The UCLA Hammer Museum hedged its bets in compiling ”Snapshot,“ its state-of-the-art survey of L.A. art-world up-and-comers — it ”makes no claim to be comprehensive“ and ”offers one picture of a moment from a continually evolving scene.“ This is just as well, because most of the work included wouldn’t live up to a more imposing curatorial premise. I suppose it‘s educational to see what this week’s matriculating class thinks they can get away with in the name of ‘90s slacker aesthetics and late-20th-century art-historical amnesia, but except for a handful of artists, it’s a pretty enervating affair. Thankfully, that handful makes a visit worthwhile. Eric Wesley‘s elaborate (and untitled) proposal to convert the Hammer’s underground parking structure into a Jiffy Lube, with the used motor oil recycled into objets d‘art in the higher chambers of the institution, is funny enough to carry its weight even before the implications of its site specificity (think Armand and Occidental Oil) kick in. Steve Roden takes his pop hermeticism to a new extreme in his intricately carved, 480-inch-long Surface of the Moon, which uses an elaborately detailed system to generate a unique chess-piece-like sculpture for each of that satellite’s craters. Roden also contributed a sound installation to the Hammer‘s inner courtyard: Bird Forms is easy to miss in its subtlety, but look and listen for it — the flock of speakers deploy a continually shifting lunar soundscape of electronically altered birdcalls to dissolve and disarm Westwood’s usually invasive traffic din.
Kori Newkirk shows two new photo-realist pony-bead curtains that spell out the dislocation of the accompanying Nowhere — the bead-curtain urban horizon-line from his first solo show in 1999. Monique Van Genderen‘s site-specific abstract wall piece, made from peel-’n‘-stick vinyl, is her best yet. Jonathan Pylypchuk’s scabby cartoons tread a fine line between sarcasm and sentimentality. While occasionally falling too far to one side or the other, the works are uniformly hilarious and graced by an offhand compositional and colorist facility that is obscured by the fuck-you humility of the materials. Tessa Chasteen‘s untitled drawings incorporating ships and kitties (just like Ivan Morley’s recent painting show — what is this, a new genre?) shift elegantly from gooey expressionist splotches to narrative illustration to diagrammatic doodling. Aiko Hachisuka‘s quirky fabric mimicking of a mangled shopping cart is rendered even odder by its lack of context, but leaves you curious to see more.
One ”Snapshot“ artist whose work definitely suffers from isolation is Katie Grinnan. Her Water Ballet, intricately folded kaleidoscopic ink-jet photo-prints arranged in a blue fractal cascade, intrigues from a distance, but loses its energy on close inspection. Some of the works in her concurrent solo show down Wilshire at ACME suffer from the same slightness, but manage thanks to the supportive company of several more substantial works. Bag Mouth and Sunset, both consisting of minimally anthropomorphic figures posed in front of abject photo murals, suggest that Grinnan’s greatest strengths actually lie outside the finicky ephemerality of her better-known work.
Next door to ACME, Roberts & Tilton has assembled its own little snapshot of young L.A., with the similarly arbitrary title ”Bloodlines,“ which fares at least as well as ”Snapshot“ in presenting satisfying art. In the category of horrifying-‘70s-craft-trends-given-new-life-through-art, the macrame wreath goes to Laura Howe, whose poured colored-sand landscapes seem surprisingly serious. Less serious is Powderhound, a crudely charming pop sculpture of a bear careening on a snowmobile, by Paul Cherwick, lodge brother of the aforementioned Pylypchuk. Richard Nielsen contributes two sketchy but winning paintings, which both include images of deconstructed ships — what, no kitties? — while Keith Sklar assembles vertical, rebuslike sentences of his cast-paint tchotchkes, creating linear clusters of imagery that are adventurous both formally and content-wise. Samara Caughey’s abstract wood-and-fabric assemblage sculptures and minimal collages convey a spare poetry, while Break Off, Michael Dee‘s tiny fragment of video showing ice being chopped, is turned into a dazzlingly self-referential loop that is both visually and aurally compelling. Dominating the gallery is Joel Morrison’s impressive painted-Styrofoam tower constructed from horizontal 3-D renderings of graffiti.
I have yet to be convinced by the young wave of L.A. grad-school sculpture that has been heralded elsewhere — too much of it looks like slapdash ripoffs of what the artists‘ professors were doing 10 years ago. Evan Holloway’s current solo show across the yard at Marc Foxx goes a little over halfway toward remedying this. Three of the six pieces in the show are keepers — the ridiculously oversized Incense Sculpture and obnoxiously unrealizable The Sculpture That Goes With the Bank make slapstick plays on sculptural scale in the respective 1970s vernaculars of decorator kitsch and abstract corporate public sculpture. Ant Decoy Sculpture undermines the jerry-rigged high-culture pretensions of Holloway‘s earlier modernist twig-grids with a painted stream of tiny black ants. 12-Bar Blues Sculpture explores the interesting relationship between sound, sculpture and architectural space, but not in a particularly funny or revelatory way, so it gets half points. Holloway, who (apart from his wooden projectors) has in the past seemed to be claiming a presence beyond the reach of his talents, here strikes a balance by scaling down his ambitions and substituting a tart silliness for the ponderous faux-conceptual insider humor of his early work.
While you’re in the neighborhood, stop by Daniel Weinberg‘s gallery for the impressively lurid, ridiculously thick-painted plaids by Albert Contreras, which verge on Godawfulism, and be sure to put in some time with painter Roger Herman’s acidic new domestic interiors at Suzanne Vielmetter, particularly the kitchen scenes. This gets you up by ACE, which is the best one-stop viewing experience in L.A. at this particular moment in this evolving scene, though a good chunk of the work is from New York, and the most spectacular work — Dennis Oppenheim‘s weird-plus Snowman Factory — dates from 1995. Oppenheim’s reputation slipped early in his stardom, when he forsook the Smithsonian field operations that got him attention for the droller, narrative-haunted sculpture he‘s created since. The result has been that Oppenheim is often surprisingly better than you expect, and the work here is no exception. In addition to the factory — an uncanny cartoon conflating the creepiness of an abandoned playground with an almost crippling Modernist self-awareness doubling as a critique of art-world production — ACE is showing the also ominously goofy Red Lamp Dog, a dog-shaped latticework of steel pipes housing a dozen or so glowing red table lamps.
British pop sculptor Vincent James delivers further cartoonish sculptural works, on a decidedly more whimsical note — most of these works wouldn’t look out of place in Disneyland‘s Toontown. Not that that’s a bad thing: Most art collections would be improved by one of James‘ foam pie splats. Joel Morrison, whose Styrofoam graffiti stack dominated the ”Bloodlines“ space, is allowed to stretch out here in his first solo show. Another stack, plus the rickety Pink Architectural Model With Red Windows, towers over a collection of enormous scrappy blobs assembled from foam, tape, carpeting and God knows what, then painted or bandaged with a final layer of colored gaffer tape. The work, though somewhat reminiscent of Jessica Stockholder, brings a welcome painterly process to young-L.A. sculptural practice.
Though I wasn’t as bowled over as some by the small abstract paintings of New Yorker Thomas Nozkowski, I can appreciate their handsome finish and considerable formal charms. More interesting are the two locals bracketing him, John Millei and David Amico. Millei‘s three large ”flower“ paintings take on one of the hoariest fine-art traditions with kick-ass results, layering discrete strata of billowing abstract forms to create theatrically giddy illusionistic depths that should have Georgia O’Keefe spinning in her grave (just in time for Dave Hickey‘s Beau Monde at Site Santa Fe!). Amico serves up a variety pack of high-caliber work ranging from several oddly dreamy schematics of office chairs and the Chinese takeout Zen of To Go, to a new group of works that flirt aggressively with the limits of the artist’s customary tastefulness by incorporating washes of transparent purple and turquoise inks (Plugs, Pinwheel) and other difficult colors (Ledger) to achieve a manic flamboyance.
Finally, the east wing of ACE is given over to three exceptional sculptures by the N.Y. artist Tara Donovan, who creates visually stunning works and installations with commonplace objects. Toothpicks, the most spectacular, consists of more than 3 million toothpicks held in a cube shape by gravity and friction alone. Impressive as this is, I‘m getting tired of quotidian riffing on the minimalist cube. Couldn’t she have made a tree, or a kitty in a sailing ship? Oh well, no such overworked tropes mar Donovan‘s other two works — both sprawling floor pieces. One is an accumulation of tiny metastasizing puddles of Elmer’s Glue that wind up looking like something that tries to wrap itself around Raquel Welch in Fantastic Voyage. The other, Moire, is an optically dizzying installation of loosely rolled adding-machine tape arranged in overlapping disc shapes. I take it back about the toothpicks. What‘s really winning about Donovan is that she doesn’t subordinate the powerful and intriguing visual qualities she teases from her mundane materials to any gimmicky conceit, but allows her works to expand organically and at their own pace, without trying to make them be what they‘re not. This is, of course, how it should be.