Gary Simmons at Margo Leavin Gallery
Gary Simmons infiltrates the national narrative with "Smoke," an exhibition of burning buildings rendered in pigments and oils that materialize the otherwise ghostly presence of his early hand-smeared chalk drawings, also monochromatic and monumental. The scene unfolding in what might be a New York City skyscraper or a low Los Angeles apartment complex imparts an urgent immediacy. "Smoke" takes architecture as social metaphor but exposes the trap of such a structural analysis. The buildings, seen below from a street view, are more personal, narrative and traumatic. They gesture toward the enormous loss — of safety, security, possessions, community, independence — suffered in whole or part by the African-American community over time. Accompanying volatilized text works like "By tomorrow it will be too late" and "When we hate you, we're hating the dark side of ourselves" suggest the root cause of these fires is nothing as disorganized or organic as a riot, or as singularly preconceived as arson; it's a spark. Here smoke from the metaphorical building, a powder keg that emanates blackness, will soon envelop the city. The mood of the nation pre-election seems to rise upward on Simmons' chalkboard-black canvases into an expansive sky. Derrida would have appreciated this portrait of hope under erasure.
Multiverse at Claremont Museum of Art
"Multiverse" at Claremont Museum of Art is rife with humor and homespun social histories, from Jedediah Caesar's resin blocks cut into analytical cross sections to reveal the detritus of his studio-verse, to Kerry Tribe's low-tech ambient effects film made with the "Lumia Ori" (circa 1980), which simulates the Northern Lights and was a fixture in her parents' fireplace. Other works in the show suggest the Multiverse has political dimensions: Nancy Macko's video Bee Stories is a kaleidoscopic wormhole into the matriarchal culture of hive structures and human languages, suggesting the importance of communication as a tool for re-making the world. Emre Hüner's captivating animation Panoptikon is complex, rich, and dense with impossibilities; true to its Foucaultian title, the apocalyptic multi-narrative suggests the singular prison of the imagination — one that has no boundaries, only vision. Art is a universe unto itself — deliciously expansive — as shown by Fred Tomaselli's deep photograms and Sebastiaan Bremer's pointillist fractal over-paintings on cosmic colored C-prints. In a flip-book sculpture that stops time itself, Miler Lagos has taken copies of Albrecht Dürer's etching of The woman clothed with the sun, and the seven-headed dragon from The Book of Revelations and carved the stacked paper into a stump. The end, you see, is the beginning.
Steve Huston, Study for Picking it Up, 2008;
courtesy Yarger/Strauss Contemporary
Steve Huston at Yarger/Strauss Contemporary
Steve Huston is a master of the male form. Clothed or unclothed, you can see and feel muscles coiled and rippling, tensed up while performing a task like lifting a box or pulling on a rope. It's not about desire or sensuality, instead, it's very macho in tone and scientific in its physiological detail (in the visceral Draw Down, the figure's skin seems barely there and we are confronted with the angry red muscles underneath). Huston's workers are heroic and in these new large scale paintings, they take on epic proportions. Adding to the drama are backgrounds of landscapes and clouds that have a bit of Maxfield Parrish romanticism and lighting to them. Maybe the painter's recent time away from LA in Montana has brought nature into his traditional working class subject matter. But while fellow LA artist John Sonsini paints heroic portraits of Latin workmen, Huston's paintings are not about individuals, they celebrate the everyman laborer. The only hang-up with these accomplished works is that the setups can seem somewhat posed and academic, not spontaneous.
Huston's boxing paintings are completely the opposite. Here, the power suggested in the workmen paintings is violently unleashed and the results are impressive. Fight, Composition in Red and Gold is a knockout of motion and power rendered with busy brush strokes that portray golden light dancing off of the sweaty pugilist's bodies. More than George Bellows, Huston's boxing paintings remind me of Robert Riggs, one of the greatest painters of realism in the '30s and '40s, but Huston's painterly surfaces, bold colors and huge canvases make his work unique.
Cory Arcangel,Photoshop CS: 110 by 72 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient "Spectrum", mousedown y=1098 x=1749.9, mouse up y=0 x=4160, 2008; Courtesy Team Gallery, Inc.
Cory Arcangel at Team Gallery
Best know as a hacker/artist for his coy and somewhat sarcastic works that take apart fragments of our media saturated world, then put back together. Arcangel uses the Internet, sound, performance and video, making works that always appear low tech, but often in actuality are dependent on complicated programming.
For his exhibition "Adult Contemporary" at Team, he continues his investigation into obsolete formats, exploring the relationship between digital and analogue media. For Personal Film and Video Painting, he uses found footage downloaded from the Internet or purchased on eBay, that have a purposely low-tech feel. Archangel delights in the cheesy VHS graphics, creating a 2-hour loop that weaves examples of the effects together. No Cory Arcangel exhibition would be complete without a hacked play station, and in the basement space Self Playing Sony Playstation 1 Bowling is an apt example of his playful appropriations. Permanent Vacation shows off his programming abilities. Here two computers bounce "out of the office" e-mail messages back and forth to each other.
Arcangel likes to play innocent, yet he is calculating in his desires to be part of the art world he likes to critique. He acknowledges in the PR for the exhibition that he has either finally grown up or perhaps sold out. It is evident that there is some of both in his current work
Group Show at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts
"Drawing Review: 37 Years of Works on Paper" truly takes the word review to heart. This exhibition is a survey of artists who are or have been represented by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts since its opening in 1971. Not only does this review act as a retrospective view of gallery artists, it also uses the artist drawing as a genre to create a renewed study of these years viewed through the microscopic lens of the gallery.
It often seems with exhibitions like this one that the gallery effortlessly (or perhaps with great effort) manages to curate all the personality out of each work for the greater continuity of the show. That is not the case with this exhibition. Rather than taxonomically classifying each work, the show allows the individual artists to unabashedly display their meanings. Providing a forum for such a clear diversity of artists' thoughts and styles is what Ronald Feldman Fine Arts has been good at over the years. Rather than adopting a trend and making it the gallery's signature style, Feldman has taken strong work over the gallery's lifetime and let it speak for itself.
Jennifer and Kevin McCoy at Postmasters
Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, a husband and wife team have use their relationship as a point of departure in their recent installations. The work is part sculptural, part projection: They build small models, attach spy cameras and project parts of the model onto walls or large flat screen panels. The sequence of images is often humorous and cycling through different scenarios.
Their current exhibition "I'll Replace You" is a large-scale video projection where hired actors play Kevin and Jennifer as they go about their daily rituals. As different "actors" fill their roles, the presentation becomes a kaleidoscopic collage of a day in their life. The editing emphasizes the fragmented and disjointed interactions between the "fake" couple with their children and friends. This is the ultimate role-playing challenge as the artists film actors from dawn until night and are on hand to watch "themselves."
The theme of substitution is further explored in two photo works where various friends become either Jennifer or Kevin. In the grid of photographs, different people, both men and woman, young and old put on a wig or a mustache and pose as if they were the couple. Some embrace while others allow an awkward distance suggesting that it is not all that easy that one person can be replaced by another. The McCoy's motivation is to explore the idea of role-playing to suggest that images, no matter how believable, are not always truths.