I have to start this listmaking thing by putting aside a few categories. First, the favorite things I’ve already written about this year for L.A. Weekly – The Center for Land Use Interpretation’s “A Trip to the Dump” bus tour; Martin Kersels’ “Heavyweight Champion” at Santa Monica Museum; Amanda Ross-Ho’s “Half of What I Say Is Meaningless” at Cherry and Martin; China Adams’ “Flights of Fancy” at Steve Turner; Peter Saul’s OCMA retrospective; Kippenberger’s “Problem Perspective” and “Allen Kaprow” at MOCA; “California Video” at the Getty, and so on.
What’s left is a mishmash of shows I’d like to have written about, books and other pop media artifacts, and other remarkable stuff that fell through the cracks.
Jeffrey Vallance’s awe-inspiring Track 16 installation honoring the 30th anniversary of the interment of grocery store–bought Blinky the Friendly Hen at the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery. The “life-size” Blinky Chapel contained dozens of artifacts from a replica fryer lying in state to elaborate reliquaries featuring bone fragments from the 1988 exhumation and forensic analysis of Blinky’s remains. Even a bad joke becomes transcendent if you keep telling it long enough, and Blinky was no bad joke. Snag the limited-edition catalog reprint, bumper sticker and Frisbee — a sound investment in these spiritually shaky times.
Lynn Aldrich’s assemblages of commercial products are some of the most underrated sculptures in the contemporary L.A. scene. Incorporating plungers, sponges, brushes, mop heads, scrubbers and scouring pads, Starting Over (Neo-Atlantis) was the over-the-top centerpiece of “All Nature Sings” at Carl Berg Gallery and the most exhilarating feminist-psychedelic simulated coral-reef sculptures L.A. has seen — at least until the Institute for Figuring’s hyperbolic crochet variety manifests at Track 16 in April.
Kori Newkirk’s twin shows at the Pasadena Museum of California Art and LAXART, and LACMA’s “Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement” were institutional revelations, demonstrating how the art of identity politics — once the bastion of puritanical antisensuality — can produce art as lively and formally generous as any, while setting the bar for how major public venues ought to be supporting deserving young local talent in a timely and vigorous manner.
David McDonald’s delicate and subtle postindustrial abstract sculptures at Jancar (and currently in Jail) are among the best of the current wave of historically informed formalism emerging in L.A. — alongside cellmate Chris Pate, and most of what shows at Jancar Gallery (my favorite new space of the year, which took over the original Black Dragon space in Chinatown without missing a beat).
This year’s prize for curatorial revival of a willfully forgotten (and, for many, still difficult) niche of L.A. art history goes to author Norman Hathaway’s book Overspray (Picturebox), which chronicles the rise and fall of the glistening, coke-fueled airbrush-illustration movement that emerged here and briefly dominated the popular visual landscape with oozing Chris’ Big Cherry candies and gargantuan Rod Stewarts. Pop at its most unironic pinnacle.
Another overlooked regional treasure is the four-tentacled genius that is the Firesign Theatre, whose classic comedy albums rank among the greatest narrative experiments of the 20th century, and who have collected the exploits of their most beloved fictional protagonist — paisley noir gumshoe Nick Danger — onto a four-disc compilation called Box of Danger (Shout Factory), which includes Danger’s widely heard original appearance from 1969 as well as “The Case of the Missing Shoe” and “The Three Faces of Al,” probably the strongest material of FT’s ’80s output, plus a wealth of previously unreleased radio shows and live performances.
John Kilduff’s cable-access instructional program reached a new low/high point with Let’s Paint the Tinman & Perform Open Heart Surgery (www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPsv1mesTwc) before airing its final episode a couple of Saturdays ago. Banished (along with a huge pool of local amateur creative talent) from the supposedly public-owned airwaves by new state cable-franchising rules, “Let’s Paint TV” has successfully migrated to the Internet with a daily home-based webcast (www.letspainttv.com). Maybe Francine Dancer and Skip E. Lowe can operate from his garage. Oh, and while you’re on youtube, check out BrianBress’ Op-o-licious video for Wounded Lion’s debut single, Pony People: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgcWLpA2NXE.