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Mernet Larsen

VARIOUS SMALL FIRES
812 North Highland Avenue
February 28–April 11

Mernet Larsen, Aw, 2003, acrylic and tracing paper on canvas, 40 x 66".

Encountering the paintings of Mernet Larsen for the first time can feel a bit like discovering a new exotic fruit or hearing an alien tongue: The worldview they picture is strange to the senses and thrillingly outlandish, like a surprise that is meticulously constructed and fully realized, exceedingly complex and fiercely independent. Larsen’s impact registers all at once with the force built up from a lifetime spent gradually developing, maturing, and testing her own eccentric visual language in representational painting. It’s a language that articulates figures through an abstract declension of simple geometric shapes, turning bodies into exceedingly odd, Lego-like totems. Stick figures of a very high order.

Cartoonish and toylike in the best sense, Larsen’s figures are implausible analytic reductions in the manner of academic figure-drawing exercises. Their dramatically stretched anatomies are rendered as flat boardlike surfaces and blocky volumes. The look may have an initial resonance with the digital pixel-thick compression of early video games, but the similarities are mainly morphological and don’t begin to capture the hyperbolic weirdness of the spatial illusions and warped, isometric perspectives she achieves. In Explanation, 2007, for instance, perspective is inverted in more ways than one as what pass for “bodies” grow larger the farther away they appear and the green linoleum-panel floor expands upward, out the top of the picture plane (with the vanishing point at the bottom), so that it simultaneously represents the ceiling. Space bends over and pops its innie out. In Reunion, 2014, the red-checkered table that is its centerpiece seems to wobble drunkenly and tip precariously forward, lurching—in fact, the whole scene threatens to slip off its support.

Larsen’s sense of space is both very shallow and very deep. Her hard-edge figures are blockheads with stone faces, clubfeet, and two by fours for limbs, yet they are incredibly tender and full of pathos, metaphor. The effect is woozy, vertiginous, hilarious, and shockingly strong—an everyday revelation.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer

David Hartt

LAXART AT THE BONAVENTURE HOTEL
404 South Figueroa Street, Second floor storefront Suite 201A
March 7–April 11

David Hartt, Interval, 2015, two channel HD video, fifteen minutes, eight seconds.

Washed-out color shots of sagging architecture fill the windows of a storefront at the Bonaventure Hotel, a fitting advertisement for David Hartt’s “Interval.” Inside, a pair of monitors mounted to black poles screen lush, near-static grayscale footage—on the left, Siberia; the right, Alaska—set to a skittering, plunking sound track by Mitchell Akiyama. Stateside, for example, a balletic shot of helicopter gunships taxiing on some remote tarmac, while opposite, Russian kids hanging out in a parking lot throw their sports car into donuts. Somewhere in the Yukon, a silvery-gray fence hems in a dry stack of lumber, which is accompanied, on the left, by plenty of meadows with back-, mid-, and foreground plants shimmying in the breeze. The monitors sync every minute or so, with a shot of DJ gear, disco balls, or a projector lens, as if to say that dancing might transcend cultural divides—the way, perhaps, these diptychs span the Bering Strait.

The show occupies an old stripped-down flower shop—empty green plant displays serve as benches; bare walk-in fridges are still lit—in a hotel that is itself a proposition past its prime, a paragon of postmodern architecture extolled by Fredric Jameson. Its pricey, curved rooms are still anchored by six floors of liminal retail: a mall scattered with souvenir and jewelry shops, a weird brew pub, and now a pop-up art show—a setting that fundamentally resonates with the show’s theme of international decay. Yet Hartt’s quaint postindustrial RU/US travelogue is more in line with the humble defoliated florist’s of suite 201 than the building as a whole, which, while grandly confused, is also prepossessing—the turreted glass-and-concrete disco to end them all.

Travis Diehl

Walead Beshty

REGEN PROJECTS | 633 NORTH ALMONT DRIVE
633 North Almont Drive
February 13–March 28

View of “Walid AlBeshti,” 2015.

Those looking for clues in the polished press dispatch from Regen Projects learn only that “Walid AlBeshti—the transliteration of the artist’s name from Arabic into English—brings together paintings and sculptures.”

Maybe the UK-born, Los Angeles–based Walead Beshty hopes to lend his “distributed,” postconceptual practice shades of his own transnational history. As if this might offset the lack of such personal/political sparkle in the works themselves, whose wrenchingly specific titles exude their own kind of mock-religious, backhanded austerity. Shroud (ExxonMobil Mobil 1 0W-40 Synthetic Motor Oil/Castrol Limited Edge Syntec SAE 10W-30 Synthetic Motor Oil: August 14, 2013–August 13, 2014, Los Angeles, California), 2015, for one. Five canvas drop cloths, dappled with months of tears, tread marks, and motor-oil stains where the artist parked his cars have been stretched, hung on the wall, and noted on the checklist as “oil on canvas”: not Jesus in Turin, but Mercedes in LA. Five of the artist’s “copper surrogates,” giant, shining minimalist brackets that bear the handprints of all their anonymous handlers, have made the trip from Miami; here a set of five are propped into two crisp piles—each of which makes a lowbrow nod to the LA monogram of the Dodgers.

Beshty’s “AlBeshti” artworks—stunning, formal, yet covered in indexical smudges—tell a joke about what we might dryly call “art’s circulation in the global marketplace.” A joke, furthermore, in bad faith, made at the expense of those who would take these pieces as simply beautiful. As if there were any doubt, Beshty’s minimalist PR magnifies the fuck-you of a gallery show that might have been made by anyone yet bears the Beshty brand. As if the artist could give up his most saleable property, his name, in favor of a more authentic, more personal translation, but hasn’t.

Travis Diehl

Juliette Blightman

KARMA | LOS ANGELES
4619 West Washington
March 4, 2015–March 27, 2015

View of “Eden Eden Eden,” 2015.

Beneath the long fronds of a potted houseplant, a sizeable black speaker rumbles like a distant party. The noise haunts or taunts, beckons or repulses, depending perhaps on whether you’re invited. From Juliette Blightman, an artist best known for her short films and installations, this suite of gouaches, graphite works, oils, and acrylics picture tangled naked men at a 5 AM party, women with their backs turned, often looking at art (sometimes noted as from the “Hair and Arse” series, 2014), women frolicking by the seaside, and clusters of friends. Interiors and trains, grand museums, fireworks at a grandmother’s funeral—the pictures come from Bregenz and Zurich, Surrey and Berlin, London, and Istanbul.

The colors of these simple, bright compositions veil and unfurl, revealing an interlocking set of humans to which you may or may not belong, of lives lived and reported (even from afar) with a gentle lyricism and a licentious charm. The first exhibition of a potentially yearlong outpost of the Zurich gallery Karma International, these pictures bespeak a group of extended friends with the mixed privilege of precarious international fluidity. The sense of inclusion and exclusion built into these kinds of communities and pictures is willfully acknowledged by the artist, both in an interview in the press release and in the title of one of the included series of numbered works, “Exclusivities” (on the checklist as No. 1 and No. 2, both 2015). Do you feel excluded? Included? When you hear the sound of the distant party, do you kvetch at the noise, smile at the faraway dancing with shimmying memories, or, with license one can only grant to oneself, do you say fuck it and crash? Or perhaps, best yet: Inspired, do you just start your own?

Andrew Berardini

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