Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Category: Review

Alonzo Davis

Parrasch Heijnan

Alonzo Davis, King’s Peace Cloth, 1985, acrylic on woven canvas, 1.4 × 1.4 m. Courtesy: the artist and Parrasch Heijnen, Los Angeles

If you had dipped even a toe in the Black art world of 1970s and ’80s Los Angeles, you would have known the Brockman Gallery. Opened in 1967 by artist brothers Alonzo and Dale Davis, it occupied a storefront in Leimert Park, a middle-class enclave in South Los Angeles, and showed mainly Black artists. (Non-profit Art + Practice now runs its public programmes in the space.)  Canonical figures exhibited there, including David Hammons, Senga Nengudi, John Outterbridge, Noah Purifoy and Betye Saar, making the Brockman Gallery easily as important – and arguably more interesting – than the world-famous Ferus Gallery, even though it remains little known outside its community. In 1987 Alonzo Davis stepped away from the gallery – and from Los Angeles – to concentrate on his art practice. Given his contribution to the city, it’s shocking that this is his first solo exhibition in LA since 1984.

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Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson, Portrait (Vain German), 2020–21, urethane, resin, Aqua-Resin, pigment, fiberglass and aluminium. 74.3 × 59.7 × 5.7 cm. Courtesy: © The Art Trust created under Kaari Upson Trust and Sprüth Magers; photograph: Ed Mumford

‘never, never ever, never in my life, never in all my born days, never in all my life, never’ is and is not a posthumous exhibition. Kaari Upson passed away only in August of last year; many of us are still coming to terms with her loss. But to think of this, her first solo show in Los Angeles in over a decade, only in the memorializing terms of the posthumous tribute is distracting, limiting and inaccurate. Comprising work produced between 2015 and 2021, it was planned, in part, by the artist herself, but was repeatedly pushed back due to the pandemic. It was Upson who came up with that exclamatory title.

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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 »