This week, a see-through sculpture generates optical illusions, and an artist invents fantasy machines to help us all live on air alone.
This is everything
“I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms,” Charles Ramsey told a Cleveland reporter after he rescued longtime hostage Amanda Berry. “Something is wrong here.” The clip of Ramsey saying this is the first thing you see in Arthur Jafa’s video collage, Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death, now playing on a loop in a dark gallery at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary. For seven minutes, clips keep coming: Michael Jackson dancing for a handheld camera in the back of an SUV, riots, basketball games, Barack Obama singing "Amazing Grace," a crying toddler putting his hands against the wall because this is what police make men do. Kanye West’s gospel-inspired song "Ultralight Beam" serves as the soundtrack, though other voices often interrupt it. “I’m trying to keep my faith, but I’m looking for more,” West sings. “This is a god dream; This is everything.” Jafa’s video does embrace everything: rage, elation, pain, a legacy of oppression, gospel music, pop-star royalty, presidential class, graphic police violence. All of these realities bleed together and coexist on the same intense, sensation-filled plane. 152 N. Central Ave., downtown; through June 12. (213) 625-4390, moca.org.
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High art kaleidoscope
Charles Ross’ Tapered Column (2004), made of clear acrylic, stands near the back of Parrasch Heijnen’s largest gallery. Ross, who has been making such columns since the 1960s, filled this one with a liquid that affects a viewer’s optical experience. Walk around the column while looking through it, and you’ll experience the room in a few different ways. From one angle, the overhead lights turn into rainbows and Ross’ solar-burn paintings, made using sunlight and a lens to burn shapes into canvases, begin to blur. From another, all the work comes into perfect focus. It’s sort of like viewing an exhibition through a specially crafted kaleidoscope, only more comical and unwieldy: walking in circles around a pristine object in a white-walled gallery, trying to get the best, weirdest glimpse. 1326 S. Boyle Ave., Boyle Heights; through April 28. (323) 943-9373, parrasch-heijnen.com.
Saving the air
Sonja Gerdes’ debut exhibition at Cirrus Gallery has a mouthful of a title: "Pie of Trouble. Let’s Hang. Air for Free. Uncertainty. Absurdity. You look at it but it doesn’t exist. Anahata. Vishuda rising. Unpredictability." Gerdes’ sculptures — some made of metal and ceramic, some of fiber — look part sci-fi and part quaintly handcrafted. One floor sculpture consists of two black ceramic shapes resembling car parts and weighing down a lushly woven wool tapestry. Two sleekly produced yoga mats read “Oxygenizer: Breath” and, below images of Gerdes’ strange sculptures, the bold white text continues: “The World’s First Engine Running Fully on Oxygen.” The show is, it seems, an impressionistic proposal for a world in which we could power our appliances and machines with breath alone. On an entryway table, next to press releases, the gallery has also, fittingly, laid out a stack of leaflets on reducing air pollution. 2011 S. Santa Fe Ave., downtown; through May 27. (213) 680-3473, cirrusgallery.com.
Under a big blue moon
Two men carry a limp, ghostly body across the uncluttered floor of a minimal, midcentury home in Elizabeth Huey’s painting Soon Means Soon (2015). A woman who resembles designer Ray Eames, mostly because she wears Ray’s iconic plain black dress, stares out the big glass windows, taking in a hyperreal, romantic scene. The blue moon shines against a purple sky, a topless woman lowers herself into one of many clear pools, and a waterfall flows down a rocky terrain. Huey’s thick, loose brushstrokes lend a certain chaos to the scene, and even the efficient Eames-inspired house begins to feel fantastical and heavy-handed. The painting hangs in "Psychonautics," the group show up at CES. 711 Mateo St., downtown; through April 16. (213) 880-5474, carlesmithgallery.com.
One refugee had no trouble getting from Damascus to Turkey according to a hand-drawn map hanging in REDCAT’s current exhibition, “It is obvious from the map.” But police caused big problems on the trip from Turkey to Greece, and then different police forces beat the travelers as they tried to get from Macedonia to Serbia. The design collective Škart made these maps with refugees who are currently living in a refugee camp in Banja Kovilja?a, Serbia. Simple and immediately legible despite halting English, they tell dramatic, sometimes violent stories in short hand. Co-curated by Thomas Keenan and Sohrab Mohebbi, the show uses maps to explore and trace recent and ongoing migration between the Middle East, Africa and Europe. It’s dense and requires attention — not all the maps on view are as straightforward as the Škart collective’s — but worth the investment. 631 W. Second St., downtown; through June 4. (213) 237-2800, redcat.org.