Kori Newkirk, Rank, (2007)
Kori Newkirk, Rank, (2007)

Art Around Town

Kori Newkirk at LAXART

(Click to enlarge)

Kori Newkirk, Rank, (2007)

(Click to enlarge)

Melanie Pullen, Soldier #7, (2007)

If you first visit Kori Newkirk’s survey exhibition, currently at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, you might not peg Rank, an installation at LAXART, as Newkirk’s. It lacks the telltale plays on skin color, the riffs on whiteness and blackness and the deliberate mix-ups of racially laden signifiers that typically define Newkirk’s varied maneuvers in the terrain of “postblack” identity politics. And yet, as race and class dominate the trudge toward November 4, and as the identity-politics debates that once thickened art-school seminars have entered the mainstream, you can’t escape implications of race or other means of identification with a work like Rank, which addresses the comingling of surface, appearance, style and power.

Rank is a sculpture in the form of a grand podium, looking like it might have been designed by an interior decorator specializing in fun houses, fashion shows and discos, and who is channeling Liberace, Albert Speer, and Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the architect whose remodeling of Versailles was tethered to Louis XIV’s consolidation of power.

Stairs lead to a stage, from which extends another flight, leading to a second platform and a podium barnacled with two-dozen microphones. Every inch of the structure is clad in mirrored acrylic plastic, and even the microphones are variously painted and plated with a matching chrome finish.

Towering above you and backed by a curtain of silver tensile material, the set is suggestive of bad lounge acts and convention politics, and specifically evokes the curtain-backed press conferences that have been the standard of American presidents since Nixon, and the grand pulpits favored by Hitler, whose Neumann CMV3 microphones ushered in the marriage of power and modern public-address technology.

With grandeur and precision, Newkirk employs the faceted geometry and slick surfacing that minimalist sculptors embraced — and that their detractors derided as representing a kind of untrustworthy theatricality — in service of political metaphor. His open-mic podium speaks of a kind of power that is at once pandering, slippery and impenetrable; of a public eager to see its own reflection in the architecture, rhetoric and spectacle of power; and of an addiction to a certain combination of bling and authoritarianism — call it flashism. LAXART, 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (310) 559-0166 or www.laxart.org.

Miguel Angel Rios at LAXART

An all-black sound stage serves as a backdrop for Miguel Angel Rios’ 2008 video Crudo, a kind of razzle-dazzle brut spectacle seeing its premiere at LAXART. A lone male dancer in a blinding white shirt, jacket and pants launches into a routine mixing elements of American tap and Argentine malambo sureño, twirling boleadoras to complement his percussive footwork. Boleadoras, or bolas, are weighted balls on tethers descended from weapons used by Gauchos and earlier indigenous peoples of South America, but here, the balls are replaced by chunks of meat, which accent the dancer’s taps with thuds rather than the customary knocking sound when they hit the floor.

The meat becomes dog chum for a pack of snarling and salivating canines that menace the dancer. As he uses the whirling flesh to both attract and defend, he incorporates the dogs into his own dance — converting a pit bull dangling from his sleeve into a dynamic extension of his body, using the beasts for counterbalance to pull off moves that only Merce Cunningham could dream up, and eventually tossing a slab of the beef on the floor and capitalizing on the competition between two pooches to frame his exit.

A tightly crafted work of three minutes and 14 seconds that compels you to watch it again despite its repellent aspects, it’s an awesome, strangely beautiful display on multiple levels — dance, choreography, staging, filming, editing and, not least of all, the construction of multivalent metaphor — leaving you in a haze of questions about force, spectacle, titillation, brutalization, exploitation, concession and wagging. LAXART, 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (310) 559-0166 or www.laxart.org.

Melanie Pullen at Ace Gallery Mid-Wilshire

Melanie Pullen, memorable for her overhyped “High Fashion Crime Scenes” — a kind of high-concept-lite cocktail of Weegee and Helmut Newton — is back. Filling Ace Gallery’s cavernous Mid-Wilshire space with handsome soldiers and well-lit battle scenes, Pullen delves into the fog and fashion of war with backlit photo-transparencies that evoke everything from movie backdrops and baroque portraits to Eadweard Muybridge motion studies. The offering spans continents and centuries, capturing lads charging and posing in period military uniforms, but Pullen stays away from the present or recent past.

Like “Crime Scenes,” this series has its moments, but overall, it seems overproduced — a feeling not helped by a presentation that makes you start to wonder if someone got a deal on light boxes. Redundancy and variation, which can at times offer fascinating studies of nuance in art, here seem an exercise in how far you can stretch, and in how many sizes you can offer, what actually is a fairly limited product line. Further, while the series shows off Pullen’s multiple talents in shooting, styling, lighting effects and fog-machine wrangling — all the business of dressing a set — it doesn’t show off a talent for setting a scene that only occasionally flourishes here. While Pullen clearly is skilled in scaling things up, and Ace is just the place to do it, this show would have benefited from pulling back and paring down. Ace Gallery, 5514 Wilshire Blvd., 2nd Floor, L.A., Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru August. (323) 935-4411 or www.acegallery.net.

David Amico at Ace Gallery Beverly Hills

David Amico has defined his career with a combination of unpredictability and even promiscuity of style with intrepidness in his devotion to abstract and quasi-abstract painting. While the stylistics shift, Amico does reveal certain tendencies, particularly one of going back over passages in his paintings — inlaying flat areas with tweedy hatch marks, adding halos to hard edges or anchoring auras with sharp marks, retracing lines. Such tendency — not overworking, but considering ways in which information might be echoed, sampled, handled, even caressed — finds both ease and opportunity for sophisticated play in Amico’s recent “Drift-Trace” paintings. These tap into that part of Amico that leans toward the mining of culture’s vernacular detritus that preoccupied Rauschenberg (whose prowess for formal abstraction is under-recognized), and the part that leans toward the heavy abstraction of Motherwell (who never could really escape reference, and loved collaged bits and bytes of the world). Drawing inspiration, and often borrowing shapes and lifting lines, from castoffs and rubbish in his neighborhood streets, Amico converts them into an impressive array, from rigorously composed abstractions to vaguely Turneresque interfaces of atmosphere and plane, to harsh industrial facades, to sinewy lacework evocative of both Brice Marden paintings and branches of pear and cherry blossoms. A visit to this exhibition, like a review of his career, will disappoint someone looking to ante up and settle down with a signature look. But it proves far more interesting for someone looking for an artist determined to make the case for the ongoing relevance of abstract painting through an extended practice of painting — as opposed to via rhetoric or a certain kind of stylistic call and response with the marketplace and the critical press. Ace Gallery, 9430 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, Tues-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru August. (310) 858-9090 or www.acegallery.net.


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