This week, there's a concise, color-coordinated performance that's kind of about a bird, an art show that unfolds over the telephone and a slightly surreal stairwell in Pasadena.
5. Dangerous dreaming
“Learn to Dream,” written across John Baldessari's new print five times in five different colors, sounds cliche — not as bad as “dare to dream,” maybe, but something an after-school program might have on a banner over its doorway. But repeat the words in your head as you move from 1301PE's downstairs gallery, where Baldessari's print hangs, to the upstairs space. There, Rirkrit Tiravanija's slick enamel-on-steel text pieces say things like “All You Need Is Dynamite” or “Up Against the Wall Motherfucker,” and the dreaming Baldessari alluded to doesn't seem so cute and catchy anymore. 6150 Wilshire Blvd.; through Sept. 15. (323) 938-5822, 1301pe.com.
4. Radio on the telephone
Artist Rob Faucette first heard the phrase “Amy radio” from a guy he met in northern Vermont. It was slang for “A.M.,” the guy told him. That gave Faucette the idea for Amy Radio, a series of radio shows he first produced for a station in Vienna. The songs, ads, sound effects and narratives that made up the series borrowed the nostalgic, quaint tone of late-night radio or variety shows à la Prairie Home Companion (Faucette produced some terribly cliche cowboy ballads). Starting this week, 323 Projects, which is an answering service and not a place, will feature a new Amy episode daily. The whole thing's delightfully archaic: calling a land line to listen to the radio. Through Aug. 31. (323) 843-4652 or (323) TIE-IN-LA, 323projects.com.
3. Stairwell intervention
Nate Page, the same artist-engineer who turned Echo Park's Machine Project from a storefront to a plaza last winter, has tweaked the Armory Center for the Arts' main stairwell. He removed one of the heavy-duty metal handrails, tilted it 90 degree and reinstalled it atop a waist-high white pedestal. The pedestal bisects the wooden stairs, angling first toward the wall, then out toward the middle of the first landing, and then back toward the wall. The alterations are slight but they're still mind-bending, and you pay more attention to your climb than you ever would have. 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; through June 2013. (626) 792-5101, armoryarts.org.
2. Risking vulnerability at LACMA
“It's so embarrassing to approach somebody and say you want to look at them,” photographer Wolfgang Tillmans said in 2011. “But without that risk-taking, nothing can happen.” He has a selection of photographs in the “Figure and Form” exhibition on the third floor of LACMA's Broad Contemporary. They hang right across from images bequeathed to artist Zoe Crosher, self-portraits of a sometimes brazen, sometimes demur world traveler who, among many other things, moonlighted as an escort. In that same room, Cindy Sherman poses in photos she took of herself, looking like a film noir femme fatale. The gallery is full of vulnerability — on the part of subject, photographer or both — and the net effect is stirring. 5905 Wilshire Blvd.; through Oct. 14. (323) 857-6010, lacma.org.
1. Elementary-school existentialist
“Nothing is just a word. Emptiness is a synonym for the word nothing,” said a little girl in a purple tutu halfway through artist Emily Mast's performance B!RDBRA!N when it debuted last January. The girl kept on going, articulating abstractions like this as if she owned them. Mast's play, vaguely inspired by the true story of a parrot with the intellect of a 5-year-old (in the debut, another child actor in a gray bird suit played the parrot), is full of such perfectly staged, confident yet unconventional language experiments. And, occasionally, the cast breaks out in dance. A rendition of B!RDBRA!N appears this week in the final stretch of redcat.org.