10. SHIRLEY TSE, “Polymathicstyrene” at Shoshana Wayne
Shirley Tse’s long-overdue L.A. solo debut consisted of scores of layered rectangular blue polystyrene slabs incised with intricate circuitlike patterns and arranged around the perimeter of the large main gallery at waist level. The reading-room narrative linearity suggested by this arrangement was at odds with the post-literate cyber-simultaneity alluded to in the choice of materials and ultramodern carvings, and added a decidedly impure tinge of sci-fi archaeological intrigue to what is already an ornate and engrossing formal tour de force.
9. ED RUSCHA, “Editions 1959–1999” at LACMA
If there‘s ever been a bad Ed Ruscha show, I never heard of it. This retrospective of the artist’s prints from the last 40 years, organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, was one of the best. From the Popism of the Standard Stations and Hollywood-sign landscapes, to his virtual invention of the “artist‘s book,” to the flat-out weirdness of silk-screens clogged with such unlikely “inks” as caviar, baked beans, raw egg, mango chutney and, appropriately, Pepto-Bismol, Ruscha never makes a wrong move, constantly keeping one step ahead of the fickle art-world tastemongers. Ruscha, never a painter’s painter, is clearest when his work approaches pure flatness, as it did here, resulting in perhaps the most succinct primer for Ruscha‘s career.
8. JOE FRANK, The Other Side, KCRW, Sunday at 11 a.m. (rebroadcast Saturday at 7 p.m.)
Although I’ve listened to Joe Frank on and off for years, for some reason I caught about five shows in a row this fall and was reminded again of what a reliable anomaly his unclassifiable hourlong radio show is. Which probably explains why, in spite of awards and that NPR sort-of fame, he doesn‘t receive the credit he deserves. While academia seems to have taken a shine to “radio art” as a genre, the idea hasn’t quite penetrated the awareness of most programming directors, even at the college and pirate-radio level. In spite of a brief retirement threat in the late ‘90s, Frank continues to set a compelling standard for what is possible in the medium, and does so almost every week.
7. PAUL McCARTHY at MOCA
This midcareer survey demonstrates McCarthy’s progression from slightly mischievous formalist through confrontational psycho-dramaturge to imagineer for the Recovered Memory and Condiment-Slide Theme Park. While it‘s certainly easy to see why squares get uptight at the not-infrequent depictions of incest, bestiality and violence in McCarthy’s work, it‘s harder to understand how the so-called “shock” obliterates the tremendous visual, comic and theatrical power of the work, especially among members of the art world. He should have his own public-access cable show.
6. PUBLIC-ACCESS CABLE
I’ve had it in the back of my mind for a couple of years to curate a show of Outsider Video Art — the combination of the more widespread availability of the technology and the increasing art-world prejudice in favor of pricey, vacuous video installations has created a rich stratum of seldom-seen visionary DIY-TV. When I got cable, though, I was soon reminded of the redundancy of the concept, insomuch as the Outsiders already have their own station. Or, rather, stations. No mass-media cranny — independent film, college radio and the Internet included — has quite the same egalitarianism and history of unbridled crackpot creativity as the public-access stations that local cable providers are obliged to maintain across America. Public- and educational-access programs are responsible for more original programming than the four networks and PBS combined. In L.A., while you may have to sit through a half-hour stationary shot of some fat City Council hopeful droning next to a potted plant (quite hypnotic, actually), from straight out of left field you‘ll be rewarded with the brain-seizing artistry of Zuma Dogg, Colin’s Sleazy Friends or Francine Dancer Variety Show #1. The possibility that L.A.‘s public access might not survive ongoing franchise renegotiations between the city and increasingly corporate cable companies makes such outre fare all the more precious.
5. GINNY BISHTON at Richard Telles
Ginny Bishton’s abstract photo-collages — dense organic patterns made up from hundreds of tiny circular images cut from snapshots taken on the artist‘s daily walks — possess all the scintillating visual appeal of a finely crafted mosaic, while simultaneously embodying solid conceptual explorations of the relationship between process and product in art making and the translation of a temporal experience of the landscape into a two-dimensional object. Each of the five works in the show radiated an unlikely presence, engaging at a contemplative level with the feeling that a vast reservoir of time lay encoded in its deceptively decorative sampling.
4. E CHEN at Richard Telles
In a time when uniformity and predictability seem to guarantee art-world success, it’s unsurprising that E Chen‘s continually surprising work continues to be overlooked. In his third solo show at Richard Telles — following the Titanic Casino hoax and last year’s cast-vegetable-‘n’-coupling-torso installation, Chen combined an austere permutative sculptural minimalism with a restless performative strategy and a threadbare povera aesthetic by combining hundreds of 2x4x7–inch wooden blocks into an architectural exoskeleton for a cluster of cast-off doors, windows and furniture — not once, but once each week for the duration of the show. Riddled with elegant sculptural passages and sly visual puns, each arrangement undercut the stinginess associated with its minimalist precursors by providing abundant formal stimulation, while destabilizing its own precious objecthood in a seductive and invigorating one-two, putting all the fun back into playing with blocks that Carl Andre and Donald Judd took out. And more.
3. JIM SHAW at Patrick Painter, and MARNIE WEBER, “Sleepy Weepy Stories,” at Rosamund Felsen Gallery
The strength of these almost simultaneous shows by two of Los Angeles‘ most idiosyncratic pop-surrealist masters becomes almost unfathomable when you consider the work was done in the midst of an all-consuming collaborative project — the artists’ infant daughter, Colette. Overcoming their baby‘s colic to operate at the peak of their skills, both artists served up their strongest shows in recent memory — Shaw with a generous batch of mutant-kitsch art objects re-created deadpan from his dreams, Weber with a breakthrough series of larger-scaled photo-collages and two multimedia sculptures rippling with phantasmagoria of sexually charged, wounded funny-animal antics tapping the feverish dark side of childhood. That kid’s got her work cut out.
2. TIM HAWKINSON, Pentecost at ACE
The metastasizing imagination of Tim Hawkinson reached a new plateau of unwieldiness back East this year with an airplane-hangar-size player-pianobagpipe contraption called Uberorgan at MASS MOCA. Angelenos were not deprived, though, as Hawkinson finally graced us with Pentecost, a huge faux-finish Yggdrasil affixed with a Last Supper‘s worth of simulacral drummer boys modeled after the artist’s recurring “bathtub-generated” topographical self-portrait. Combining the innovative spatial programming of his earlier inflatable latex self-portrait systems with a simultaneously arresting and soothing audio environment, Hawkinson conjured a hilariously futile jungle telegraph of unintelligible percussive crosstalk, with a wealth of unforced cognitive and spiritual connotations lurking just under its entertaining surface.
1. BRUCE CONNER at MOCA
This non-retrospective of psychedelic daddy-o Conner‘s mind-boggling (combined with fellow Bay Area renaissance dude William Wiley’s watercolors and sculptures at L.A. Louver, a serious dose indeed) forays into assemblage, painting, drawing, printmaking, collage, photograms and film is a model for the presentation of such a wide-ranging oeuvre, thanks in no small part to the artist‘s own insistence on the soundproof enclosure of the three small theaters included. From his hugely influential sculptural clusters of discarded cultural minutiae and separately but equally substantial contribution to experimental filmmaking, to his little-known attempts at bodily disintegration through silver-nitrate alchemy, Conner, through his sharply focused oscillation between literal and conceptual black-and-whites, unleashes not the expected haze of gray, but a torrent of fractal possibilities that continues to inspire, even decades after the fact.