Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Category: Frieze

Linda Stark

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Linda Stark, Bastet, 2016, oil on canvas over panel, 91 × 91 × 5 cm. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Brian Forrest

Hanging in Linda Stark’s studio, earlier this year, were four square oil paintings of cats. Only one painting showed the entire animal; in the other three, feline heads floated disembodied, like portentous apparitions. In Self-Portrait with Ray (2017), the eponymous grey tabby’s head appears life-sized, inside a pink disc located at the precise centre of the canvas and also at the centre of the artist’s forehead, like a third eye. Both Ray and Stark look straight at us; Stark’s eyes are rimmed with white tears. Read the rest of this entry »

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Robert Colescott

Blum & Poe, Los Angeles

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Robert Colescott, Portrait of the Artist at 85, 1978, Acrylic on canvas, 83 7/8 x 65 3/4 x 1 5/8 inches. Courtesy of Blum & Poe, Los Angeles

The last work in Robert Colescott’s exhibition at Blum & Poe is a drawing that, for me, comes close to unlocking the entire show. In it, God – a long-haired, bearded white man – flanked in his throne by two jackbooted, fascistic angels, directs Martin Luther King (identifiable by the gunshot wound in his chest, and also a helpful label) towards hell, where a black-skinned Lucifer, grinning grotesquely, beckons him down. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Stories of Almost Everyone’

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

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Kapwani Kiwanga, Flowers for Africa, 2014. Installation view, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Joshua White.

In 1997, artist and scholar Rhonda Roland Shearer published a paper alleging that each and every one of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades was in fact meticulously handmade: in other words, a fake. Though the idea of Duchamp perpetrating such an elaborate (and quintessentially Duchampian) hoax is an appealing one, Shearer’s theory gained little traction within the academic community. (‘If she’s right,’ sniffed Arthur Danto, ‘I have no interest in Duchamp.’) It came to my mind, again, in ‘Stories of Almost Everyone’, organized by Hammer Museum curator Aram Moshayedi, which elaborates not so much on the subject of craft but of craftiness, and on the integral untrustworthiness of the readymade as an artistic form. Read the rest of this entry »

A Little Learning

Sometimes, if I get gloomy about the (ir)relevance of criticism to the wider world, I turn (or click) to the restaurant review pages. Last autumn, I caught KCRW radio host Evan Kleiman interviewing LA Weekly’s outgoing food critic, Besha Rodell – one of the city’s best critics (in any field, period). Rodell was responding to a double-barrelled question, relating to a conflagration she’d recently been tangled in over Los Angeles critics’ misunderstanding of Mexican food, about whether the food media was too white and whether she would like to see a person of colour replace her. Yes and yes, came Rodell’s unhesitating reply. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Martín Ramírez,

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Untitled (Train and Tunnel), c. 1960–63 Gouache, colored pencil, and graphite on pieced paper, 13 × 32 ½ in. Collection of Mary Lee Copp and Peter Formanek. Copyright: Estate of Martín Ramírez/courtesy Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York

We never met – you died before I was born. We would have had little in common anyway, probably, except that we both ended up in California, far from where we were born. I choose to stay here. For you, held against your will in psychiatric hospitals that were no better than prisons, there was no choice. Read the rest of this entry »

Primordial Saber Tararear Proverbiales Sílabas Tonificantes Para Sublevar Tecnocracias Pero Seguir Tenazmente Produciendo Sociedades Tántricas – Pedro Salazar Torres (Partido Socialista Trabajador)

Regen Projects, Los Angeles

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In the large main gallery at Regen Projects, jam-packed with artworks large and small by 21 artists and pasted from floor to ceiling with colourful reproductions from an illustrated world map, the first thing likely to catch your eye on entering is a belch of orange flame at the back of the room. Indoors, especially, fire is hard to ignore. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »