The Good Stuff
10. "DRAWN FROM ARTISTS' COLLECTIONS," UCLA/ARMAND HAMMER
While there were more historically and regionally significant museum exhibitions mounted in L.A. this year, neither Sam Francis nor Eleanor Antin could turn my crank for more than a piece or two. Mounted in an apparent package deal with exDrawing Center, new Hammer director Ann Philbin, this show wasn't conceived or realized here, but it makes the list because of the unparalleled insight it gives to the way artists look at art. From Howard Hodgkin's exquisite collection of 17th-century Indian-elephant miniatures to Chris Burden's sketch of his flying-steamroller sculpture (from Ed Ruscha's collection), what this show conveys is a catalog of ways in which ideas are communicated through the eye, as compiled by participants in the conversation.
9. BURT PAYNE 3, "IT'S STARWEATHER OUT THERE," TRACK 16
In a year without a Tim Hawkinson show, the closest thing was this elusive joker, virtually the only "mainstream"-style artist on Track 16's roster. Unjustly overlooked by the art establishment, Burt Payne 3 puts a white-trash pop-cultural spin on the L.A. school of awkwardly translated everyday objects. While Payne's smart-ass indifference occasionally results in work that borders on plagiarism or parody, it just as often hits home: Pieces like Cane (a motorized blind man's cane swinging back and forth at the viewer), BP3 Does HA (a limited-edition CD of the artist whistling a cover version of Herb Alpert's greatest hits) and 1973 Grammy Award Nominees and Winners in the Following Categories (the names of those honored spelled out across a whole gallery wall in large twigs) inexplicably find targets you never suspected even existed.
8. JESSICA BRONSON, WORLD PICTURE, MOCA
This installation, consisting of a rickety re-enactment of a helicopter pursuit and crash over a Los Angeles freeway projected on a pair of enormous arced screens, combined the dorky charm of the decrepit slot-car simulator ride at the Griffith Park pony arcade with a defeated version of the super-Happenings of Expo '67 and John Cage's Variations IV. Bronson has taken on the difficult mantle of being an actual artist in a medium overrun by trust-fund kids with three laser-disc projectors, 200 hours of footage of their boarding-school chums shooting up, and nowhere else to go but the Whitney. It is much to her credit that, in spite of possessing all the identifiable criteria for what is usually an annoying exercise in self-indulgent technological pissing, Bronson's works are consistently arresting and, pardon my French, beautiful.
7. "ODD GLOSS," ROSAMUND FELSEN GALLERY
As refreshing as it is to see the many recent curatorial projects focused on visual similarities in the artworks (as opposed to similarities in their descriptions), better still is a show such as this, organized around subtle conceptual similarities between works that might otherwise never be connected. In a group show that echoes his own artistic strategies, sculptor and curator Gordon Haines fashioned a synergistic pastiche from other artists' work. Knitting together pieces as seemingly diverse as Emanuel Tet's ballerina-and-Marie-Antoinette dolls-'n'-food paintings, Jason Millbrook's fake redwood stump table and Rebecca Ripple's build-it-yourself Wokey Dome, "Odd Gloss" compelled the viewer to examine the process of association or leave bewildered. Or both. A strong argument for curation as an artistic medium unto itself.
6. BLORP ESETTE (TRANSPARENCY RECORDS)
A budget-priced four-CD of the Los Angeles Free Music Society's late-'70s/early-'80s compilation records, with almost three hours of new material, this offering amounts to a retrospective of the scraggly nascent L.A. audio art scene's skronks, bleats and scratchy loops in the studio and live at the first Doo-Dah Parade. Compiled by Ace Farren Ford and Rick Potts, Blorp Esette is technically a reissue, except nobody ever heard the originals and half the material is previously unreleased. Including tracks from Smegma with Wild Man Fischer, the Reverend Toad-Eater, the Doo Dooettes, Henry Kaiser, Joe Potts, the South Pasadena Free Music Ensemble and long-unavailable album art by Captain Beefheart, the collection basically lays out the parameters for what has become a burgeoning subculture of unsupervised and as yet illegitimate artistic fecundity as well as being a sound document of a specific cultural moment.
5. MEG CRANSTON, "LIFE, DEATH AND MISCELLANEOUS," ROSAMUND FELSEN GALLERY
A most peculiar show, consisting in part of a pair of baby grand pianos (one a raw shell, one fully functional) presumably representing Death and Life and apparently made by carefully deconstructing a single original keyboard. The miscellaneous conceptual fallout of this duality filled the next gallery with a phantasmagoria of plunger-footed Yellow Donkeys, mummified bunnies, desperate little drawings and abbreviated Jessica Stockholderlike agglomerations from Smart & Final, made all the more spectacular each Saturday afternoon, when a hired pianist performed American show tunes on Life.
4. THE REVEREND ETHAN ACRES, "JESUS FREAK," PATRICIA FAURE GALLERY
Highlighted by a Sunday service during which the artist donned a Lycra stretch-fit uniform to deliver a sermon equating ULTRAMAN with Jesus, the Reverend Ethan Acres' second solo exhibit at Patricia Faure further materialized his improbable conflation of autobiographical Southern evangelical Christianity with contemporary art practice in the form of several intricately stitched-together soft sculptures illustrating literal readings of biblical metaphors (including the fabulous Samson's Lion, with its spinning, humming bee swarm). By linking what is generally considered a vestigial manifestation of pre-Enlightenment white hetero patriarchal superstition with a heartfelt engagement with the language and history of formalist artmaking, the Reverend Acres continues to address the only two remaining taboos that can actually make waves inside the art world.
3. E CHEN, "UNTITLED," RICHARD TELLES FINE ART
How do you follow up a solo debut consisting of finely wrought mixed-media (ranging from elegant architectural drawings on vellum to the infiltration of network TV) documentation from a profoundly ambivalent prank: promoting and seeking investors for the fictional Titanic Casino & Iceberg Hotel in Las Vegas? How about with a scatter-pop installation of truncated, coitally interlocked torsos in high-sculptural white fiberglass surrounded by scores of cast polyurethane fruits and vegetables? Once again activating Richard Telles' difficult space in a subtle and masterful manner, E Chen continued to startle with this quirky, intelligent and perversely buoyant show. Distributed with a loose geometry through the floor space, the stacks and rows of partially fabricated, incompletely painted produce, coalescing interstitially between the faux-marble groin-tussles, read as interrupted backward transmissions from some future digital pagan Garden of Eden. Smart, sexy, perplexing and funny.
2. TIBETAN MONKS CLOSING CEREMONY, UCLA/ARMAND HAMMER
The most involving "performance art" I've attended in years. In spite of the throngs of rubberneckers in attendance, an air of calm presided as the monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery, having spent most of a week carefully channeling tiny streams of colored sand to form an intricate mandala permeated with social, psychological and spiritual significance, performed a concert of overtone chanting before leading a fraction of the audience on a pilgrimage to the beach in Santa Monica. There, just south of the pier, to the low-frequency blat of conch shells, engulfed by darkness except for the Ferris wheel's serendipitous strobing circular patterns, the monks ritually returned the sand to the ocean, and everybody's pants got wet. Not your typical artists' reception.
1. THE CENTER FOR LAND USE INTERPRETATION, "LANDSCAPE OF CONJECTURE," BUS TOUR OF NEVADA'S NELLIS RANGE
While writing a review of the Nellis tour for the Weekly, I looked up from my keyboard to realize I'd gone 4,000 words over my quota and had reached only the point where the bus got stuck inside the Tolicha Peak Electronic Warfare simulation area. In a year that featured a number of superlative shows at CLUI, including "Territory in Photo-Color: The Postcards of Merle Porter," the "Landscape of Conjecture" show and bus tour nevertheless articulated the essential Otherness of the American relationship to the ground in an unprecedented way. A negative-space drawing on the most postmodern scale, the bus tour navigated a political, conceptual and even spiritual lacuna by circumscribing an officially nonexistent but physically tangible locus, forging a narrative crucible from the excluded, intelligence-saturated central desert of Western culture. Yee-haw!
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