Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Category: Uncategorized

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 »

Larry Bell

‘Pacific Red (II)’ (2017) at the Whitney Museum © Larry Bell. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Timothy Schenk

Although he has lived in Taos, New Mexico, since 1973, Larry Bell is still chiefly associated with the Light and Space movement that emerged in southern California in the 1960s. His early works epitomised the group: semi-mirrored glass cubes that, through their fleeting reflectivity, reacted to — as advertised — the light and space around them, deft exercises in highlighting the processes of perception.

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Suzanne Lacy

Suzanne Lacy, Los Angeles, 2022. Yudi Ela for The New York Times

On a cold day last December, sitting outside her studio in Santa Monica, Calif., the artist Suzanne Lacy  talked excitedly about the coming year. In Manchester, England, exhibitions of her work were already open at the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Manchester Art Gallery. She looked forward to a prestigious fellowship at the University of Manchester in the spring.

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Charles Ray

Unbaled Truck (2021), Charles Ray.  Photo: Josh White; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery; © Charles Ray

In May 2020, the sculptor Charles Ray was driving north from his home in Los Angeles to Anacortes, in Washington state, to see a man about a boat. Locked up in the early months of the pandemic, the restless Ray got what he calls ‘Covid fever’ and, despite the entreaties of his wife Sylvia, threw a sleeping bag into the back of his car and set off for the boatyard, near the Canadian border, where he needed to make some decisions about the layout of a sailing boat that was being built for him. Ray takes sailing very seriously indeed. In 2003 he was nearly shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean when an unlit military vessel collided with him in the middle of the night; this new boat, he tells me, is designed to accommodate his wife and her friends so Ray will not have to sail alone.

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Beatriz Cortez

Beatriz Cortez with Chultún El Semillero, 2021, in ‘FUTURES’, Arts and Industries Building, Washington DC © Greg Kahn

The Arts and Industries Building, built in 1881 by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, began life as a place to house artefacts from the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia. It became the US’s first national museum. Over the years, its purpose was rejigged as new Smithsonian museums spawned around it, and it accrued various nicknames from “the Mother of Museums” to “the Palace of Invention”.

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The Transcendental Painting Group

Composition #57/Pattern 29 (1938), Robert Gribboek. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Photo: Geistlight Photography, Albuquerque

Depending on who you ask, Helena Blavatsky was either a mystic and a sage who introduced Eastern spirituality to Western culture, with the stated aim of establishing ‘a universal brotherhood of humanity’, or she was a plagiarist, a racist and a fraud. If you ask me, she was a bit of both. Kurt Vonnegut called her ‘the Founding Mother of the Occult in America’, which is not entirely hyperbole. When she arrived from her native Russia, in 1873, the United States was already in the thrall of new religious movements such as Spiritualism, but it was Blavatsky’s co-founding of the Theosophical Society with fellow seekers Henry Olcott and William Quan Judge that cemented her influence on Western esotericism on both sides of the Atlantic. 

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Sarah Cain

Sarah Cain, “My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy,” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., 2021 Photograph: Rob Shelley

Last summer, the painter Sarah Cain was contemplating the biggest project of her career: a 45-foot-long painting for the East Building Atrium of the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. Cain, 42, has been making caustically colorful, improvised abstractions since the mid-2000s and had been commissioned to hide construction walls during refurbishment of the atrium’s skylight. Nearby sculptures by Max Ernst, Isamu Noguchi and Richard Serra, too large to relocate, were protected by wooden boxes. Cain was tasked with painting on the boxes, too — each bigger than her studio. (And she needed a title.)

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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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Charles Gaines

‘Numbers and Trees: London Series 1, Tree #6, Fetter Lane’ (2020), photo: Fredrik Nilsen; © Charles Gaines, Hauser & Wirth

When Charles Gaines was in elementary school in Newark, New Jersey, in the 1950s, he showed an aptitude for drawing. His well-meaning teacher suggested to his mother that perhaps he should be an artist. He could be the first black artist in the history of the world, she said.

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Diana Markosian

Diana Markosian, “The Arrival” (2019) from “Santa Barbara” (Aperture, 2020)

In a soundstage on a quiet street in Glendale, Calif., a whisper passed among the crew. Svetlana, the director’s mother, had arrived.

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