This week an artist honors Jessica Chastain's usefulness, and an artist-musician pays tribute to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds by collecting dirt and meditating on background noise.
Does God vote Republican?
In “The Happiest People on Earth,” her current show at Honor Fraser, Rosson Crow satirizes the modern-day Wild West. Her large, glossy and intentionally messy canvases depict cacti and desert plants on sandy ground. Sometimes neon green and hot pink, the paintings look washed out, like photographs left in the sun for too long. Pages from the National Enquirer, sarcastic signage and catchy, questionable bumper stickers appear throughout, caught on cactus arms or plastered to decorated planters. “Smile, you’re in shooting range,” says one sign. “God Votes Republican,” reads a sticker plastered on a fence in a painting Crow titled Enduring Displays of American Exceptionalism. 2622 La Cienega Blvd., Mid-City; through June 15. (310) 837-0191, honorfraser.com.
Army of delicate pink intestines
Matthew Ronay’s Thermal Organ Apparatus, one of the many small, strange sculptures in his show "Surds" at Marc Foxx, looks like the kind of instrument you might find in Willy Wonka’s factory. Candy-colored and anthropomorphic, it’s crafted from dyed basswood. Little purple feet hold up a yellow rectangle with a bumpy finger-like thing protruding from a red hole. The rectangle has a neck, upon which rests a quaint, hot-pink, double-sided megaphone. Ronay’s sculpture 13 is like an army of little pink intestines hovering above a black-and-white checkerboard. Magnitude Source resembles a miniature altar, the green orb at its center supporting lots of little purple blocks on sunshine-yellow shelves. Every object is gorgeously made and playfully confounding. 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Carthay; through June 3. (323) 857-5571, marcfoxx.com.
Strong women save men
Actress Jessica Chastain is a useful person, a woman who has learned to participate and serve the institution. She can work for NASA or the CIA and get the job done against impossible odds, thus ensuring the institution survives. So suggests Maura Brewer in her fantastic 12-minute video, The Surface of Mars, a close look at both the red desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan, and Chastain’s appearance in three films: The Martian, Interstellar and Zero Dark Thirty. The video, which plays on a loop in group show “Paratextual” at Samuel Freeman, shows how the red desert is used again and again in films to portray an empty frontier (Jordan is, in fact, a densely populated country, Brewer points out). Then we see many versions of Chastain’s concerned-looking face as she tries to keep track of Bin Laden, reunite with her father or rescue Matt Damon, whom she’s accidentally left on Mars. Her character, while strong and stoic, always relies on or fixates on a male figure. Within this context, but never outside of it, she succeeds. “Jessica Chastain is an agent. Jessica Chastain achieves her goals,” said Brewer last year, when she gave a speech in tribute to the actress. “Jessica Chastain subsumes me.” 2639 S. La Cienega Blvd., Mid-City; through June 17. (310) 425-8601, samuelfreeman.com.
Celestial micro-concerts and more
"Knowledges," a two-day exhibition at the Mount Wilson Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains, happened for the first time in 2012. Now, five years later thanks in part to a grant from the local Mike Kelley Foundation, the exhibition is returning, organized again by artist-curator Christina Ondrus. Artists will host performances at the observatory’s various telescopes. For instance, Scott Benzel, who often works with sound, will stage a performance on the rotating deck of the 100-inch telescope. Ticketed micro-concerts by musicians including Tara Jane O’Neil and the band White Magic will occur around the telescopes, so intimate groups of visitors can gaze into the heavens while listening to live music. Rosha Yaghmai and Erik Frydenborg both will have sculptures on the grounds. Through his large installation of low-relief imagery, Frydenborg will attempt to turn the entrance to the Astronomical Museum into “an oracular shrine.” Mt. Wilson Observatory, Mount Wilson; Sat., June 3, 10 a.m.-1 a.m. & Sun., June 4, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; free-$40. knowledges.org.
Pet Sounds to Dirt Sounds
Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys grew up in Hawthorne. Though his house is no longer there, artist-musicians Jeff Hassay and LeRoy Stevens went to the site last year, approximately 50 years after the release of Pet Sounds. Hassay made an 20-minute field recording — of dogs barking, wind blowing, cars driving by, planes flying overhead, lawn mowers humming, Hassay breathing. The sound is scratchy but weirdly pleasant, much more interesting than white noise. They also collected dirt from Wilson’s former yard, and used that dirt and resin to make the 100 limited-edition records they’ve called Dirt Sounds, their riff on and tribute to the iconic Beach Boys album. They’ll release the record officially at Tif Sigfrids Gallery this week. 1507 Wilcox Ave., Hollywood; Tue., June 6, 7 p.m. smallworldmfg.info.