish fly and MSG, these polychromed polymorphs seem only to have erogenous zones. No longer really bodies, but unmistakably bodily, these figures are also not really people, but, like the sins they seem interchangeably to personify, they are oh-so-human. ACE Gallery, 9430 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru April. (310) 858-9090 or www.acegallery.net.