Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Jim Shaw

Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles

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Jim Shaw, ‘The Wig Museum’, Installation view at Marciano Art Foundation, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Marciano Art Foundation. Photograph by Robert Wedemeyer

At the dark heart of Jim Shaw’s ‘The Wig Museum’ – an exhibition presented in a former Masonic Temple repurposed by brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano for their private art foundation, and incorporating myriad improbable Masonic artefacts salvaged directly from the bowels of the building – is a story about male ambition, authority, secrecy and repression. The narrative unfurls across a series of found drawings: coursework from ‘The Famous Artist’s Correspondence Course’, which Shaw discovered among his father’s belongings after he died. In red crayon on tracing paper overlays, instructors opine on Shaw Sr.’s drawings of animals, faces and women (lots of women). ‘Heads need to be longer, prettier,’ says one. Typewritten letters, dated 1955 to 1957, critique – in detail – the artist’s technical weaknesses. Apparently, Mark Shaw never gave up his day job doing package design for Dow Chemical. Read the rest of this entry »

Chadwick Rantanen

Team Bungalow, Los Angeles

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Chadwick Rantanen, Deer Rear, 2017, installation view Team Bungalow, Los Angeles

The pall of death hangs over Chadwick Rantanen’s exhibition ‘Alarmer’. This is ironic because many of the constituent objects in his assemblage sculptures are expressly designed to simulate life. Battery-operated hunting decoys flap their wings and wag their tails in order to attract animals that are living (though soon to be dead). Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Bradford

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Mark Bradford, Black Venus, 2005, mixed-media collage, 330 × 498 cm. Photo: Jason Dewey. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, London & Los Angeles

 

It was a stupid question anyway. Something about having success and opportunity and yet continuing to experiment, still taking risks. Though he has made sculptures, videos and site-specific installations, Mark Bradford was first celebrated, early in his career, for his panoramic, expressively exhausted collage-paintings made from sanded strata of coloured paper, which were almost always understood as reflecting the gritty streetscape of South Central Los Angeles. A long Los Angeles Times profile from 2006, a decade after he graduated from art school, describes him as a ‘hometown boy made good on the international art scene’. His first solo show at a major commercial gallery was in 2001, at Lombard-Freid Fine Arts, New York, sassily titled I Don’t Think You Ready For This Jelly. Since then his work has climbed in value, shored up by solid institutional support – a professional status reflected this year in his representation of the United States at the Venice Biennale. Read the rest of this entry »

Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery 1959–1971

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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Virginia Dwan at the exhibition Language III, Dwan Gallery, New York, 1969, photograph by Roger Prigent, courtesy of Dwan Gallery Archive

There was no way it was ever not going to be a mess: eleven years of one of the most influential American art galleries, condensed into a 100,000 square foot section of LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion. Consider the fact that many of the artworks in the 134 exhibitions held over those eleven years turned out to be canonical Modernist masterpieces, and were acquired by museums or major private collections around the globe, many now unwilling or unable to lend them. Others were destroyed, or lost, or are too delicate to go on public display. Some – not all of them masterpieces – entered LACMA’s own collection, so of course they wound up in this show, whether they fully deserved to be there or not. Read the rest of this entry »

Frances Stark

Frances Stark, still from 'The Magic Flute', 2017, ©? Frances Stark (1)

Frances Stark, still from ‘The Magic Flute’, 2017

When artist Frances Stark was invited to participate in the prestigious 2017 Whitney Biennial, last year, she was in the middle of producing an opera. She had no time for interruptions. It was her first opera: Mozart’s Magic Flute, a re-orchestrated and retranslated version of which she recorded with a group of young musicians, and then turned into a text-based video with animated subtitles in place of the sung libretto. She considers the work – which premieres at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on 28 April – an experiment in pedagogy, an educative experience both for the players and the audience. It is the most ambitious and collaborative production of the 50-year-old Los Angeles artist’s career. Read the rest of this entry »

Judith Bernstein

The Box, Los Angeles

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In the Bible, Judith was a beautiful and fearless Israelite widow who saved her besieged people from the army of King Nebuchadnezzar, which was led by the general Holofernes. She prayed to God to make her a good liar, then inveigled her way into the enemy camp where she hacked off Holofernes’s head after he tried to have sex with her. Read the rest of this entry »

Anthony Lepore

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Anthony Lepore, Mirage, 2015, Pigment Print, 40×52 inches

For Christmas in 2012, Anthony Lepore’s father gave him a section of a bikini factory in eastern Los Angeles—rows eleven to fifteen, to be exact. A few months earlier Lepore had inquired whether his dad might have any surplus space that he and his partner, the artist Michael Henry Hayden, could use for a studio. Real estate in Los Angeles is increasingly expensive but Lepore’s father, whose bikini business has been declining since the 1980s, had more than he needed.

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