This week, an artist makes otherworldly self-portraits with an oversized Polaroid camera and a dancer navigates postcolonial ruins.
Toy Story meets Basquiat
There's something very 1980s about Michel Majerus' big paintings at Matthew Marks Gallery. They evoke guys who were big in the 1980s: Sigmar Polke, Albert Oehlen, Jean-Michel Basquiat (actually, Majerus lifts imagery right from Basquiat's work). His paintings also have a bold neon palette, and one series includes silkscreen replicas of a Tron poster. It was the big portrait of Toy Story's Woody on the back wall that finally made me realize I was placing the work in the wrong decade altogether. It's a late-'90s and early-2000s show entirely, with '80s references sprinkled in. Nostalgia for a recent past seems to be key to Majerus' project. Before his untimely 2002 death, he borrowed liberally from recent predecessors, mixing their brushstrokes with his own and mixing dated cultural references with new ones. 1062 N. Orange Grove Ave., West Hollywood; through Jan. 9. (212) 243-0200, matthewmarks.com.
Talking about big objects
Matthew Barney's exhibition at MOCA is full of oversized behemoths, odes to car culture and the death of mass manufacturing. He worked with gold plating, cast metal and raw wood, and much of the sculptural work looks unapologetically, expensively impressive. In their work, Harry Dodge and Anna Sew Hoy take slightly less monumental approaches to sculpture. Dodge has used resin and metal to make funny, leaning, anthropomorphic objects that look in need of love. Sew Hoy's round and geometric sculptures, made of plaster, metal or stoneware, often look like they're meant to be used: maybe you could put flowers inside one of her small octagons, or perhaps huddle up and sleep inside the mouth of her stoneware beings. Dodge and Hoy will discuss Barney's show with MOCA assistant curator Lanka Tattersall — it'll be interesting to hear what they say about a prominent artist who uses some of the same processes they do to such different effect. 152 N. Central Ave., downtown; Thu., Jan. 7, 7 p.m. (213) 625-4390, moca.org.
The first few times I visited Papillion Gallery in Leimert Park, artist Andy Robert was either there to greet me or hanging out nearby. So it's nice to see his work up in the space, and nicer still to see that the work explores his relationship to community. The show takes its title, "Blind Contour," from a common art exercise: Students are not allowed to look at the paper — sometimes they must put paper and pencil inside a brown paper bag. They can look only at their subject. The resulting drawings usually involve some squiggly lines and confusing shapes, but also have details or quirks that might not have made it in had the student been too focused on perfection. Squiggly lines appear in Robert's paintings. So does a car door, a phone booth and oddly proportioned figures, sometimes swallowed up by gardenlike masses of drippy, abstracted shapes. 4336 Degnan Blvd., Leimert Park; through Jan. 3. (323) 642-8402, papillionart.com.
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Dancing in an industrial zone
"Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Work of Africa," LACMA's newly opened show of film work by African artists, is far too small considering its title invokes a whole continent. It includes only five artists, whose works are installed in a small set of galleries on the third floor of the Hammer Building (near the Art of the Ancient Near East galleries). But still, there are some gems. Mémoire (2006) by Congolese artist Sammy Baloji features a dancer, Faustin Linyekula, who is shirtless in belted, baggy pants as he dances elegantly against a backdrop of industrial ruins. Baloji has appropriated vintage, historical footage of construction zones, so the film feels old and new at once. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Mid-Wilshire; through Jan. 2, 2017. (323) 857-6000, lacma.org.
In the late 1970s, the Polaroid company built five large-format Polaroid cameras. Artist Ellen Carey used the one that was then housed at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston to make a series of self-portraits in the 1980s. She would employ colored gels, multiple exposures and paint to create layered, psychedelic images that are quite lush and visceral in person. Among the images currently hanging at M+B, you'll see a serious-faced Carey holding two flattened versions over her own head; many small portraits of Carey floating in bubbles against a kaleidoscopic landscape of blues and reds; and a cobweb floating above her as she looks severely off into the distance. 612 N. Almont Drive, West Hollywood; through Jan. 16. (310) 550-0050, mbart.com.