Lezley Saar

California African American Museum (CAAM)
600 State Drive, Exposition Park
October 25–February 18

Lezley Saar, Vesta the Johnny, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16''. From the series “Gender Renaissance,” 2015–.

For most of the run of Lezley Saar’s jewel-box retrospective exhibition at this museum, a visitor could also see work by Saar’s sister, the sculptor Alison Saar, and mother, Betye Saar, a few paces away, in a separate, traveling group show. Indeed, the Saars are a formidable presence in Los Angeles—they’re the closest thing to an art dynasty we have—but as of yet, far less attention has been paid to Lezley Saar’s research-intensive and wildly speculative work. This installation seeks to amend that, bringing together four series for the first time under the winking title “Salon des Refusés.”

Unlike the original “Salon de Refusés” in 1863, none of the painted and collaged works here are rejects, but rather the people portrayed in them have been tossed aside and discounted by society. The artist invests in these individuals for their latent potentialities. Paintings from the series “Madwoman in the Attic/Madness and the Gaze,” 2004–12, explore, among other things, nineteenth-century fictional characters, many of whom are brown or black, who subvert societal restrictions on the behaviors of women of color via madness or mental disorders. In Bertha Rochester, 2012, the head of Charlotte Brontë’s famous “madwoman in the attic” is proposed as a free-floating tree of pain and despair, while surrounding keyhole photographs of clocks and stacked dollhouse furniture give one a sense of her isolated life. For the series “Monad,” 2014, the artist blends the organic and the cosmic—eyes float in the heavens, set within a carpet of stars—while the fictional women depicted throughout, with a few notable historical references, appear as explorers of the boundaries between science and the occult. Finally, “Gender Renaissance,” 2015–, investigates personages (including real individuals) who blurred gender lines prior to the emergence of transgender identity discourse. In all these cases, Saar looks to the past—lived and literary—so that we might see how to make the present a more welcoming place for the strange and the brave.

Andy Campbell

Kristin Lucas

And/Or Gallery
980 S Arroyo Pkwy #200
November 18–February 24

Kristin Lucas, Greater Flamingo, Marching No. 2, 2017, laser animation, silent, 2 minutes.

Kristin Lucas’s Sole Soaker, 2015, begins at the base of an impossibly tall staircase. For this video game, a gallery visitor can become a player by picking up a nearby Xbox controller. Ascending the stairs gives one a sense of the landscape; at the edge of a lush and verdant peninsula is a blacktop parking lot, bound on two sides by water. In the distance is a blue car. At sixty meters above sea level a chime sounds and a disembodied feminine robotic voice confirms your progress. Things change quickly as the waters begin to rise, quickly engulfing the landscape, and finally cresting at the tops of scattered trees.

The artist’s interactive work is less a cybernetic cri de coeur than a confirmation of what we already know to be true. This is the world in ecological collapse—a tidal reclaiming. Sole Soaker is an unsettling centerpiece in an exhibition that otherwise uses the figure of the flamingo as a visual symbol to explore everything from human sociality to the history of recent imaging technologies, integrating lasers, as in Greater Flamingo, Marching No. 2, as well as augmented reality, as in Flamingos, Flocking, both 2017. Kitschy, gorgeous, and enigmatic, for this body of work Lucas sees flamingos everywhere, perhaps precisely because they are becoming evermore vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. This is a well-researched and playful flamboyance of works that, when taken together, gesture toward the deceptively simple yet deliciously complex insight made by anthropologist Anna Tsing that “human nature is an interspecies relationship.” Let the choir sing and honk their affirmations.

Andy Campbell

Ben Sakoguchi

2130 Valley Blvd
November 16–January 28

Ben Sakoguchi, “Fat Man”/Flash Burns, Nagasaki, August 9 1945, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 32". From the twenty-four-part suite Bombs, 1983.

Hung in a tight grouping on a single wall, Ben Sakoguchi’s suite of twenty-four paintings, Bombs, 1983, depicts a host of nuclear weapons, tests, and strikes, and constitutes one of the most eloquent and acerbic arguments against nuclear proliferation in contemporary art. Created in just four months, the works’ small scale and significant visual wallop parallel what is most incomprehensible about atomic weapons—the deep disjuncture between their destructive capacities and their relatively small size. Rage seethes through paintings such as Mk.17, wherein the artist has added a graphic of an exploding stick of dynamite and the word “Super.” Linguistic intensifiers rarely match, or combat, the level of hubris and slaughter enacted by nuclear weapons, but this comes close, undercutting the bomb’s necropolitical extension of human capability.

At the center of the group are two diptychs that set the mushroom clouds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (generated by the perversely named Little Boy and Fat Man, respectively) alongside the physical traumas of those who survived—at least for a time. A human hand is painted into each of these frames, holding a placard that dutifully, economically describes what is being shown: “Flash Burns, Nagasaki, August 9 1945” and “Keloid Tumors, Hiroshima, August 6 1945.” This highlighting of suffering, scarring, death, and the callous disregard for life that nuclear weapons engender animates the rest of the installation.

Political works such as this suite are not just artifacts of a time gone by. Recently, the president of the United States—at once fat man and little boy—boasted on social media of his ability and willingness to push the “nuclear button” (which, of course, is much bigger than anyone else’s). Super.

Andy Campbell

Michael Queenland

Kristina Kite Gallery
3400 W Washington Blvd
December 9–February 10

Michael Queenland, Untitled (Eye), 2017, marble, granite, ceramic tile, dye sublimation tile, wood, metal frame, 80 x 32 x 1".

Spazzatura, the Italian word for “trash,” is more specific than the generic rifuiti (which can be translated as “refuse” or “waste”) and is certainly more fun to say. Sharing a root with the Latin verb spatior—meaning “to walk around”—the word suggests a connection between the detritus on the street and the activity of walking by it. One person who clearly doesn’t bypass trash, though, is Michael Queenland, whose solo exhibition “Roam” comprises a grouping of floor-bound tile sculptures ornamented with high-resolution scans of trash, refuse which the artist happened upon while walking through the streets during his residency at the American Academy in Rome.

Stepping into the role of taxonomist, Queenland gathered this collection of rubbish and divided it into categories. Discarded cigarette packs recur most often, with their shrieking, bold typographic reminders that inhaling their contents only hastens death (IL FUMO UCCIDE), and their disturbing, graphic photographs of cancerous holes in the throat (Untitled [Orifice], 2017), milky eyes (Untitled [Eye], 2017), and various other spectacular ailments (Untitled [Hardships], 2017). A group of twisted champagne muselets, Untitled (Underfoot), 2017, looks as if it were a graphic line drawing against the stark white tile, giving form to the drunken debauchery that no doubt occasioned their disposal. Also included here is a series of framed works from 2012 in which photographs of dead bodies found in the New York Times are matted side by side with the images in reverse—a kind of chance operation with sometimes surprising results. These cadavers, many of which were left out in the open, like so much spazzatura, were the result of a daily violence forgotten, and now remembered.

Andy Campbell

Miriam Schapiro

Honor Fraser
2622 S. La Cienega Blvd.
November 4–February 16

Miriam Schapiro, Mylar Series (Computer Series), 1971, tape on Mylar, 42 x 47".

Miriam Schapiro’s early collaborations are well-trod ground; her cofounding with Judy Chicago of one of the first feminist-art programs, at the California Institute of the Arts, in 1971 is legendary, and her part in coining the term femmage broke open linguistics for a burgeoning field of feminist art. But a particular association, with physicist David Nabilof, is understudied. Schapiro met Nabilof while both were teaching at the University of California, San Diego, in 1967, and together they explored the possibilities of then-nascent computer-aided design technologies. For a painter who was inculcated into the cult of Abstract Expressionist mark-making, this must have seemed a revelation—and the canvases on display in this eight-painting show are evidence of that fruitful dialogue.

One gets a sense of the artist sans computer in three paintings, all dated 1967, which display Schapiro’s crystalline, geometric style. Byzantium, for example, is a gathering of rectilinear shapes emerging from a deep-violet background, with the central form a broken pilaster. This changes in 1969, when her compositions began to look like wire frames of non-Euclidean geometric problem sets. Computer Series, 1969, presents a group of cubes and planes atop an orange ombré ground. Here, the hard-edge clarity of shape is set against ambiguous space, creating a painting that is confounding and pleasurable in equal measure. Executed on the silvery substance name-checked in its title, Mylar Series (Computer Series), 1971, is the apotheosis of Schapiro’s cyber-dream, wherein a viewer’s reflection is necessarily incorporated in her thinly taped forms—a collaboration without end.

Andy Campbell