This week, faceless kids climb ropes in West Adams and a deathlike apparition makes repeat appearances in a Silver Lake show.
Second first lady
L.A.-based Alex Chaves, a painter and writer, titled his first book Abigail Adams, after the second first lady. But his Abigail is a conflicted American icon, maybe an iconoclast. Grace Dunham, also a writer-artist and the younger sibling of Lena, wrote something of a blurb for Chaves. It took the form of a letter and included the following: “Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves; others paint their hearts on their canvases. … But your heart? I wonder if it’s in New Jersey, or inside your tummy, or scattered around in sacred, banal places, buried like treasure.” Dunham, who just published a collection of lullabies, will read with Chaves this weekend. 951 Chung King Road, Chinatown; Fri., Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m. poeticresearch.com.
Hustler with a camera
In the mid-1980s, Scot Sothern spent time roving around Southern California, seeking out prostitutes and photographing them, often in odd bedrooms or hotel rooms. The intimate black-and-white photographs were hardly ever shown in the intervening years. Now a book is coming out and the small, vintage images hang at Little Big Man gallery next to typewritten narratives pinned to the wall. The narratives, written in retrospect, give raw glimpses into Sothern’s encounters with the women. He never comes off as an outside observer. Rather, he’s a hustler too, negotiating, trying to pay as little as possible, sometimes engaging sexually, fascinated with the way the women resist or embrace him. 1427 E. Fourth St., Unit 2, downtown; through April 16. (917) 361-5039, littlebigmangallery.com.
Big brother probably shoots hoops
The grimy, melted black tower near the entrance to Debo Eilers’ show at Night Gallery has a red Spalding sports logo on it and rims of bright red basketball hoops protruding from it. The tower, rectangular in shape like a speaker tower, makes a low, eerie hum you might not notice at first. There are other towers in the show Eilers calls “Liberty,” one that looks like a burnt, broken trellis and a red ladderlike one weighted down by a bulgy black rock chained to its rungs. Three paintings of contorted Raggedy Ann dolls hang on walls, beneath surveillance cameras surrounded by more destroyed trellis material. In another drawing, happy, halo-enclosed stick people float skyward from a muddy scene. The show counters apocalyptic grime and privacy violations with devil-may-care cuteness, making lack of liberty seem like a messy farce. 2276 E. 16th St., downtown; through March 5. (323) 589-1135, nightgallery.ca.
Ghoul on a train
For his show “King and Slave,” Julien Ceccaldi painted a mostly gray and bright blue mural on the back wall of Jenny’s small Silver Lake space. A bald, emaciated, naked man sits on a Metro train bench, while three other nicely dressed, healthy-looking passengers lean away from him. A man holds his nose. A woman covers her face. They seem grossed out and scared. Ceccaldi has a manga-informed style, which makes his scenes feel like punchy vignettes or screenshots from larger, twisted stories. The emaciated figure makes repeat appearances in this show. In one sleek, framed drawing, he shoots elegantly out of a toilet. In another, he appears in the fetal position in bed, next to a sculpted, androgynous figure with a pillow over her face. This response is entirely understandable — who wouldn’t want to ignore the deathlike apparition that keeps invading her space? 4220 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; through March 5. (323) 741-8237, jennys.us.
Public school training camp
Artist Ajay Kurian’s "Unilateral Educational Disarmament" is a vaguely militarized, candy-colored gym-class nightmare. Installed at JOAN, Kurian’s show begins in a darkened entryway, with a vitrine lit green, as fish tanks often are. Bells and tiny gingerbread men populate the plastic, chintzy scene. Then, in the main room, child-sized figures with melted metal limbs and heads without features climb ropes and loiter. They wear gym shorts and T-shirts. “I saw Napoleon on horseback,” one shirt says. Kurian’s kids feel like pawns with attitudes, training for some futuristic battle they don’t even know about yet. 4300 W. Jefferson Blvd., West Adams; through March 27. (323) 641-0454, joanlosangeles.org.