For anyone who loves art, it has, in the past few years alone, become easy to love L.A. I happened to be down there last weekend, thinking about Andrea Zittel and West Coast artists, and I found plenty more to consider, even in the relatively quiet month of August.
L.A. owns sculpture. This was the entire point of the Thing show at the Hammer Museum at UCLA in 2005, but last weekend there were other sculptors lurking there, too. In Eden's Edge, Gary Garrels's show of 15 L.A. artists at the Hammer, I was stopped in my tracks by Anna Sew Hoy's fired ceramic hives, draped in jewelry, feathers, and other detritus ("feathers are everywhere in L.A. lately," noted fellow art writer Jori Finkel). They are baroque, sciencey, glam, funk: on fire. (More feathers: Elliott Hundley, Liz Craft.)
The handful of Matthew Monahan's sculptures and drawings at the Hammer mystified me, but over at LA MOCA, his solo show was like a West Coast, contemporary version of the new Greek and Roman galleries at the Metropolitan Museum in New York: works for the ages on war and mythical subjects, in a space aptly flooded with light. Monahan's Janus-like figurative columns and his drawings of faces on paper, crumpled and mounted on pedestals made of Sheetrock (one owned by the kingly Michael Ovitz), are contemporary ruins and preemptively toppled monuments.
Making the rounds, I encountered much more than just sculpture worth recommending: video, photographs, and a text piece from artist-writer-activist Allan Sekula's Shipwreck and Workers (a version of which is also at Documenta) at Christopher Grimes; Chen Xiaoyun's arresting video Lash, in an impromptu back-room screening from Christian Haye, founder of MC Gallery and New York's Project Gallery; and, at Susanne Vielmetter, Allie Bogle's roomful of movie snow that feels like cool gelatinous tapioca between the toes, and Timothy Tompkins's still-life paintings of marked-down leftover items at department stores.
I missed Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution (it closed July 16 and will be coming to the Vancouver Art Gallery in October 2008), but made Identity Theft: Eleanor Antin, Lynn Hershman, Suzy Lake 1972—1978, curated by Finkel at Santa Monica Museum of Art. Antin, Lake, and Hershman, all influences on Cindy Sherman and working just before she began her film stills series, are, compared to Sherman, more haunting, funny, and powerfully weird. Not to mention overlooked.
At the Dan Flavin retrospective (at Los Angeles County Museum of Art), I found myself totally reconsidering his reputation as a minimalist. I left reeling. What pathos. Two works stand out: the portrait-like 1962 icon V (Coran's Broadway Flesh) and, in a dark, dead-end room, his blood-red 1966 monument 4 for those who have been killed in ambush (to P.K. who reminded me about death). I left that room to avoid breaking down in tears.