This week, an artist shows deceptively pretty paintings about censorship in Hollywood, and a brutal ritual plays out in Santa Ana.
Joshua Nathanson, the artist who curated “GRIND” at Various Small Fires, wanted his show to approximate the dysfunction and clutter of 21st-century city life. “The city is a churning mess of ancient/current/future,” he wrote in the press release. “Grand hopes now seem naive and it’s really a bummer.” His show is indeed a mess. B. Thom Stevenson’s rugs recall Cubism, sidewalk chalk and high school yearbooks. Asha Schechter’s big inkjet prints of commercial objects adhered to gallery walls are obnoxious — the oversized La Croix can takes the cake — but fittingly so. Lothar Hempel’s photographs on aluminum show a triumphant figure, like a cross between David Bowie and some Greek god of fire, before metal and stone (there's also a light bulb sticking out of the aluminum). The scene is industrial and glam. 812 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood; through Aug. 27. (310) 426-8040, vsf.la.
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Beijing-born, Berlin-based painter Jia paints with traditional Chinese characters. But in a cynical homage to the “character simplification” program under Mao, which streamlined the look and communicative potential of Chinese language often using formal criteria, Jia has arranged her characters according to how they look. Their meaning becomes limited and irrelevant, but at least the patterns appeal. In Steve Turner’s current show, her understated paintings hang on the walls while the sculptures of Buenos Aires–based Luciana Lamothe take up the floor. Lamothe’s forms, made from construction materials, are aggressive and dangerous. She's cut into metal so brutally that the limbs of her sculptures looks as though they’d make you bleed. But still, the sculptures have a formal internal logic that makes them seem, in spite of themselves, self-contained and elegant. 6830 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; through Aug. 27. (323) 460-6830, steveturner.la.
In Matt Siegle’s slideshow Last Skin, commercial images of fit models in activewear — two-toned green sports bras and skin-tight shorts — are interspersed with images of campsites and makeshift homeless shelters. It’s a disjointed advertisement for activity of many kinds that’s interchangeably peppy and foreboding. Siegel’s is one in a series of 14 slideshows that play one after another in "Queue," the show organized by artists Brica Wilcox and L.E. Kim in Klowden Mann's back room. Wilcox and Kim asked artists to make or send them short slideshows. Watching them is like flipping through someone else’s photo albums. Even if the rhythm gets monotonous, you keep going because there’s the promise of discovering something intimate. Kristen Merola’s slideshow, This Is Why I Married Your Sister, features vintage photographs with all the subjects’ heads cut off. There are weddings, vacations and holidays, but who’s who remains a puzzle. 6023 Washington Blvd., Culver City; through Aug. 20. (310) 280-0226, klowdenmann.com.
Self-portrait with mom's boyfriend
LaToya Ruby Frazier’s photographs show herself in a bathroom mirror, or in a mirror that’s propped on a radiator, or on her bed as her mother’s boyfriend rests in an adjoining room visible in the frame. They also show her family’s neighborhood in Pennsylvania undergoing aggressive changes. Certain buildings get demolished while others cave in. the images, all black-and-white, hang at China Art Objects in a show about the many sides of self-portraiture called “Me, Myself, I.” The show has little aesthetic continuity, which may be its strength. Emily Mae Smith painted an open mouth shaped like a computer screen. Inside the mouth, a single breast floats against a stylized, cloud-filled sky. 6086 Comey Ave., Mid-City; through Aug. 20. (323) 965-2264, chinaartobjects.com.
The “Nowannago” is a symbol and artifact that artist Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle discovered while researching Kentrifica, the place where the cultures of West Africa and Kentucky merge. (Hinkle defines, maps and excavates this place in her work, as a way to understand very tangible cultural realities). The Nowanngo resembles a double noose once used to force mating between Kentrifican women and British or Portuguese traders. If a woman conquered and killed her captor, she was allowed to go free. Hinkle and fellow artist Tyler Matthew Oyer will perform a Nowannago ritual at Grand Central Arts this weekend, playing tug of war while tied together. As they struggle, visitors are invited to write down names of people who have died because of systemic violence and injustice. 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana; Sat., Aug. 6, 7-10 p.m. (714) 567-7233, grandcentralartcenter.com. [Correction: the related exhibition opens Aug. 6; performance takes place Sept. 3]