This week, aliens whisper strange messages in a Hollywood exhibition and an artist films himself stoning a refrigerator.
Sound of solid colors
The felt sculptures hanging against a back wall in "Escape Attempts," organized by curator Kathy Battista for Shulamit Nazarian gallery, look at first to be stately riffs on 1970s minimalism: monochromatic rectangles with their bottom corners pulled up by silver strings. But the experience of these works, made by artist Naama Tsabar, changes as soon as you pull on the strings or pat the felt and hear sounds resonate from nearby speakers. These are playable sculptures, which makes them playful but in a punk-ish way. A girl band (the artist and two longtime collaborators) performed with them the night of the opening, generating a sound that conjured early PJ Harvey and other alt experiments. It’s gratifying to imagine Tsabar taking her sculptural instruments on tour, adding lighting effects and costumes, and using them as a backdrop before bringing new meaning to "playing a set." 616 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; through April 8. (310) 281-0961, shulamitnazarian.com.
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Transparent toad and Saturnian lover
A woman from Venus, fresh-faced and dressed in a red, retro Western shirt, meets an anxious man from Saturn in one of the videos in Tony Oursler’s current show at Redling Fine Art. The footage is projected across hanging handmade planets inside a black box, the size of a large closet. You have to lean your head in close to the box’s single window to hear what the lovers are saying, as they learn they’re both aliens and destined for each other, because other aliens installed around the gallery keep whispering. Oursler has crafted oversized alien heads from cut-out wood that he painted and then covered in resin. LED flatscreens showing videos of human eyes and talking mouths shine through orifices in the wood cutouts. A feminine extraterrestrial with cat ears says “What are all you little people doing running around” and “We are made of stars.” But sometimes it’s hard to tell which of the wall-mounted figures is talking, and you just hear whispered messages coming from all directions: “transparent toad,” “anonymous hesitation,” “third-eye watching them grow.” Oursler’s aliens revel, endearingly, in sci-fi absurdities. 6757 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; through April 1. (323) 460-2046, redlingfineart.com.
Half de Kooning, half dog
Actor-artist Cliff Hengst will share the stage with an unlikely co-star this weekend when he performs at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. He’ll play opposite a painting called Sunburn (Split) 1 by L.A.-based Emily Joyce. The painting, done in an op-art style, will remain silent (unsurprisingly) as Hengst’s character grapples with his own ambivalence about art-making. Hengst plays a painter turned comedian turned hustler who is reflecting on his choices and remembering his past. In particular, he recalls his former teacher, Mr. Akita, who was, according to the play’s press release, “fallible, possibly malicious” and a “suspicious composite of [abstract expressionist] painter Willem de Kooning and a dog.” Asher Hartman, whose plays usually have surreal yet entirely convincing plots and rhythms, wrote and directed Mr. Akita. 901 E. Third St., downtown; Fri.-Sat., March 3-4, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 5, 3 p.m. (213) 943-1620, hauserwirthschimmel.com.
Storing the president underground
When we arrived at a black steel trapdoor in the middle of a big sandy landscape near Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage, the door was locked. It took a few phone calls and unsuccessful attempts at the combination lock before we were climbing down steep stairs into the bomb shelter that artist Will Boone had installed underground. Sitting in the bomb shelter under a single light was a sculpture of John F. Kennedy, looking pasty thanks to the run-of-the-mill skin tone used to paint his face. The shelter, part of the new biennial Desert X, had already been broken into and vandalized at least once since its completion days earlier. We hear rumors that, a few miles away in Desert Hot Springs, tiny sculptural self-portraits that artist Richard Prince had installed in outside a derelict home were going missing too — fitting, even if frustrating and perhaps expensive. A desert biennial should leave art exposed to all kinds of elements and impulses. Coachella Valley and surrounding area, through April 30. desertx.org.
Fake categories, real objects
“Art is a fake category — I don’t know what we are talking about when we say art,” artist Jimmie Durham said in a 2012 interview. “There is no true history,” he said more recently, “but if you can poke at it a bit you feel better.” Durham, who worked for the American Indian civil rights movement in the 1970s, has said he is of Cherokee descent, even though enrolled members of the Cherokee Nation dispute this. His current exhibition at the Hammer, virtuosic in its rawness and eccentricity, pokes at history in a way that is personal and thus confusing: Does one have to be verifiably Cherokee to question native experience? His semi-life-sized self-portrait from 1986 shows the flesh above his heart cut open to reveal feathers. Text down one leg says, “My skin is not really that dark but I’m sure that many Indians have coppery skin.” His video Stoning the Refrigerator resonates regardless of identity: The artist throws stones at a refrigerator again and again, over days, denting it and punishing it. For what? Being commercial, common and simply there at the wrong time. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood; through May 7. (310) 443-7000, hammer.ucla.edu.