Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

SITElines.2016

Site Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Javier Tellez, To Have Done with the Judgment of God, 2016, digital film, 37 minutes

On the campus of the Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS), about a mile from SITE Santa Fe, one of Italian architect Paolo Soleri’s most important buildings is crumbling behind a chain-link fence, out of bounds to students and the public alike. The extraordinary cast-concrete Paolo Soleri Amphitheater was commissioned in 1964 by Lloyd Kiva New, the Cherokee cofounder of the Institute of American Indian Arts. New’s vision for the school was to use Native American heritage as the basis for contemporary artistic expression. Conservative Pueblo tribal leaders were skeptical of this approach, however, and in 1981 the All Indian Pueblo Council routed the school from its premises and replaced it with the more traditional SFIS, which had formerly occupied the campus and, after a complicated history (it was originally a government institution devoted to forced assimilation, for instance) and a dissolution, was being reformed under the leadership of the Pueblo tribes. Read the rest of this entry »

Ry Rocklen

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Ry Rocklen, Head Planter, 2016, Terracotta, sonotube and paint, 48 x 18 x 18 inches    Courtesy the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Brian Forrest

Humility has been a consistently appealing quality in Ry Rocklen’s work over his decade-long career. Even when it approaches bling – as with his polished bronze cast of a punctured Humvee wheel (Untitled Hummer Flat, 2014) ­– his work is inflected with a down-home wit and a self-deprecating localism. Rocklen, an LA native who also studied in the city, is more entitled than most to call it his muse. The press release for ‘L.A. Relics’, incredibly the artist’s first exhibition in Los Angeles since 2009, curiously notes that his memories of the 1984 LA Olympics were particularly influential on the series that shares the show’s title. Read the rest of this entry »

Hanne Darboven

Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles

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Hanne Darboven, For Abraham Lincoln, 1989, 776 sheets, 29,5 x 21 cms each, mounted on 97 70 x 100 cm plates, with 8 sheets each. © Hanne Darboven Foundation, Hamburg / ARS, New York 2016; Courtesy Sprüth Magers and Crone Gallery. Photo: Joshua White, 2016

Rows of numbers instill in me a sickening panic. I got that feeling, familiar from childhood mathematics lessons and annual tax returns, in Hanne Darboven’s current exhibition at Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles. Read the rest of this entry »

Tinseltown in the Rain

Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles

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Man Ray once commented that ‘there was more surrealism rampant in Hollywood than all the surrealists could invent in a lifetime’. The line comes to us via William Copley, who, in 1949, exhibited canonical works by Max Ernst, René Magritte, Man Ray and others in a short-lived gallery in Beverly Hills, to almost universal indifference. There were, however, a handful of Los Angeles artists who took notice, including Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, Peter Krasnow and Knud Merrild. These artists and many more are brought together by curator Max Maslansky in ‘Tinseltown in the Rain: The Surrealist Diaspora in Los Angeles 1935–69’. Read the rest of this entry »

Sterling Ruby

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Sterling Ruby, DEEP FLAG (5532), 2015, Bleached fleece and elastic, 174 1/2 × 316 inches © Sterling Ruby Photo by Thomas Lannes

I am waiting for Sterling Ruby in a supermarket parking lot on the east side of Los Angeles, and wondering what kind of car he drives. Black Range Rovers and Teslas are popular with successful artists in LA. But the 44-year-old Ruby projects something of the image of a showman, so when a custom 1980s Cadillac with chrome rims pulls in, I think for a moment it might be him. On the other hand, Ruby is a father of three, so perhaps pragmatism wins out: a Mercedes estate or even — who knows — a Volvo.

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Pentti Monkkonen

Jenny’s, Los Angeles

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Pentti Monkkonen, T.R.E.A.M. (2016). Wood, sand, acrylic, and aluminum

Before there were art schools and galleries in Los Angeles, there were murals. The tradition has a long and distinguished history, dating from the city’s eighteenth-century Hispanic founders, and it continues to thrive and evolve. LA-based artist Pentti Monkkonen’s exhibition of new works (all 2016) at Jenny’s smartly engaged with this history, drawing on retrospective time frames both micro and macro.

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Carl Cheng

Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles

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Carl Cheng, Erosion Machine (detail), 1969, Plexiglas, metal racks and fittings, plastic, water pump, LED lights, black light, pebbles, 4 erosion rocks and wood base, 38 x 64 x 23 cm. All images courtesy: the artist and Cherry & Martin, Los Angeles

In 1967, the year he graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, Carl Cheng registered the trade name John Doe Co. and, soon after, began stamping it on his sculptures. Up to this point, much of Cheng’s work had a formal relationship to photography – he was taught by the influential artist-photographer Robert Heinecken, who was instrumental in widening the field – but, as John Doe Co., Cheng began producing objects that seem more like crackpot inventions than image-based sculptures. Read the rest of this entry »