There are a few great tributes to vintage artists on this week's list. And Chinatown's fourth performance festival, always a wild card and always worth visiting for just that reason, happens this Saturday.
5. Slam poetry with Slanguage
“One hundred thousand dollars can be stretched a long way down in the ghetto,” says artist Mario Ybarra Jr. in a video he made the first week of July. His group, Slanguage Studio, is a finalist for the $100,000 Mohn Prize that will be awarded as part of the Hammer Museum's “Made in L.A.” after visitors vote for their favorite candidate. By “the ghetto” he means Wilmington, the harbor town where he and his collaborators work, offering classes and doing community art projects. This week, Slanguage hosts World's Worst Words, a night of poetry, experimental music and spoken-word performances at LAXART in Culver City. 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd., Fri., July 20, 7 p.m.; free. (310) 559-0166, laxart.org.
4. Dancing with paintings
Benjamin Millepied, who worked as a choreographer on the film Black Swan — then became Natalie Portman's fiance — and his company will be dancing among the paintings of Mark Bradford at MOCA this week. It's the first in his three-part “Framework” series, and maybe it's also a warm-up for the disco show MOCA is planning, since museum director Jeffrey Deitch hopes that show will make visitors dance in the galleries. 250 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Thurs., July 19, 7 p.m.; free. (213) 626-6222, moca.org.
3. Artists who like accidents
In 1969, Doug Edge made a bench called Earth, Seed, Water Bus Bench, fabricated out of plastic, with seeds encased inside its seat, soil in its sides and water in its back. “If it was hit by a bus it would grow,” Edge explained. That piece may be more explicit than most, but Edge's work always feels it's just waiting for an accident to happen, and then it will be complete. His tall, amber-colored tower called Leo, on view at Cardwell Jimmerson in a show about minimalism on the West Coast, is made of cast resin and has air pockets and cracks trapped underneath its surface, which would have emerged during casting. It's more about potential than perfection. The same goes for other works in the show, which was just extended into August. 8568 Washington Blvd. Culver City, through August. (310) 815-1100, cardwelljimmerson.com.
2. Peepholes and mystics
Maya Deren, a charmingly mysterious filmmaker, made Through the Eye of the Night in 1958, only three years before her death. It shows a night sky and dancers floating or flopping across the screen. Its mystical playfulness inspired the current show at Jancar Gallery. Six female artists contributed, including Tricia Lawless Murray, whose three Solar Annulus boxes have peepholes you can peer through to watch a mini-lightshow take place. The one to the far left is the best. You'll look through and see your own eye reflected back at you, while a wheel of mirrors spins around the erotic desert dreamscape Murray created inside. 961 Chung King Road, Chinatown; through July 28. (213) 259-3770, jancargallery.com.
1. Chinatown comeback
Karen Finley made Sen. Jesse Helms angry in 1990, when she did a performance called We Keep Our Victims Ready. In it, she stripped to the waist and smeared chocolate all over her body, as a protest against sexual violence (the story of Tawana Brawley, a teen who claimed she was raped and then covered in feces, provoked the performance). Helms found Finley's act, regardless of its motivation, obscene. His complaints prompted the National Endowment for the Arts to rescind a grant to Finley, and a lawsuit followed. On Saturday, Finley will perform in L.A. for the first time in more than a decade. So will local performance artists like Aaron Wrinkle and Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, for the semi-annual, raw and unpredictable Perform Chinatown festival. 933-977 Chung King Road and other locations; Sat., July 21, 4 p.m.-midnight; free. Performchinatown.com.