This week, one artist reimagines Michael Jackson's Thriller, another puts the visions of a '70s revolutionary to music and a new film tells the story of a restaurant-running SoCal commune.
5. Panther politics remix
Pictures of Huey P. Newton, the activist who co-founded the Black Panther Party in 1966, with his tilted beret, leather jacket and firearm across his chest, make him look severe and single-minded. But hear recordings of his voice and it's soft and careful. He rarely talks about himself -- he's always speaking about groups: "white America," "people of color all over the world." Artist Steffani Jemison gets at Newton's careful generalities in a quirky way in her installation at LAXART. She enlisted adventurous R&B trio Sidetrack Boyz to musically improvise a 1970 speech by Newton, one in which he talks a lot about change that's coming soon. Abstract black paintings on clear paper hang in the gallery, while the trio's voices start, stop, then start again, never hurried. 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd.; through Feb. 23. (323) 868-5893, laxart.org.
4. Mutual appreciation society
In Megan Madzoeff's funny, abstract paintings, pools of green might look like long-necked roadrunners and blotches of pink like squat monsters suspended midair. The figures in Ami Tallman's paintings are always dressed in dreamily colorful clothes, sometimes alone and regal, plucked out of some seminal historical moment, or sometimes crowded together with too many other figures to count. The suburban and small-town landscapes in Brad Spence's paintings often look blurred and slightly shrouded, like you're seeing them through a foggy car window. These are just three of the 100 or so painters participating in MAS Attack -- "MAS" stands for Mutual Appreciation Society -- a one-night painting show at L.A. Mart downtown, where all participating artists will be on-site to talk about what they do. 1933 S. Broadway; Sat., Jan. 26, 6-11 p.m. (213) 763-5731, lamart.com.
3. Jesus hunting
Ron Raffaelli and his fiancee, Isis, were casting a movie in the early '70s when Raffaelli told Isis he needed Jesuses, a number of them. She drove down to restaurant the Source, run by the Source family, where there were plenty of good-looking, long-haired men. "Out comes this man, and I just looked at him and I thought, 'Oh my God,'" Isis recounts in director Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos new documentary. "He just gave me a big hug and said, 'Welcome, welcome home.'" The man was Father Yod, head of the family, and Isis moved in soon after, as so many pretty young hippies had before her. Wille and Demopoulos's film, full of seductive, cultish visuals, screens at Barker Hangar during the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair this weekend. 3021 Airport Ave.; Fri., Jan. 25, 4 p.m. (310) 360-9071, artlosangelesfair.com.
2. Glittery guard
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Artist Samara Golden's tin-foil and tissue-paper cat, called Gate Keeper, stands guard at the entrance to "The New Now," a seven-person show at Carter & Citizen in Culver City. It has a casually menacing pose, like those gremlins and goblins that perch on ledges of Notre Dame Cathedral. But Golden's Gate Keeper is glittery purple with drips of paint and resin rolling down its limbs, and it's sitting on a pile of nuts and craisins. So it's a flimsy take on something severe and heavy, which is what the best art in this show does: Reverses the value scale so that important things seem unimportant and vice versa. 2648 La Cienega Ave.; through Feb. 9. (213) 359-2504, carterandcitizen.com.
1. Werewolf on the Harbor Freeway
As a kid, Mario Ybarra Jr. got good at "turning into a werewolf" the way Michael Jackson does in Thriller, throbbing, staggering and staring at his hands as they morph. Ybarra shot a psychedelically colored, fast-paced video of himself doing the werewolf act on the 110 South for "Double Feature," his new exhibition at Honor Fraser Gallery. He also made two busts of himself as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and big, bold self-portraits of himself as the Invisible Man from the 1933 Universal Studios film, another childhood favorite. The show captures that sense of possibility you have when you dress up as a superhero as a kid and imagine all the things you'd do, and the lives you'd lead, if you could fly or disappear on a whim. Ybarra's not a kid anymore, of course, so the show feels bittersweet and a little dark, but not cynical.2622 S. La Cienega Blvd.; through Feb. 16. (310) 837-0191, honorfraser.com.