by Shana Nys Dambrot for WM Los Angeles
Building on recent years of survey exhibitions dedicated to scholarship on the contemporary art scene in Los Angeles, the Hammer Museum presents its most ambitious and compelling yet, as Eden’s Edge brings together 15 artists who share little besides having made their diverse bodies of work in LA during the past decade. Thanks in large part to a generous and intuitive installation that meets meaning halfway by (despite being organized chronologically by artists’ ages) persisting in suggesting gentle formal and conceptual segues between artists whose fluttering resonances might otherwise have gone unsuspected. Indeed the profound correspondences which emerge as the ideas and objects come into contact with one another, jostling and jiving throughout the loose maze of semi-private apses devoted to individual installations.
Ken Price’s sleek, gristled abstract ceramic sculptures are so sensual as to border on the sexual, with inviting, robust contours and surfaces bearing the palimpsestic evidence of a multitide of layers worn down past patination. Although they approach in both shape and mottled skin a kind of hybrid humanoid geological family, the intensity of the glowing pigmentation suggests something less natural, more synthetic in the sense of being artifical. Pondering the paradoxical shifts in their abstract forms makes a compelling counterpoint to the hyper-figurative, stylized and exubrantly chaotic supernovas that are the paintings of Lari Pittman. Drawing inspiration and technique from as many sources as Price used layers – and as many colors – they each address the self-contradictory nature of life in LA from a useful idiomatic polarity.
Every bit as strange but with a languid, haunting tone are the masterful grey-scale watercolor figures by Monica Majoli and the luminous, fanciful and post-apocalyptic landscape paintings of Sharon Ellis. Ellis’ penchant for hyper-focussed precision in her representational approach references the high-definition of digital animation and a kind of romantic futurism in her landscape inconography. Ginny Bishton’s photo-collage mosaics demonstrate both a nearly pathological obsession with accumulating minute elements and building large abstractions from unlikely source material; a dynamic process her small-scale, glimmering works share with Mark Bradford’s vastly larger mixed media collages and that repurpose quotidien paper products into complex, tactile monuments to the visual character of urban streets. Liz Craft and Matthew Monahan’s sculptural visions evince diverse aesthetics, with Craft employing a post-pop style of humorous, hefty and labor-instensive representation and Monahan staying within the realm of conceptual symbolism flirting with abstraction. However they each employ a range of materials and formal idioms to explore the territory between nature and industry. Between them one encounters the convincing illusions of mixed media artist Rebecca Morales, whose works on vellum use gouache and watercolor to portray deeply textured, trompe l’oeil images derived from plant life and root systems as well as crafts. These and the alternately haunting and hilarious paintings of Matt Greene (most notably “We Beheld the Holograph of Our Second Selves” (2004) constitute the exhibition’s most eloquent homage to the persistence of beauty as a priority if West Coast practice, which perhaps more than any other spoke of that particular wheel is a claim the city has never relinquished no matter the fashion.
The exhibition closes with a bittersweet and all-too-cleanly recreation of the late Jason Rhoades’ hanging garden of cucumbers and yams and wagon wheels and chiffon and neon messages familiar to former denizens of Black Pussy. Despite it’s bright lights and biodegradable parts, it’s careful construction and essential frivolity, and its fortuitous installation in a small chapel-shaped gallery of its own, it has none of the vivacity of the man’s living tableaux. Nevertheless it retains the talismanic presence it earned during its time of use and continues to stand sentinel over all that is joyful and morbid and exuberant and desperate and beautiful and grotesque and spectacular and spiritual about LA and the art that is produced there.
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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