Made in L.A. Hammer Biennial | Notes on Looking

Hecho en Los Angeles: Slanguage, Vincent Ramos, Nery Gabriel Lemus, Analia Saban, Camilo Ontiveros

I have to admit that I was thrilled to see that several of my favorite Latino artists were chosen to participate in Made in LA.  According to the 2010 census, Latinos make up 44.4% of Los Angeles’ population.  So I would only expect that they get some attention and recognition in a biennial about art made here.  Fortunately artists like Slanguage are making sure to educate and foster new talent in areas of LA where many Latinos live but are not traditionally recognized by the art world.  ­¡Que viva Wilmington! If you haven’t heard the news yet, Slanguage is one of the five finalists up for the Mohn award.  If they win the prize, they will receive $100,000 to continue doing the great work they do.  !No hay excusas, vota ya! This socially engaged collective includes Mario Ybarra Jr., Karla Diaz and a long list of collaborators.  Their interactive installation at LAXART This Is a Takeover, A Ten-Year Survey of Slanguage documents 10 years of projects by artists such as Christopher Reynolds, Mario “Dred” Lopez, Mario Ybarra Jr., Rick “Taker” Saenz, Christopher Rivera, Betty Marin, Gabriel “GOB” Martinez, Angelica Muro, Eric Marques, Emilio Venegas Jr., Steve De La Torre, Antonio De Jesus Lopez…The Slanguage crew es impresionante!  Their “takeover” of LAXART is like the Indians of All Tribes takeover of Alcatraz Island in 1969.  But unfortunately Slanguage won’t be there for 19 months and most likely will not be forcibly thrown out by the US government (but I won’t speak too soon…).   Not only have they taken over the building inside and out (with their incredible mural on the...

Hammer Biennial at Barnsdall: real time w/ Sarah Cain

I recognize the work as yours immediately. Then – what the heck? A small canvas catches my eye, it seems uncharacteristic in its troweled and concretic looking surface. It is simply painted grey like wet cement. I can see raw canvas, so I know it to be a thin surface, but it looks gouged, as though it were a thick, wet medium. They must be applied, these white plastic quarter-pipes. Or are these wax from candles? Whatever – there is violence in there placement, Sarah, and the knots that you’ve tied – in the photograph of knotted ribbons, around the roll of canvas – these feel as much statements, or better questions, as they do actions taken for a purpose. To tie is to gather, to wrap, to bind as a wound, and to bring support. Painted blue and edged with yellow threads is a canvas that is tacked to the front wall (artist built, I suppose) and before this painting turns the corner (which it does, and I think of Liz Larner’s “Wrapped Corner for a moment) the color holds my attention; shadows play on it like poetry. A mysterious coin, a gilt chain, an orchid, a beaded thread. (Floor tiles that you made echo Ry Rocklen’s installation in the center court of the museum.) Inside the room, among much more (that I have not time to detail) are two circles: one is dark blue outline, painted and complete, the other is stucco or toweling on canvas, is implied, and is completed by my eye (as that eye struggles against the pretty strands of orange-painted canvas looping, and...

Hammer Biennial at Barnsdall: real time w/ Cayetano Ferrer

Cayetano’s carpet does strange things to my perception of size: as visiting Getty interns enter through the angled door from the dark bowels of his installation into the Vegas-style “lobby” they appear tiny. The carpet is a wonderful mess of patterns. I want it at home. Inside, lights are projected on the demising wall in a similar mess of color, now with action. They flash. A woman in the room decides it looks like “a strip of movie film – see the sprocket holes?” This nice person also picks out among Ferrer’s references the Rialto Theatre on Sunset, Mayan patterning and the facades of Hollyhock House and other Los Angeles landmarks. I believe that the wall is patterned, too. And so it is, in relief, matching and countering the lights....

Kate Costello, Hammer Biennial second visit – Sunday, June 10

An eager smile on a lovely young woman, this smile is on a lovely nude young woman, and she posing for a camera. I think for a moment of other posing women in recent work, nude and otherwise: Jeanette Mundt, in her recent self titled exhibition at Michael Benevento proposed that (working from memory here) women are always posing, from girlhood on and that finally each woman becomes her own audience, as she considers her self in each situation in relation with her past as much as in the room around her. Mundt did not picture women in her paintings, rather she showed rooms that were decorated by women to act as sets for the roles they chose. The sense of the female presence was unavoidable, as in a funny way, it was impossible for me not to think of the artist considering her role. (Michael Benevento Gallery, select “exhibitions” “past” then Jeanette Mundt): http://www.beneventolosangeles.com/ Night Gallery, back in September showed odd nudes by an unknown artist called Jay Tucker. To me Tucker’s paintings (and their presentation by the two women who are Night Gallery) must cause problems for any reading in a strict “advantage is being taken by the male gaze” sense. Jay Tucker was a self-taught artist with an insightful grasp on zeitgeist of his day (1992 – 2005). Identity politics and late Feminism were still being played out in the universities and artist studios across the country and it must be supposed that similar active questionings were happening outside the academy, on the streets and among working people. Certainly the women in Tucker’s paintings were posing,...

Dan Finsel, The Space between You and Me / Hammer Biennial first visit, immediate impressions, part two

Dan is dancing, his feet do a ballet (they writhe like nervous, eager virgins) while his  mouth directs his muse, “Spread your legs.” His toes paint on the floor, “Now smile – not so tight. Tell me you love me. Say it.” Is it shit or blood or paint that his toes and heels smear? Clay. A sculpture asks: “Can I wait in the fireplace?” (yes sir, can I hide in your hearth, with its blow job, knee-hole eye-hole, at the very center of your heat? Can I?!) Like Penelope and like Philomela (and like neither, for Odysseus is present, not absent in his exceptional perversity and no one has been devoiced, although a rape – or two – may be taking place), Dan has woven rag rugs of inexpensive (and promisingly mec or trade) tank tops and tighty-whitey briefs, these serve as blankets to protect his obsession from the floor, or vice versa, resting on these are a table that supports one sculpture (a Minoan goddess or bastard Venus of Willendorf) and the body, the impression in clay of a months-long, torrid – if imaginary – affaire de lust. A pineapple makes an appearance and I am relieved. Two black and white photographs of this tropical fruit hang in the gallery and I wonder(ed) why. The appearance is neither explained, nor is it given context in the twenty plus minute film. I think that pineapples promise wealth and welcome guests, I recall the sweet, hormonal scent of a pineapple left too long on a table in the summer, and my imagination conjures the sticky, tangy fluid that spills...

Koki Tanaka: Beholding Performer, Performing Beholder / Hammer Biennial first visit, immediate impressions, part one

There are round reflectors in an angular room off the lobby. A beholder is reflected slightly more often than is a performer, I think each time this is true, as the characters change places. The enclosing room and the surrounding lobby are reflected most. Stairs outside (I later learn these to be an installation of artist Fiona Connor, but for now my eyes are fooled) and museum guards and guests are reflected without their knowledge, through one-way mirrored glass. The performer is now a beholder, as the former beholder plays the marimba. I recall now that when the two characters wheeled the instrument into the space in the two-screen film, they turned it several times, like a dog settling down and like a magician doing fancy work to begin orienting your eyes to his world. I catch a glimmer of the older guy’s face, as he plays, and then his hands. I wonder how his beholder, how the younger of the two as he stands, listening, how can he remain so expressionless while listening to music? When he takes up the hammers he is quite animated, intense even, but just now his face is frozen. My legs and bands of color from the lobby show up in several places, trading back and forth as the circles spin. The second performer is now doubled and trebled all across, and then erased from, the darkened gallery. He is replaced in one mirror by a print that states, “Performer,” and this is a nice coincidence of timing. A mirror near to the floor is still now, and the chairs it reflects are...