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
September 11 is upon us, and we all know what that means — opening weekend for the new fall line of upscale home decorations! But, hey, given the profusion of cultural fanfare marking previous anniversaries of the whole chickens-coming-home-to-roost thing (and the brouhaha undoubtedly brewing in anticipation of the imminent 10-year milestone) it’s not surprising that the art world would want to back away from geopolitical topicalism in favor of a back-to-normal (a.k.a. “Daddy Obama will fix everything! Let’s go shopping!”) mode of discourse. Which is fine. Frankly, I would consider the most self-indulgently aesthetic self-expression more authentically political than most formulaic ideological illustrations. This weekend offers the gamut, in overwhelming abundance — here are a few of the highlights to help map out your gallery-hopping:
One artist who manages to combine his personal vision with contemporary political insight (and a heavy dose of art history) is Sandow Birk. His last major project was a multimedia re-envisioning of Dante’s Divine Comedy as a scathing, wide-ranging satirical critique of contemporary Western industrialized society. While it undoubtedly ruffled some feathers in some backwaters of the Vatican, Birk is wisely taking a more middle-of-the-road tack with his “American Qur’an,” which opened Tuesday at Koplin Del Rio Gallery. It is a faithful transcription of the prophet’s revelations embedded, illuminated manuscript style, in luminous miniature Persian landscapes depicting contemporary American life; Birk again exploits his position at the fringes of the mainstream to deliver a sumptuous depth charge of engaged and engaging narrative pictorialism.
Speaking of Persia, another fringe enterprise — graffiti writer Man One’s downtown Crewest Gallery is hosting the U.S. debut of a selection of works on paper by street artists from Iran — a calling that is considerably riskier in that neck of the woods, one would imagine. Our culture tends to defuse the subversive potential of graffiti by commodifying it as just another desktop theme or sneaker motif — hopefully “From the Streets of Iran,” which opens September 10 as part of the Downtown Arts Walk will generate just enough of that to keep the aerosol flowing back east.
Most venues are superstitious about launching on 9/11, bulking up Saturday’s schedule even further. One notable exception is Allen Ruppersberg’s survey show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art; it consists of two, large interactive arrays of pop culture jetsam — similar to his reconfiguration of Allan Kaprow’s Words (1962), which was the highlight of the “tribute” section of last year’s MOCA Kaprow extravaganza — and allowed viewers either to sift through reams of photocopied midcentury paper ephemera, assemble them into their own configurations, and take them home — or rearrange them on a giant wall display for the next person to appreciate, then rearrange again.
Assuming the smoke from the Station fire doesn’t obliterate the entire stage, another old-school West Coast conceptualist will have a 40-year-old work realized for the first time in the skies over Pasadena. Bruce Nauman’s untitled skywriting piece (“Leave the Land Alone”) will be realized between 11:30 and 12:30 Saturday morning, as the kickoff for the Armory’s 20th anniversary show “Installations Inside/Out” (officially opening on September 19). We are advised that the best views will be from La Loma Bridge, Colorado Street Bridge and Brookside Park, but Nauman might consider an addendum to his four-word text piece, which would say: “...except for dumping a few more hundred thousand gallons of water on it before the fire reaches Raymond Avenue!”
Young artists continue to mine the rickety-cobbled-together-Pop-reference genre Ruppersberg and many other West Coast artists have found rewarding. Ry Rocklen — a local boy who holds a triple-whammy pedigree from CalArts, UCLA and USC — has assimilated recent L.A. cultural traditions from Charley Ray and Tim Hawkinson to Evan Holloway into a mutational Dumpster-diving vernacular all his own, and debuted his latest body of work at Parker Jones gallery in Chinatown September 9. Parker’s former boss at Black Dragon Society, Roger Herman, is reoccupying his old Chung King Road digs — now the home of Jancar Gallery — with a small survey of his influential but long-unseen paintings from the 1980s.
Another of my favorite cobblestoners is Brian Bress, whose chaotic but formally exquisite collage strategies are deployed with equal aplomb in his delirious videos, space-bending photographic tableaux, and, well, collages. “The Royal Box,” his first solo exhibit at Cherry and Martin, opens Saturday. Essentially a multimedia exercise in extended self-portraiture, Bress’ oeuvre overlaps considerably with that of his former running mate Elliott Hundley. But where Hundley’s work offers breathtaking optical swaths of pixilated sincerity, Bress’ work seethes with dark humor and comical paranoia. His new short video It’s Been a Long Day is one of the funniest and most disturbing piss-takes on painting ever, while the lengthier Because It’s the Depression pushes his surrealist cable access cutup aesthetic to new heights. Always slightly more serene, Bress’ 2-D works foreground his phenomenal formal chops, particularly the mournfully sumptuous A River and the Arcimboldo-inspired Impostor the Head.