Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Category: Review

Marcel Duchamp

In 1959, Marcel Duchamp’s career was in the weeds. Not that he minded much. He had largely abandoned making art almost 40 years earlier and, while he still dabbled in corners of the art world, full recognition had never really arrived. Plans for a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York were shelved in the 1940s; talk of another, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few years later, fizzled out.

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American Artist

REDCAT, Los Angeles

American Artist, Octavia E. Butler Papers: mssOEB 1-9062 I (Social Studies), 2022. Huntington Library stationary, graphite, pencil, felt, 26 x 39.5 inches (framed). Image courtesy of the artist; Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles; and REDCAT, Los Angeles. Photo by Brica Wilcox

 

About 15 minutes’ drive from the mirrored towers of downtown Los Angeles, a shady canyon throngs with oaks, willows, sycamores, and cottonwoods. Treefrog tadpoles wriggle in the creek. Snakes hunt among the rocks. Visitors to Hahamongna Watershed Park, named after the Tongvan village that once existed there, also cannot miss the adjacent white buildings of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a giant research facility owned by NASA. Read the rest of this entry »

Gerald Jackson

Gerald Jackson, Untitled (Skid Painting), 1980s, spray paint on wood, 72 × 72 cm. 
Courtesy: the artist and Parker Gallery, Los Angeles; photograph: Paul Salveson

In a 2016 Bomb magazine interview with the painter Stanley Whitney, Gerald Jackson tried to explain the difficulty – for a Black artist, like himself – of accessing an authentic sense of self when his identity is a construction imposed on him by a dominant white society founded on a history of slavery. He had to reconstruct, he said, his entire subconscious: ‘I’m not a crazy person; I’m not a Black person. I’m only what I make myself up to be.’

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SoiL Thornton

Morán Morán, Los Angeles

SoiL Thornton, Bench/barrier (314 lbs), 2021, Aluminum foil and aluminum foil tape compressed to the combined weight of momma and deddy, 29x25x16 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Morán Morán, Los Angeles

A squat, silver boulder partially blocks the entrance to SoiL Thornton’s deceptively loose exhibition at Morán Morán, Los Angeles. Bench/Barrier (314 lbs) (all works 2021) consists of a rolled ball of aluminium foil ‘compressed to the combined weight of momma and deddy’, the checklist reveals. Within the ordinarily starchy format of the gallery checklist, the fond familiarity in the way Thornton acknowledges this detail of the work’s media is jarring, cloying even. Throughout their practice, the artist prises open such spaces for vulnerability and revelation within the stringent conventions of conceptual and systems art.

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Shahryar Nashat

8762 Holloway Drive, Los Angeles

Shahryar Nashat, “THEY COME TO TOUCH”, 2021.
Courtesy of the artist; David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; and Gladstone Gallery, New York. Photo by Elon Schoenholz.

I still do not really know what color the fitted carpet is that runs through the three floors of 8762 Holloway Drive in West Hollywood. Some shade of sage green, I’d guess, but it could be more lime, maybe more grass, maybe more gold. I do not know because Shahryar Nashat has covered every window in the building with a pink film (again, hard for my dazzled eyes to calibrate) that suffuses the space in a discombobulating, low-contrast pall—akin to the pulsing non-color that appears when you face into the sun with your eyes closed. 

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Made in L.A.

The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and the Huntington Museum, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino

Fulton Leroy Washington (aka MR. WASH), Mr. Rene # MAN POWER, 2011, oil on stretched canvas, 61 × 50.8 cm.
Courtesy: the artist, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Before entering the long-delayed (and now revised) ‘Made in L.A. 2020: a version’, I pitied its poor curators, whose exhibition has been kyboshed by a succession of lockdowns. Originally scheduled to open in June, the biennial – split this year between the Hammer Museum and the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino – has lain partly dormant, partly unfinished. With (almost) all works installed, museum leaders allowed in a few members of the press, who, they hoped, might grant ‘Made in L.A. 2020’ a little exposure to daylight. (The biennial is currently expected to open to the public next year.)1

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Caitlin Keogh

Overduin & Co, Los Angeles

Caitlin Keogh, Waxing Year 1 and Waxing Year 2, (both 2020)
Courtesy: the artist and Overduin & Co., Los Angeles

Caitlin Keogh’s ambitious exhibition, ‘Waxing Year’, at Overduin & Co in Los Angeles – which includes a group of seven large paintings interspersed with ten small, mixed-media assemblages – is, in many respects, a tour de force. Why, then, does it leave me wanting something more? 

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Ree Morton

Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Ree-Morton-Don’t-worry-I’ll-only-read-you-the-good-parts-1975

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

New Note

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 »