Ken Gonzales-Day

LUIS DE JESUS LOS ANGELES
2685 South La Cienega Blvd.
April 4–May 9

Ken Gonzalez-Day, Run Up, 2015, HD film, eight minutes.

Of the 352 recorded lynchings in California since 1850, 132 of the victims were Latin American or Mexican and another 80 were African American, American Indian, or Chinese. Artist and author Ken Gonzales-Day’s groundbreaking revisionist history Lynching in the West (2006) argues persuasively and poetically that racist extrajudicial executions targeted more than just Southern blacks. His current exhibition stems from this research while also incorporating trigger-happy white cops in this notorious lineage (a grid of nine shots of ruined Ferguson, MO, or Justice for Michael Brown, Los Angeles, CA, 2015, a photo of a woman raising a placard).

It’s a parallel that rings true yet the complexity of this premise quickly washes out in the reality of the show itself. One of the Ferguson shots depicts the Beauty part of a salon sign capping a pile of rubble. Hands Up, 2015, a large framed C-print, shows a black woman in period dress raising her hands to the sky; behind her, a line of present-day riot cops, their ranks thickened by Photoshop’s clone-stamp. These topical throwaways seem almost nuanced compared to Run Up, 2015, which amounts to eight slow-motion minutes of cliché xenophobia: big calipers measuring the skull of the condemned; a rope sailing over a bough; or laughable shots of old-timers swilling moonshine from backlit glass jugs. A number of vaguely sepia production stills, printed on textured paper, flank the video. If the artist means to churn our stomachs, amateurishly processed, illustrative, and (yes) didactic art is not the way. Keinholz’s Five Car Stud, 1969–72, and Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) attack this tough subject with both violence and grace. A third example: Gonzales-Day’s own book, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Travis Diehl

Jon Pestoni

DAVID KORDANSKY GALLERY
5130 West Edgewood Place
March 28–May 23

Jon Pestoni, Untitled, 2015, oil and mixed media on paper, mounted on aluminum with frame, 48 3/4 x 32 1/2 x 1 1/4".

Lots of people make paintings these days; few are painters; rarer still are those who, like Jon Pestoni, are able to contort the suspicious self-evidence of their medium into something complex. His latest solo exhibition presents ten self-deprecating, layered works, each broad swath neurotically qualifying the last with technically virtuosic, singular style.

Pestoni has spent long enough in this nonfigurative territory that the gestural arcs, dry-brushed on top of colors already jostling to recede and pop, read as self-aware, increasingly inadequate redactions. Topcoats smeared with wide curls both efface what came beneath and paradoxically suggest figures. In the big canvas Underbite (all works 2015), the artist submerges outlines of teeth and gums in several layers of expressive slurry, as if to say that figuration still won’t shut up. Equally wry is the way his successive almost wash-thin scribblings-out suggest a sense of depth—an optical feat immediately mocked by the cat litter that lends zones of his otherwise smooth paintings a kind of bargain texture. Throughout, melding with the dusty bold primaries of old Chevy trucks, are—not what are called acid hues, but—per the title of Tums—antacid. Tame, pastel mint, dirtied with yellow, finishes the twin calamari-like tori of Untitled.

Pestoni’s advanced color maneuvers perform the anxiety of painting—which nonetheless overpaints a very real self-effacement. So what if every abstraction is a small battle with the self? Pestoni maintains that even when painting is a cruel joke, maybe art isn’t.

Travis Diehl

Charles Gaines

HAMMER MUSEUM
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
March 3–May 24

Charles Gaines, Numbers and Trees II, Spike #4, 1987, watercolor, ink and pencil on masonite and acrylic sheet. 48 × 391⁄2".

In his early work, Charles Gaines pursued a cool hunt for the unknown at the far end of the hyperrational. Sol LeWitt claimed that Conceptual artists were mystics rather rationalists, but his branch of the movement certainly employed the most rational means possible to reach their spiritual ends. With correspondence between Gaines and LeWitt on view in this early-career survey, “Gridwork 1974–1989,” the elder artist’s gnomic utterances function almost as geometric postulates, but Gaines takes that Conceptualist affection for algorithmic indices to their logical conclusion and beyond.

Staring down a grove of trees, Gaines carefully breaks them into constituent parts and grids them by color (in Falling Leaves #10, 1978) to gridded Plexiglas overlays transforming black-and-white deadpan snapshots into richly hued brocades (Numbers and Trees V, Landscape #8: Orange Crow, 1989). His arbitrary but exhaustive systems, with their dependence on precise handwork and no discernable utility, can only mean the exercise is done for some other purpose. Seurat becomes a weird reference and not just in their procedural deployment of color, but also because the Impressionist obsessed over his own system, finding through science a rigid hypothesis for pictorial and emotional harmony (though Gaines clearly favors the joy of the process).

After 1989, issues of race, class, and power began to define Gaines’s material. Instead of trees or the lyric whirl of Trisha Brown dancing (“Motion: Trisha Brown Dance,” 1980–81), Edward Said and Frantz Fanon began to cameo in more explicitly political work. With a restrained quietude, Gaines’ early examinations into structures that underlie perception began to hint at other systems, those crafted by human's and marked by their inequalities, and which also truly shape the way we see.

Andrew Berardini