This week, a boy sneezes out an airplane in a drawing that's been installed near MacArthur Park, and a new mural at MOCA depicts, among other things, owl-shaped planters.
Artist Ian James hired a model with black hair and amazing eyelashes to wear already obsolete technological gadgets that were invented to heal. She appears in multiple photographs in James’ show at Vacancy, always in the same mesh, hot-pink sports top. In one photograph, she wears a gadget designed to reduce under-eye bags (the actual device, a tiny object, is attached to a rock on the gallery floor). In another, she wears a thick, white, portable neck massager. The photographs themselves, all based on instructional or advertising images, are sculptural. Sometimes the picture of the model overlays another, bigger image of markings in sandstone; other times strips of clear plastic intersect the woman’s friendly face. James titled the show “Time and the Technosphere,” after a book in which spiritual leader José Argüelles proposed replacing our 12-calendar with a more “synchronic” 13-moon, 28-day calendar. The work has a pseudo-scientific, perversely commercial feel to it, as if it’s all an advertisement for something you can’t quite put your finger on. 2524½ James M. Wood Blvd., Westlake; through Jan. 21. vacancyla.com.
Flattest garden ever
Longtime L.A. artist Jonas Wood painted Still Life With Two Owls in 2014. In his characteristically flat, sunny way, he depicts shelves full of plants and pots. Some of the pots are the plain old terracotta kind you’d find at Home Depot. Other colorful, patterned ones look handmade. Sky-blue light shines through the shelves on the right, while those on the left could be in some dimly lit closet. Two pots on the darker side are shaped and painted to look like blinged-out, red-cheeked owls. In time for the holidays, Wood scaled up this painting and applied a slightly altered, vinyl version of it to the street-facing side of MOCA’s Grand Avenue building. So now the outside of the museum depicts a decorative indoor garden. 250 S. Grand Ave., downtown; ongoing. (213) 621-2766, moca.org.
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Dinner inside a brain
If you read Quintessa Matranga’s wall drawing The Dork Diaries from right to left, the story goes something like this: A boy with short-banged ’90s hair sneezes out an airplane. The airplane becomes a puzzle, shedding pieces as it flies. A woman in a bathing suit lands on a shed puzzle piece and, eventually, two power-operated women plugged into wall sockets enjoy a romantic dinner inside the brain of a bald, bemused girl with an abnormally wide forehead. Matranga’s wall drawings appear in "Everyday War" at Ashes/Ashes, an exhibition that also includes a decrepit hand made by Jenine Marsh from plaster, rubber, flowers and other things, and an odd assemblage of glassware, tubes, soda cans and plant life by Scott Benzel that's like a DIY laboratory for making who knows what. Everything looks simultaneously familiar and absurd. 2404 Wilshire Blvd., 1A, Westlake; through Dec. 30. ashesonashes.com.
Learn to be like microbes
Extremophiles, organisms that thrive in extreme environments, can live in intense heat or under pressure. Artist Nina Waisman proposed we learn from them, studying their movements and behaviors, as part of her project Intelligence Moves. Mimic them, and maybe we can adapt to extremes, too. This week, Waisman is hosting workshops at the Hammer as part of her ongoing project, the Laboratory for Embodied Intelligences (LEI). Visitors can participate in workshops, games and exercises designed to help put us in touch with microbial behaviors and languages. It’s an experiment in being a little less human. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood; Tue., Jan. 3, 4 p.m. (310) 443-7000, hammer.ucla.edu.
Sears, Roebuck minimalism
Among the most interesting things about John McLaughlin’s paintings are their imperfections. A self-taught California minimalist born in 1898, McLaughlin started painting full-time only in 1946, after he’d served in both world wars. From a distance, his straight-edged geometric compositions look aloof and precise, but up close, they’re idiosyncratic, at least a little worn and a lot warmer than you’d expect. The artist bought his painting supplies at Sears, which is among the reasons many of his works didn’t age too well. The white behind two sets of identical yellow, blue and black bars has yellowed slightly. As part of as part of McLaughlin’s overdue exhibition at LACMA, the curators installed chairs — made specially by artist Roy McMakin — so you can stay and spend time with the work, as if they’re old friends with whom you need to catch up. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Mid-Wilshire. (323) 857-6000, lacma.org.