TUESDAY, February 7

Reading Pick:  SARAH VOWELL

In Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell visits famous American places
immortalized for the spilling of political blood: The theater box where
John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln and stabbed Henry Rathbone. The
Maryland house where Booth and his co-conspirator stopped en route to
pick up whiskey and guns. The Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station
site in New York (now the back entrance of the National Gallery of Art)
where Charles Guiteau gunned down President James A. Garfield. Vowell’s
book is a dream road trip for the seriously geeky. It’s like getting to
hang out with your older brother’s cool but twisted girlfriend, who
also happens to be a hard-core history buff with a nice, sick sense of
humor. “Various physicians summoned to the scene,” Vowell says,
“searched for the bullet’s location in Garfield’s back by poking their
grimy fingers into the wound, rooting around in the president’s
innards. . . . Besides his plea of insanity, Guiteau would in fact
capitalize on this medical bungling at his defense trial, arguing that
the doctors killed Garfield, ‘I just shot him.’ ” Then there’s the
Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, which has as part of its permanent
collection a mummified piece of John Wilkes Booth himself. It is a
“beige and bloated” thing floating in a glass jar labeled “Piece of
John Wilkes Booth.” If you close your eyes at her reading this Tuesday,
you can even pretend that it’s Violet Parr of Pixar’s The Incredibles
reading to you about the crypts of murdered presidents (fact: Vowell
was her voice). And what could be better than that? As they say, the
only good politician is a dead politician.
—Gendy Alimurung

Sarah Vowell reads at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Tues., Feb. 7, 7:30 p.m. (323) 660-1175.

Drag shows, porn and lingerie-clad football too much debauchery for you? Maybe you need to cleanse your mind with a squeaky-clean Deanna Durbin motion-picture show. In Something in the Wind, Durbin plays a DJ (not the kind on the ones and twos, we’re guessing). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.; Tues., Feb. 7, 1:30 p.m.; free. (310) 440-4500. (Libby Molyneaux)

LL Cool J, Ciara at House of Blues

Back in 1987, I would walk the streets of East L.A. with my Walkman and my LL Cool J tape, reciting the lyrics “I’m like Tyson icin’/I’m a soldier at war/I’m makin’ sure you don’t try to battle me no more,” from “I’m Bad,” off the Bigger and Deffer album. Many people forget that LL was the first artist on the Def Jam label, run by founders Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. Two decades and nine albums later, LL Cool J is still dropping hits; his hot new single, “Control Myself,” with Jennifer Lopez, from his forthcoming 10th album, Todd Smith, proves he’s the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). With special guest Ciara; this early show starts at 6:30 p.m. (Ben Quiñones)

ART PICK: “Abo Ovo,” “Pardners”

The awkward renderings comprising “Ab Ovo” turn out to be illustrations to children’s stories — stories woven by peers of the 19 artists (some as well known as Thomas Lawson and Marnie Weber but most just now emerging) around the responses given by 19 other artists (e.g., Mike Kelley, Martha Rosler, Jim Shaw) to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, an extensive preference quiz used to determine the shape of people’s psyches (usually for legal purposes). The whole megillah was organized by Steven Hull; for the full impact, the book he compiled anthologizing the writings and images trumps the stuff on the walls, so be prepared to sit down for a while and read. But cruising through the exhibition alone yields its own strange pleasures.

Another group show with an engagingly eccentric premise, “Pardners” displays collaborative work by life partners of various inclinations; stylistic, mediumistic, social and sexual. The exhibition gently careens between video projection, drawing, ceramic, photography and what-all else, and features the work of such teams as Linda Besemer and Erika Suderburg, Brian Moss and Jody Zellen, Tetsuji Aono and Ron Faranovich, Hilja Keading and Julie Shafer, James Elaine and William Basinski, Erin Cosgrove and Hirsch Perlman, Kaucyila Brooke and Dorit Margreiter, and Clate Grunden, Joe Schmelzer and Noah Webb (whose Our Family documents, in silhouette, the three men and their two dogs).

“Ab Ovo” at Arena I, 3026 Airport Ave., Santa Monica, Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru Feb. 11. (310) 397-7456. “Pardners” at domestic setting, 3774 Stewart Ave., Thurs.-Sat., noon-5 p.m.; thru Feb. 11. (310) 391-8023. (Peter Frank)

Museum Pick: Peter Voulkos, Marvin Harden

This Peter Voulkos retrospective concentrates on one enduring aspect of his oeuvre: its source in Japanese ceramics. Voulkos was deeply influenced by Japanese claywork, especially the postwar revival of folk pottery traditions dating back as far as the 16th century. Throughout his career he sought to make the aesthetic of rough, worn beauty — the sabe no wabe — his own, and to do it beyond the affectations of abstract expressionism and other modernist idioms. Voulkos valued certain of those affectations (several of his ab-ex canvases and drawings augment the ceramic items), but wanted ultimately to put them at the service of an Asian sensibility rather than the other way around. He largely succeeded, producing cups and vessels even early on that were every bit as endearingly coarse and straightforward as their models.
Marvin Harden’s microspective touches briefly on several facets of his work, including its basis in nature, the honesty of its materials, and its often jewellike sensuosity. Whether making tender and exquisite renderings of birds or practically caulking slabs of earthy pigment to a support, Harden has always valued the tactility of the art object — that is, both the evidence it yields of the artist’s hand and the seductive invitation it extends to our own. As ethereal an abstractionist as he can be, Harden celebrates the material world with his own intimate sabe no wabe.

Peter Voulkos at the American Museum of Ceramic Art, 340 S. Garey Ave., Pomona, Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m.; thru Feb. 4. (909) 865-3146. Marvin Harden at the Armory Center, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, Tue.-Sun., noon-5 p.m., thru Feb. 5. (626) 792-5101. (Peter Frank)

LA Weekly