“Variations: Conversations in and around Abstract Painting”

LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
August 24–March 22

View of “Variations: Conversations in and around Abstract Painting,” 2014.

“Variations: Conversations in and around Abstract Painting” tests the limits of abstraction’s abundance by assembling a luxurious stable of paintings, as well as videos and sculptures. Works by expected names such as Amy Sillman, Mark Bradford, Gerhard Richter, Julie Mehretu, Albert Oehlen, and Christopher Wool ground this exhibition, but it is the addition of less expected practitioners and practices that makes it particularly comprehensive and surprising.

Analia Saban’s banal and elegant marble countertop on linen, Kohler 5931 Kitchen Sink #2, 2014, Anthony Pearson’s framed pigmented Hydrocal Untitled (Plaster Positive), 2013, and Dianna Molzan’s wrapped and painted stretcher bars, Untitled, 2012, excavate painting’s sculptural repressions. Even the influence of critics and curators is made present by printing their words rather literally onto the gallery walls. By including media other than paint and canvas, “Variations” outlines a kind of expanded field for painting that continues out to evocative interlocutions in sculpture and video. A. K. Burns’s Touch Parade, 2011, a video of various banal fetish gestures, Rachel Lachowicz’s Cell: Interlocking Construction, 2010, a Lucite sculpture filled with blue cosmetic powders, or Diana Thater’s video of a hooded, perched Female Peregrine Falcon (Brook), 2012, expand the exhibition to implicate the tactile, aural, visceral, and erotic. Assembled largely from works already in or slated to join LACMA’s permanent collection, “Variations” offers a less than temporary endorsement of these objects as well as of the practices to which they metonymically link.

Grant Johnson

Andy Warhol

THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, LOS ANGELES (MOCA)
250 South Grand Avenue
September 20–February 2

Andy Warhol remained cryptic about the two abstract forms—the “peak” and the “cap”—that recur throughout his Shadows, 1978–79, a sprawling installation of 102 large handpainted and silk-screened canvases, seen here in its entirety for the first time on the West coast. Their possible sources run a delightfully Warholian gamut, ranging from cardboard maquettes to the Empire State Building to erect penises. Warhol attributed the title to a photo of a shadow in his office, which he said the shapes were based on: “It’s a silkscreen that I mop over with paint,” he wrote.

The objects behind the eponymous shadows remain mysterious, but Warhol’s source of funding for the project was never in doubt. Shadows was sold to the Dia Art Foundation in 1979 for a reported $1.6 million, the same year it was first exhibited at Dia cofounder Heiner Friedrich’s gallery. And it is easy to see what attracted Friedrich: Warhol’s laconic abstraction, the subtle shifts in surface textures and images, together with the immersive quality of the installation as a whole, seems to align the canvases with the spiritually charged aesthetic associated with other grand projects of Dia’s first decade, epitomized by Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field, completed in 1977.

But the spirit behind the series is more downtown than desert. Shadows’s filmstrip repetition of black silk screens against hot monochrome acrylic splits the difference between the dark, drone-based Minimalism of La Monte Young and the louche glamour, stroboscopic flash, and thump of Studio 54, an association Warhol encouraged, calling the installation “disco décor.” “This show will be like all the others,” the artist wrote a week or so after the opening of his 1976 show at Friedrich's gallery in New York magazine. “The reviews will be bad—my reviews always are. But the reviews of the party will be terrific.”

Alexander Keefe

Yuri Ancarani

HAMMER MUSEUM
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
September 27–January 19

Yuri Ancarani, Il Capo, 2010, 35mm film, color, 5.1 dolby digital audio, 15 minutes.

In a dark and cushioned gallery, Yuri Ancarani’s trilogy of short films La malattia del ferro (The Disease of Iron), 2010–12, plays on a seamless loop. Each lush 35-mm segment focuses on an “unseen” form of labor, reveling in the dexterity of machine-amplified human bodies: the micro movements of a da Vinci surgical machine inside the abdomen of a patient; the macro movements of two excavators with enough force to break a mountain into slabs, directed by the flicks and waves of a quarry chief; and the human movements of submarine sailors systematically manipulating the ergonomic suits and bulkheads and diving bells that house them at deadly depths.

Throughout, Ancarani’s camera marvels at technologized, ultra-human extensions of labor. What is shown is no mean “work” but is in fact highly specialized, not to mention dangerous. Lurking under the smooth cinematography is the sense that the slightest error could be catastrophic: death by crushing for the sub crew or il capo, peritonitis for the patient under the da Vinci. This thrill—that such precision can be accomplished with an alien-looking apparatus—is paralleled in the apparent mastery of the filmmaker over his own, lensed extension. As his subjects go beyond their normal abilities, the artist sees as never before.

At the same time, Ancarani’s films indulge in a technohumanist vein—in shots of the quarry chief’s dense, glossy chest hair, or in a sequence where the robosurgeon’s servos cycle through their range of articulation. Never mind that the doctor-operator almost certainly makes more than the quarry foreman—the value placed, seemingly, on mechanical sophistication over bodily risk. Surplus value be damned. Labor here obeys a “beautiful choreography.” Il capo stabs a stub-fingered hand into the air, stopping the excavator’s claw. A sci-fi sound track sucks and groans as the da Vinci plunges into the abdomen, into the frame.

Travis Diehl