This week, a gorilla guards an oversized balloon sculpture, LACMA screens work by a pioneer in animation, and the swing set takes on new, psychological dimensions.
5. Power to destroy
Sculptor Sterling Ruby's ceramic basins look like miniature wastelands, full of destroyed, melted artifacts and burned body parts. His tall, stalagmite sculptures often are blood-red and messy, with drips of resin rolling down their sides. This work, and the fact that he's thought a lot about what it means to equate destruction with freedom and to live in America during our weird 21st-century wars, makes him the perfect candidate to pull MOCA's current “Destroy the Picture” exhibition of post-WWII art into the present. Ruby likely will do just that when he speaks at MOCA this week. 250 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Thurs., Sept. 13, 7 p.m.; free. (213) 626-6222, moca.org.
4. Balloons like death
Stephen Colbert introduced Jeff Koons as “the world's most expensive birthday clown” when the artist appeared on The Colbert Report in July. Later, he asked Koons why so many of his sculptures depict balloon animals. “Did a clown take it from you as a child or something?” he asked. “Are you trying to get it back…?” Not exactly, said Koons. “They're like us, we're balloons. You take a breath, you inhale and it's optimism. You exhale, it's kind of a symbol of death.” At Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills right now, there is a 20-foot tall, 3-D image of balloons that looks colored in with crayons and a shorter but still larger-than-life black granite gorilla standing guard nearby. 456 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills; through Feb. 14. (310) 271-9400; gagosian.com.
3. Freeways and waterways
In 2005, Hans Schabus walked the 52-mile length of the Los Angeles River, photographing all its bridges, making maps and taking notes. Around the same time, the Culver City-based Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) was “documenting” Interstate 80 in northwestern Utah, photographing all the sites where drainage culverts, pipes that allow water to flow across a freeway, crossed I-80. Double Crossings at the Mackey Apartments pairs Schabus' and CLUI's projects, the former a journey along water crossed by roads, the latter a journey along a road crossed by water. 1137 S. Cochran Ave.; through March 2. (323) 939-9420, makcenter.org.
2. Psychedelics before the 1960s
Len Lye's 1936 film Rainbow Dance is a bank ad. But it's about as abstract and freewheeling as an ad could ever be. It has some of the magic of early Disney, the faded look that vintage prints of Fantasia must have. It's also prematurely psychedelic: You see characters splitting into two or three versions of themselves, dancing with tennis rackets, pantomiming, leaping across a multicolored screen all to a jazzy soundtrack. Then finally, you hear, “Post Office Savings Bank puts a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for you,” a funny tag on the end of an avant-garde experiment. A selection of Lye's animations screens at LACMA this week. 5905 Wilshire Blvd.; Thurs., Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. (323) 857-6010, lacma.org.
1. Playground defecation
Andra Ursuta's installation at Ghebaly Gallery, “Mothers, Let Your Daughters Out Into the Street,” features a swing set with a smart, suave design. Two angled cinderblock towers hold up an orange-red pole, from which four colored, perfectly rectangular swings hang. These swings have holes in their seats, which at first look like just another design flourish — maybe the round openings are meant to contrast with the squareness of the seats. But according to the press release, Ursuta added the holes partly in response to psychologist Alice Miller's writing about a young child paranoid about his parents' expectations for him, working to meet those expectations by controlling everything about himself down to his bowel movements. The swing set, titled Natural Born Artist, would be a solution for a child who needed to relieve himself right on time, and the idea of excrement flying out of those perfect, colored swings is hard to purge from your head even if you'll never actually see it happen. 2600 S. La Cienega Blvd.; through Jan. 7. (310) 280-0777, ghebaly.com.