Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Category: Uncategorized

Betye Saar

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Black Girl’s Window (1969), Betye Saar. Photo: Rob Gerhardt/The Museum of Modern Art, New York; courtesy the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles; © Betye Saar 2019

Betye Saar greets me, complaining. ‘I woke up in pain, so I’m grumpy today,’ says the artist, who will turn 93 a few days after we meet in late July. Recently she’s had to do so many ‘silly interviews’, she says, she has been left with no time to work. I’m not offended – it’s an understandable grievance. This year, when she might have hoped to enjoy some quiet time in her studio, or to tend her splendid hillside garden in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, she has instead been obliged to prepare for major solo exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (until 5 April 2020) and at MoMA in New York (until 4 January 2020). On 2 November she will be honoured at LACMA’s annual Art+Film Gala, a calendar highlight for Los Angeles’ cultured elite. Read the rest of this entry »

Dilexi

Whatever Gets You Through the Night:
The Artists of Dilexi and Wartime Trauma

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H.C. Westermann, March or Die (1966). Pine, redwood, leather, ebony, metal, felt, and ink, 30.75 × 20 × 10.5 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and the Landing. Photo: Joshua White.

 

If you sometimes find life in America in 2019 to be a little too much, imagine living in California in the early 1960s. Since the end of the Second World War—a conflict that, for the United States, superficially led to domestic prosperity—the world had been racked with anxiety over the possibility of atomic apocalypse, while under McCarthyism a new strain of Fascism was spreading on home soil. Then just as progressive causes—including civil rights for African Americans—seemed to be gaining some ground, Kennedy was assassinated for no apparent reason, and for many on the left, all seemed utterly lost. 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 »

Leo Mock

M+B, Los Angeles

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“A thought that never changes”, 2019 signed, titled and dated verso oil, oil stick and charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 inches

 

Back in January 2018, in China Art Objects’ fair booth at Art Los Angeles Contemporary, I saw some paintings by an artist then unknown to me that I liked. I remember an island, moody cloudscapes, bruised colouration. I asked the gallerist Steve Hanson about them, and while I don’t recall much of his vague response, I do remember that he couldn’t help me identify the historical painting one of these reminded me of. (I worked it out later: it was Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead, 1880.) 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 »

David Hammons

Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles

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‘David Hammons’, 2019, exhibition view. © David Hammons; courtesy: the artist and Hauser & Wirth; photograph: Fredrik Nilsen Studio

Just inside one suite of galleries at Hauser & Wirth is a small display of material related to Ornette Coleman, the late saxophonist and free jazz innovator to whom David Hammons has dedicated the largest survey of his work to date and the first in Los Angeles for 45 years. ‘It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something,’ said Coleman, who died in 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

Lynne Cooke

Castle

James Castle, ‘Untitled (interior with piano)’ © James Castle Collection and Archive

In 2011, Lynne Cooke, then chief curator at Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia, curated a show by the autodidact artist James Castle that, for her, questioned the received narratives of American art history.

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