Top Ten 2016December 2016
1. HENRY TAYLOR (Blum & Poe, Los Angeles) Taylor’s blunt, compelling portraits wove together three spaces in which sculptures and found objects conjured archetypal Los Angeles tableaux: a blighted urban landscape, a pastoral pool scene, an artist’s studio. The whole evoked Courbet’s The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory Summing Up Seven Years of My Artistic and Moral Life, 1854-55, with the artist situated between rich and powerful benefactors on one side and the undercommons on the other. Taylor’s allegory is real, too. On the way to the gallery, I drove past the homeless guy in front of See’s Candies who looms large in Too Sweet, 2016, where he’s pictured holding a cardboard sign while giving Taylor an empathic gesture.
2. “NEW OBJECTIVITY: MODERN GERMAN ART IN THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC, 1919-1933” (Los Angeles County Museum of Art; curated by Stephanie Barron) Spooky how much Weimar anxieties parallel our own: rapidly changing technology and moral codes, political upheaval and demagoguery, and economic discontent, among others. The oligarch in Heinrich Maria Davringhausen’s The Profiteer, 1920-21, perched in his office tower, might as well be our own orange national nightmare. Thankfully, dire times can produce good art, as demonstrated in this timely show by the unromantic and frequently mindboggling works of Otto Dix, Christian Schad, Georg Scholz, and Karl Völker, among other notables.
3. FRANCES STARK (Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; curated by Ali Subotnick with Emily Gonzalez-Jarrett) “Personally, I cannot stand the work it requires to ensure oneself a meaningful demise,” Stark once mused, yet this survey proves she’s been as busy as can be for a quarter century, converting reading, teaching, motherhood, and internet hookups into, well, work: elegant and logorrheic drawings, collages, and paintings, and, in recent years, smart, thrifty, excruciatingly honest—and, yes, logorrheic—videos. The feature-length My Best Thing, 2011, is justly celebrated, but it’s far from the only reason that Stark is one of the best things in what her online paramour’s little avatar calls “XXI Century Art.”
4. JUDY FISKIN, THREE FUNERALS AND SOME ACTS OF PRESERVATION (Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles) Narrating her latest—and hopefully not last—video, Fiskin relays Vasari’s account of Michelangelo’s two funerals, then provides instructions for her own more modest send-off (with ashes to be scattered in a West LA art-house multiplex). Meanwhile, we see meditative images of interns cleaning the Getty Center’s outdoor sculpture collection—an awkwardly placed grab bag of modernist works donated in bulk in 2005 and derided by many on arrival. The video is a sharp, intimate reminder that while most art begs for preservation, its fate is as uncertain as our own.
5. JENNIFER MOON AND LAUB (Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles) Since falling in love circa 2015, Moon and Laub have been an inseparable artmaking unit, as devoted to the revolutionary potential of nonbinary thinking as they are to each other. At Commonwealth & Council, they documented the process of swapping “gut fairies” in a science fair-worthy installation, complete with information panels, an instructional video, blown-glass vessels containing merda d’artista, and an elaborate model particle accelerator inhabited by tiny 3-D printouts of the artists, side by side and jumbled together. And that’s just the beginning of this bewildering merger.
6. GERARD & KELLY, MODERN LIVING (MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House Los Angeles) Gerard & Kelly affectionately activated Rudolph Schindler’s modernist masterpiece, drawing on the architect’s radical plan for communal living—a nonhierarchical arrangement of two couples in four live-work “studios.” The duo’s choreography for nine members of L.A. Dance Project played with the complex dynamics of domestic relationships, as individual bodies moved through the house, becoming collective, pulling apart, coalescing again.
7. ROBERT BARRY (Thomas Solomon Art Advisory at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Los Angeles) Schindler, who designed Bethlehem Baptist in 1944, played unwitting partner here too. Barry applied a litany of single words—ALMOST, SOMEHOW, UNKNOWN—around the emptied space, in a slightly glossy, intermittently visible white vinyl. The artist’s pursuit has always been a tightrope walk between the phenomenological and the epistemological, never dogmatic yet reliant on systems of belief, so this extraordinary site, long disused and rarely open to the public, provided a surprising departure from the usual chapels of art.
8. “HOTEL THEORY” (REDCAT, Los Angeles; curated by Sohrab Mohebbi with Ruth Estevez) Theory-heavy art often gets a bum rap, but this show (titled after the book by Wayne Koestenbaum) was stuffed with discursive dynamism, offering a dense installation of the relics of discourse—books, videos on monitors, headphones, and a lot of chairs. But theory is always a performance, as the exhibition implied, so there was also a stage, where a cool, transgenerational list of thinkingpersons’ artists, from Devin Kenny to the Red Krayola, got to show their stuff.
9. LEE MULLICAN (Equitable Vitrines, Los Angeles) Mullican’s radiant paintings are instantly recognizable to followers of midcentury abstraction, but his explorations in other media are rarely shown. Installed in a former beauty salon commandeered for the occasion, this exhibition of paintings, slide photographs, digital prints, and ceramics was revelatory—especially the ceramics, which are varied enough to suggest missing links to his son Matt’s modular iconography and Richard Hawkins’s clay reliefs.
10. LAUREL DOODY, LOS ANGELES Artist Fiona Connor opened this venue (named for a family friend) in a rented midcity apartment in April 2015 and closed its door a year later in an act of planned obsolescence. There was no manifesto, but the program included artists from New Zealand (Kate Newby, Nick Austin) and Puerto Rico (Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Jorge González, and Monica Rodriguez), who might otherwise not be seen in Los Angeles. My art itinerary is increasingly devoted to small artist-run spaces with odd hours and outsize ambitions, and this was one of the best.
Artforum, December 2016