Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Category: Review

Ree Morton

Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

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Don’t worry, I’ll only read you the good parts, 1975, oil on Celastic, 137×66 cm. Photo: Joerg Lohse. © The Estate of the artist. Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York

 

Facts and suppositions about Ree Morton’s life might not be so integral to our reading of her art if she hadn’t died in 1977, aged forty, having started late, leaving behind just six or so years of work: a compact oeuvre of sculpture, drawing and installation that acquires an almost unbearable poignancy when framed by the knowledge of its sudden ending. Read the rest of this entry »

New Images of Man

Blum and Poe, Los Angeles

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Enrico Baj, General Schwarz, 1961, oil, collage, trimmings, decorations and found objects on fabric, 148 × 113 cm. Courtesy: Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo

Today, figurative painting abounds, shaped – with rare exception – by concerns around identity and diversity of representation. In 1959, curator Peter Selz’s exhibition ‘New Images of Man’, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, also proposed a return to figurative painting and sculpture. Critics were upset by the show’s expansive reach and its apparent disrespect towards New York abstraction: it featured white male artists not only from the US (Richard Diebenkorn, Leon Golub, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock) but also white male artists from Europe, including Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti. Among 23 featured artists, Germaine Richier was the only woman. Read the rest of this entry »

Peter Saul

New Museum, New York

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Peter Saul, Donald Trump in Florida, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 120 inches. Image courtesy of Hall Art Foundation

How much is too much, when it comes to the art of Peter Saul? How about: The big high box of the New Museum’s fourth-floor gallery stacked two-deep with more than two dozen large paintings in fluorescent hues? How about: Every gallery on the floor below packed with at least as many again, dating from 1960 to the present? How about: Three paintings that feature Donald Trump? Seven of electric chairs? Countless more figures with bullet-holes spewing glossy gouts of blood? A dog barfing onto the head of Rush Limbaugh, accompanied by a speech bubble that reads “BARF”? How about: One retrospective, only the second of the artist’s career, and his first in New York? Read the rest of this entry »

Naama Tsabar

Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles

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Naama Tsabar, Work on Felt (Variation 22) Purple, 2019, Felt, carbon fiber, epoxy, wood, archival PVA, bass guitar tuner, piano string, piezo microphone, guitar amplifier, 73 x 65 x 30 inches

I noticed no actual signage letting gallery visitors know that it was OK to touch certain of Naama Tsabar’s wall-mounted artworks. Fortunately, Israeli-born, New York-based Tsabar is becoming increasingly well known for her interactive Works on Felt series, begun in 2012: panels of thick felt, curling away from the wall (or, initially, the floor) under tension from taut piano wires. Those wires are connected to hidden microphones, which are in turn connected to cables that hang down and plug into nearby guitar amps. When struck – as a gallery director helpfully demonstrated, encouraging me to do the same – the wires produce a twang whose pitch can be modulated by flexing the felt. Stroking the felt creates a sound too. Four iterations of the series hang in this exhibition, variations (to use Tsabar’s terminology) 21 through 24. Read the rest of this entry »

Alice Tippit

Grice Bench, Los Angeles

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Dress, 2019, Oil on canvas, 18 x 22 in, courtesy Grice Bench, Los Angeles

Groins abound in Alice Tippit’s exhibition of paintings and drawings at Grice Bench. They are not always easy to see, however – or rather, they disappear at second glance. What, you might ask yourself, is so crotchlike about that upside-down vase (Peer, all works 2019), that candle (Cinch), or that stick of dynamite (Safe)? Tippit is a master of the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t school of visual innuendo, of drawing-room indecency, of wordplay that seems outrageously funny even if, on reflection, you can’t exactly say why.

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Lauren Halsey

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Lauren Halsey’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade float, January 2016. Courtesy: the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles

In January 2016, Lauren Halsey made a float for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in the South-Central Los Angeles neighbourhood where she grew up. She rented a 15-metre flatbed truck, which was delivered to her mother’s house. Halsey realized, with some dismay, that she had about 48 hours to decorate it, and only a vague idea of what she planned to do. Read the rest of this entry »

‘With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art, 1972–85’

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

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View of “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972—85” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2019–20. Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles. Photo by Jeff Mclane.

Pattern and Decoration (P&D), a tendency which crystallized into a movement in New York in the mid-1970s, is one of the few movements of modern art to have self-designated, rather than been identified either by critical champions (think of Germano Celant and Arte Povera) or by sneering skeptics (Finish Fetish, Fauvism). Its members, though heterogeneous in their work, were united in their artistic tastes and temperament: they espoused a maximalist aesthetic that drew from global traditions and sources, also often aligned with feminist art practices that embraced domestic handicrafts. They had no manifesto, but critical allies including Amy Goldin and John Perreault have written eloquently about their work and aims. According to Perreault, “Pattern painting is non-Minimalist, non-sexist, historically conscious, sensuous, romantic, rational, decorative. Its methods, motifs, and referents cross cultural and class lines.”1 Read the rest of this entry »

Lari Pittman

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

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Lari Pittman, ‘Declaration of Independence’, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

You sense his ambition right from the get-go. Not career ambition, necessarily – though that must have been a part of it, and would even have been a political position for a queer Latino painter in 1980s Los Angeles – but an ambition to cover more ground in a single painting than had hitherto seemed possible, or desirable. Read the rest of this entry »

Mary Corse

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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Mary Corse: A Survey in Light, 2019 (installation view, Los Angeles County Museum of Art). © the artist and Museum Associates/LACMA

When good art looks bad in a particular exhibition space, do we fault the artist, the curator, the institution or the architect? Mary Corse’s retrospective A Survey in Light, which travelled from the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is an unsatisfying tribute to the Los Angeles-based painter, who over half a century has devoted herself to a deep but narrowly focused body of work. Read the rest of this entry »

Roy De Forest

Parker Gallery, Los Angeles

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Roy De Forest, Untitled, 1996, Mixed media on paper with artist’s frame, 39.5 x 52 x 4.25 inches, courtesy Parker Gallery, Los Angeles

The categorical distinction between drawing and painting may be absurd, but it persists in both museums and the art market. (Why is a work on canvas superior to a work on paper, regardless of the medium used? Is it simply an issue of conservation?) Nevertheless, the activities of drawing and painting continue to serve distinct functions in most artists’ practices. For the Bay Area painter Roy De Forest, who produced an unparalleled body of work between the 1950s and his death in 2007, drawing was rarely a preparatory exercise for painting, but rather an autonomous, exploratory activity that allowed him to work in a freer and looser style than he could in his acrylic paintings on canvas. Which, if you are familiar with his riotously colourful, compositionally freewheeling paintings, you will understand says quite a lot. Read the rest of this entry »