This week, a performance artist places sand on a pole while talking about meaninglessness, and men become one with an oven in a Culver City show.
A grandstanding man and a couple of slugs
Two brown, globular figures that look like either slugs or intestines traverse a vague, pastel-colored landscape in Victor Estrada’s Wandering Without Knowing/Figure in an American Landscape. It’s a loose, perverse painting, but pleasant to look at — the comically misshapen figures seem unmoored, worthy of sympathy. The painting hangs in “Discomposure,” the group show currently up at Richard Telles Fine Art. Adjacent to it hangs a collage by Elizabeth Murray, a cartoonish abstraction called Whozat #1. The green and gray central shape looks something like a grandstanding man with his mouth open and his limbs flailing, twisting and looping around. 7380 Beverly Blvd., Fairfax; through Aug. 19. (323) 965-5578, tellesfineart.com.
Packages for strangers
During Dropping Show, an event Jiro Takamatsu and collaborators staged in Tokyo in 1964, the artists dropped bags and other objects from a high-rise onto the street below. They then collected the dropped objects, put them in a train station locker, and sent the key to a stranger picked out of the phone book. A photograph of an unidentifiable object falling toward the street appears in the Takamatsu show currently up at Kayne Griffin Corcoran, along with a number of other tasteful black-and-white photos of the late artist’s actions. The co-founder of the Tokyo alt-space Hi-Red Center, Takamatsu made much of this work collaboratively, like when he helped his friend Genpei Akasegawa leave large, brown-paper packages on streets and train platforms. In a 1974 made-for-TV video that plays in the gallery, Takamatsu explains that perhaps he doesn’t want to make art “that means something.” He says this while placing dirt in a perfect, pyramid-shaped pile on top of a waist-high wooden pole installed along a major arterial. 1201 S. La Brea Ave., Mid-Wilshire; through Aug. 19. (310) 586-6886, kaynegriffincorcoran.com.
Super lion and oven men
The first works you see in Jim Shaw’s current exhibition at Blum & Poe are frenetic black-and-white paintings made up of tornado-like swirls and elongated figures. Look closely and you’ll start to make out both comic book tropes and old-school biblical imagery. In one drawing called Chaos (Nebuchadnezzar in Abu Ghraib), a lion in superhero underwear, vulnerably posed, carries a Bible-like book in one hand as explosions go off all around him. Turn the corner though, and an OCD precision replaces the chaos. One pencil drawing, called Study for “Man-Machine,” shows four well-built nude men merging with an oven, their limbs fused to the door and to one another. Another shows wholesome-looking hunters using the body of a smiling woman clad in a vinyl sauna suit as their weapon. Throughout the show, absurdities have been pushed to their outer limits, and consumerism, scripture, war atrocities and good family values swim around in the same murk. 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City; through Aug. 19. (310) 836-2062, blumandpoe.com.
Big brown spill
Morris Louis’ 1958 painting Beth Gimel is nearly 12 feet tall. It’s just a brown-green stain on canvas, wide on top and narrower near the bottom, with a hint of vibrant yellow coming through on one side, but still it holds sway over the room. The best of Louis' paintings have this irrational power despite their simplicity; you forget how good they are until you once again see them in person. The artist, who died at age 50 in 1962, made these paintings by staining unprimed canvases he would lay flat on his dining room floor, so the pigment sunk right into the fabric. He was more of a magician than a studio rat, someone who performed alchemical acts with color and let them be. Eight of his paintings hang at Honor Fraser right now. 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City; through Aug. 30. (310) 837-0191, honorfraser.com.
Carolee Schneemann performed Interior Scroll in 1975, undressing in front of an East Hampton, New York, audience, covering herself in a white sheet, climbing onto a table, letting the sheet fall and then painting black marks on her face, torso and limbs. She read from the book she’d written, Cézanne, She Was a Great Painter, before reaching into her vagina and pulling out a scroll. She read it as she removed it: the text on the scroll recounted things a structuralist filmmaker had said about Schneemann’s films, dismissing her work because of “the diaristic indulgence/the painterly mess/the dense gestalt/the primitive technique.” The scroll Schneemann pulled from her body was, of course, actually an object, and now the Hammer Museum owns it. It sits in a vitrine in the recent acquisitions show "Living Apart Together." It’s in good company: Barbara T. Smith’s Field Piece (1968-1972), larger-than-life blades of grass made of resin and fiberglass and lit from below, takes center stage in the same room.10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood; through Aug. 13. (310) 443-7000, hammer.edu.