Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

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 »

Gladys Nilsson

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Gladys Nilsson’s “Plain Air” (2018), acrylic on canvas. Courtesy: Gladys Nilsson; John and Susan Horseman; Garth Greenan Gallery and Matthew Marks Gallery

In 1966, Gladys Nilsson and five other young artists organized an exhibition of their work in Chicago’s Hyde Park Art Center, and overnight became the talk of the town. The group called themselves the Hairy Who.

Their art could be caustic, outré, vulgar and loud; psychedelic patterns and clashing colors abounded. It was bad taste and brilliant fun. Tattoos, graffiti, comic books, fanzines, games and toys, newspaper and magazine advertisements were all influences, as was the encyclopedic, global collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Rooted in the Surrealist traditions of Chicago’s art scene, it was unlike anything else in America at that time. Read the rest of this entry »

Patrick Staff

The Serpentine Gallery, London

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Patrick Staff, On Venus (installation view) (2019–2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries © 2019. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

What is commonly known as Hyde Park—central London’s largest public park—is actually two parks conjoined. To the west, Kensington Gardens contains Kensington Palace, currently home to Britain’s future king and his family, while Hyde Park, to the east, was once Henry VIII’s hunting estate. Both—as with Regent’s Park, Green Park, Richmond Park, and several other of the city’s major green spaces—are officially Royal Parks, which means that the public’s longstanding access to them is courtesy of the monarchy, which nowadays does most of its animal-rearing and animal-killing on more expansive estates further afield. Read the rest of this entry »

Charles Ray

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Charles Ray, Two horses, 2019. (detail) Granite, 120 3/8 x 178 1/4 x 8 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Marks. Photo by Josh White

I tend to think—and this can change—that the subject of the work is the dynamic of the confrontation with the work. And by that I don’t mean that the sculpture is aggressive, but that you’re wrestling with it into the world. How is the piece in the world? And, for me to think about that, I have to ask myself, “How am I in the world? How do I think of myself? How do other people think of me?”

– Charles Ray, Three Lectures at the Menil Collection

Earlier this year, I stood in front of Charles Ray’s newest work, Two horses (2019), at Matthew Marks Gallery, Los Angeles. The piece is hewn from a single, six-ton slab of rippling dark Virginia Mist granite, 14 feet wide and 10 feet high, mounted seamlessly on a pristine white wall. In shallow relief, a horse—unsaddled, unharnessed—is depicted in proud profile, its hind leg raised as if stepping forward into its ghost: a fainter relief, imperceptible at first, of another nearly identical horse, offset just a few inches ahead. The show was called “Two Ghosts.” 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 »

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 »