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
This also means an American artist like Lee Bontecou, the only woman other than Saint Phalle in "Destroy the Picture," who would leave black holes — or voids — in the middle of welded steel spirals that protruded outward, is often seen as being singular, an angry lady-artist who took a solitary dark turn in response to the ravages of war. But she lived and worked in Italy in the 1950s, when Fontana and Burri were active there, and when American artist Salvatore Scarpetta was there, too, making paintings that looked like bandages piled on top of each other.
"I was amazed at the fact that they" — other curators — "kept presenting Lee as an outsider," Schimmel says, stopping in front of a series of her works from the early '60s. "Look around," he says. "This is her world."
It's not a comfy world, and artists in it change as the years wear on. Burri starts burning more plastic. Scarpetta abandons his bandages and starts cutting gashes into shiny, resin-covered surfaces. Bontecou's works start to look more and more like monsters. Something about this intensity feels particularly potent right now, to artists especially. "A lot of artists are excited about this show," Schimmel says.
One of the show's main financial backers is 40-year-old L.A. artist Sterling Ruby, whose recent bulbous vessels have included broken glass and intestinal or bonelike formations. He wrote a statement that had the tenor of a manifesto in 2010, in which he says, "I am smashing all of my previous attempts, and futile, contemporary gestures, and placing them into a mortar, and grinding them down with a blunt pestle."
This act, he writes, is a way of dealing with a shared burden 21st-century artists still have. Global atrocities didn't end with World War II; they kept coming, and maybe, Ruby says, that's why visceral abstraction has made a comeback in contemporary art.
April Street thought about a number of the artists in "Destroy the Picture," particularly the Gutai group, when making the work for her new show at Carter & Citizen. For this work, she shaped hosiery by wrapping it around her body, then draped that hosiery off some canvases and used it to tie others together. "There is no way I can know what it was like to make a painting in the postwar climate the artists in this show lived in," she says. "But I understand that when everything around me is chaotic, and my mind is locked in reality and helplessness, my own physicality becomes my most important instrument for change."
Schimmel suspects others feel the way Ruby and Street do. "These artists [in 'Destroy the Picture'] are fighting against the tendency to have a signature style," he says. "They're trying to make their work more political, more environmental. I think that's what younger artists respond to."
This show revises history in a way that makes it just a little more relevant to artists working here now, who have always been a critical and eager audience for his shows, and who will appreciate the gesture.
DESTROY THE PICTURE: PAINTING THE VOID, 1949-1962 | MOCA Grand Avenue, 250 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn. | Oct. 6-Jan. 14 | moca.org