The Mike Kelley survey that's traveling to MOCA this spring includes a video, Superman Recites Selections From The Bell Jar and Other Works by Sylvia Plath. What I know about it from photos and reviews is that a dapper actor playing Superman, dressed in the requisite blue, red and yellow suit, directs Plath's harrowing but perfectly pithy lines toward a replica of Kandor, his now-destroyed alien hometown. The Kandor replica sits inside a big plastic water jug, like a bell jar, and limited light makes both Superman and the plastic glisten slightly.
In a deep, TV-narrator voice, Superman recites: “Through the slits of my eyes, which I didn't dare open too far, lest the full view strike me dead … ” Esther, the narrator in Plath's Bell Jar, says these words when undergoing shock treatment and confusing doctors with phantoms.
I imagine this video playing near, but not right next to, Kelly's actual Kandor sculpture, and viewers feeling somehow liberated by watching the vulnerability of a poet often portrayed as femininely weak collapse into the vulnerability of the superhero. Liberated isn't the same thing as hopeful, but the viewers still will feel as if they understand something new and important.
Or maybe they won't feel this way. But given the reviews the show received when it debuted in Amsterdam and then went to P.S.1 in New York, there's no reason to doubt the work's ripple effects.
In writing previews, critics tend to say safe things, such as, “The exhibition has been a long time in coming” (in regard to the upcoming John Divola survey), or, “It shouldn't disappoint” (in regard to a show of Balthus' renderings of girls and cats). That's fair, especially since art, like music or movies, is rarely the best or worst ever. Usually, it's somewhere between.
But in the anticipatory stage, before you have enough information to say, “maybe better next time,” why hedge?
If L.A. art meets all expectations this season, it will, I think, unfold something like this:
1. April Street's “A Vulgar Proof,” her second solo exhibition at Carter & Citizen, will open in January. The curves of the black nylon that protrudes from the otherwise rectangular frames of her paintings will feel provocatively muscular. Street's bronze Elizabethan collars, whose solid frills spiral out from the wall, will be even better (she studied traditional casting methods in Italy). They'll have the effect actress Jennifer Beals does when playing police chiefs or commanding officers: She still has the infectious prettiness she had in Flashdance, but she has steeled herself against nonsense.
2. In the second week of February, the exhibition “Take It or Leave It,” curated by the Hammer's Anne Ellegood and the New Museum's Johanna Burton, will open at the Hammer Museum. It's an idea-driven show, an examination of Institutional Critique, that vein of artmaking that takes a hard look at museums, galleries and other fixtures of the art world. By most accounts, it began in the 1970s, when Hans Haacke exhibited projects such as plaques engraved with quotes from corporate museum donors. One quoted David Rockefeller: Promoting the arts, he said, “can build better customer relations, a readier acceptance of company products.” Projects like Haacke's are smart. They're also dry. By including work like Sue Williams' sassy, sexist-bashing, cartoonist-meets-expressionism drawings and the deeply angry paintings David Wojnarowicz made during the AIDS crisis, Ellegood and Burton will present Institutional Critique as attitude and indignation that sweeps you up.
3. Carlee Fernandez's exhibition at ACME opens that same week in February. In prepping for this show, she traveled to Holland, where her father lives, to photograph herself with him, and made a family calendar with everyone's birthdates on it. This might sound insular, but it won't be. Fernandez's sculptures, often just larger than human-size, are colorful and capricious — her last show featured a taxidermied fox on a stump, leaning onto an oversized, solid spider's web. Her photographs have a formal deliberateness, which works to give Fernandez a certain rational distance from her subjects. She'll invite viewers into a web of relationships she has portrayed with authority but hasn't yet untangled.
4. This spring, the exhibitions that playful, new age–minimalist sculptor Alice Könitz has been putting on at the Los Angeles Museum of Art (LAMOA) will become progressively stronger. The artists who exhibit in the portable 9-foot-by-14-foot-by-8-foot open-air museum that Könitz built and set up behind her studio in Eagle Rock will learn that the most interesting shows are the ones that engage the viewers' bodies and make being in that small space an experiment in heightened awareness.
5. While LAMOA comes more into its own, the Mike Kelley survey will open at MOCA. It will be well attended, and people — artists as well as non-artists — will talk about it. How did Kelley manage to be so abject and unnerving but at the same time so conscious of his viewers? Maybe it was neediness as much as generosity — he needed an audience to understand.
6. Sometime later, at ForYourArt on Wilshire Boulevard, Micol Hebron will exhibit her “(en)Gendered (in)Equity” project, a series of posters made in response to Hebron's list of the male-female ratio of artists on L.A. gallery rosters. Artists who volunteered made posters for individual galleries, interpreting the stats as they saw fit. Chie Yamayoshi made one for International Art Objects (79 percent male artists) with lots of phalluses made of stone or plastic, wielding chainsaws or setting off rockets; Dan Levenson's for Cherry and Martin was much more minimal, a large strip of (boy) blue above a smaller strip of (girl) pink. This time, Hebron will include New York galleries, and that addition will have the desired effect: At least in art-related circles, people will wonder why such a gender disparity persists and what could change it.
7. This next one should/could happen, though there are no plans that I know of: Maybe in April or May, Jibade-Khalil Huffman, who had his first solo show last fall at Samuel Freeman, will project a video on the side of a building downtown or along Wilshire somewhere. It will have a soundtrack of some sort, and an energy that is as memorable as the looped Molly Ringwald head-swinging video he included in his MFA show. People will stop to watch for long enough to take in some of it, and certain people will linger.
8. Later in the spring, the second L.A. Biennial will open at the Hammer. It will be smaller and less of a big deal than the last one, which will make it easier to pay close attention to what's in it. Curators Michael Ned Holte and Connie Butler will present a version of L.A. art that's curious about how people navigate uncomfortable or just slightly unfamiliar situations. It will be unpretentious but definitely ambitious.