Will Benedict

6693 Sunset Boulevard
September 13–October 17

Will Benedict, Stop and Frisk, 2015, offset poster, 55 1/4 x 39 1/2".

“Bad Weather” is a riff on work Will Benedict did for the 2015 Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts, which treated the story of biologist Tyrone Hayes. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Hayes's life and work were sabotaged by Swiss biotech firm Syngenta after he published research indicating that firm’s herbicides were carcinogenic. Benedict’s approach is both abstract and highly ambivalent. In the gallery along with some uncredited patio umbrellas are grim charcoal-on-plaster abstractions (Malaria [all works 2015]), gloomy gouaches (Wet Wheat III), sarcastic glass and wire sculptures (Mythical Marketing (Prison of your Mind)) as well as collages and offset prints. Benedict’s own position seems suspended between a sense of the depth of our world’s problems and the inability to see any way one’s getting out of bed would help, if not hurt, the situation. How else to feel about titles such as Climate Shame and Universe of Disgust?

Benedict’s weltschmerz is at its most compelling when he plays the weirdest cards in his deck, represented here by some offset posters. The best one, Comparison Leads To Violence Poster, features a photograph of an actor dressed as an alien, with title text running underneath in bold black and white. Here, the absurdity of our situation is made clear: We exist so firmly outside our ethical selves that we might as well be from space— how else can we go on as we do with the knowledge that we have? Instead of taking anything close to a didactic stance on the subject of climate change, the work engages the viewer in a Levinasian encounter with ourselves-as-other in the gaze of a face that is neither entirely human nor alien. Making eye contact with the human inside the alien mask simultaneously reinforces our humanity and shows us how weird we have, as a species, truly become.

Steve Kado

Glenn Ligon

633 North Almont Drive
September 10–October 10

View of “Glenn Ligon: Live,” 2015.

Glenn Ligon’s Live dissects the full length of Richard Pryor’s 1982 concert film, Live on the Sunset Strip, projecting parts of the comedian across seven speechless screens. Suspended in the round are zooms onto hands, head, mouth, shadow, and crotch. Seemingly a formal study, the effect is also vertiginous. The blown-up reds, blacks, browns, and golds of Pryor’s face, suit, shirt, wedding ring, and boutonniere wrap sickly around each frame’s object, which is pinned to center. Ligon’s stated intent is to examine, beyond Pryor’s radical words, what made him such a great performer. Yet surrounded by flickering, jostling close-ups, the viewer is more likely struck by an almost violent fragmentation.

Live follows Ligon’s series of paintings of Pryor’s jokes. While the “joke paintings” take a swing at Richard Prince, say, or at the power dynamics generally played out in contemporary painting—and do so with Prior’s legacy as weapon—the present installation instead quiets and diffuses a man the artist plainly admires. Where is the comedy in that? Ligon appreciates, idolizes, even mythologizes Pryor. He also objectifies him. In this sense, Live satirizes a viewpoint that would reduce the entertainer—or, more pointedly, the African American male—to a body. Perhaps the gesture is blunt enough to speak for itself—though Pryor himself is silenced. Or perhaps such an outsize legacy can only be confronted piece by piece. Thus the reverent irony that attends Ligon’s double-edged treatment of the figure of Richard Pryor.

Travis Diehl

John McAllister

7380 Beverly Boulevard
September 12–October 17

View of “Sultry Spells Rapture,” 2015.

Inspired by its creator’s recent trip to Japan, a large-scale, freestanding painted screen (or byobu) embraces the decorative nature of John McAllister’s work by joining canvases to form an ornamental centerpiece. On one side, a flat interior scene stretches across all six panels—a suave living room with a slender table, vase of shapely flowers, two paintings, and lounging cat. Opulent oils in rose, cerise, and carnation pink dominate the composition, offset by the colors of the depicted paintings—a landscape with muddy olive foliage, a sea-foam stream, and cerulean sky; a coral and peach-hued still life. The screen’s reverse features a shifting patterned “wallpaper” in muted mauve and taffy pink with two potted plants painted low as if set on the floor, and several depictions of postcard-size pictures seemingly affixed to the screen’s surface. The final panel departs with a leaf-and-branch motif set against a dark plum ground, favoring a more graphic effect.

Within this single work McAllister incites a playful conversation addressing multiple layers of representation, continuing beyond the patrician setting (paintings within paintings) to the incorporation of frames within the canvases of the wall-hung works. Even the verbiage of his titles—the exhibition’s, for example, “Sultry Spells Rapture”—employs homonyms, multiplying possibilities of interpretation with poetic effect. The byobu contributes to an elegant and fitting development in McAllister’s work: He continues to utilize the dandyish language and technique of nineteenth-century French painting, a period which itself was influenced by the super-flat aesthetic of Japanese painting. He simultaneously luxuriates in a narrowed and sumptuous palette to a shimmering, immersive effect—color negatives set against a light box, or black light Matisse.

Mariko Munro

“Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”

2712 S. La Cienega Boulevard
August 22–October 10

William O’Brien, Untitled, 2015, glazed ceramic, 15 x 13 x 11".

The current show at Cherry and Martin’s auxiliary space presents a tightly knit arrangement of clay-based works by four artists who share an interest, as the title suggests, in pushing clay to its limits, rejecting the pristine, sleek aesthetic of traditional ceramics and embracing instead the volatility—and expressiveness—of chemical processes native to the craft.

Katy Cowan’s slip-cast objects, dangling from wall-bound rope, are seemingly the most restrained, although hammers, donuts, and two-by-fours made from stoneware squarely—if politely—refuse functionality. Cowan’s assemblages feel light and twee next to William J. O’Brien’s roughly hewn sculptures, which look as though they’ve been lacquered with Technicolor finger paint. The masklike quality of his objects is heightened in one of the gallery’s centerpieces, Untitled, 2015, an eight-foot-tall totem pole of hand-built vertical vessels sandwiched between horizontal ceramic “landscapes.” From a distance, the work exudes monumentality; close up, it rewards roving attention to all of the nooks and crannies that pockmark its surface.

Takuro Kuwata and Adam Silverman extend the emphasis on failure and accident even further. Kuwata uses a firing technique called Ishihaze, or “stone explosion,” in which impurities in the clay erupt to create bulbous protrusions. The result can be seen in a work such as Sweating Momoko with Make-Up, 2014, a knee-high gumdrop marked by scatological clumps of mud (the explosions) that disrupt a cheerful palette of pastels and metallics, melding wabi-sabi with kawaii. Silverman allows glaze to run wild quite literally, so that it oozes down the sides of his objects, pooling around their bases—decoration becoming integral to form. His largest piece, Untitled, 2015, takes this principle to its logical end: The work consists of about eight distinct vessels stacked in a squat, round kiln, all enrobed in a velvety shade of indigo and fused to one another and to the kiln itself. What would ordinarily be considered a studio disaster becomes instead a paean to the inextricability of process and product.

Andrea Gyorody