Jacaranda trees have purple rained all over the car hoods and sidewalks of Los Angeles. It’s only fitting that the city’s art calendar be marked by a flush of June gallery openings.
Whitewall wasn’t about to miss “Artists of Color” at the Underground Museum (on view until February 4, 2018). It’s the third in a series curated by the late, great Noah Davis. The show asks us to consider anew the meanings and uses of color. Artworks are thoughtfully pulled from MOCA’s permanent collection in an ongoing partnership with the L.A. museum. Jennie C. Jones is hung near a Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Dan Flavin vertical to a horizontal Carmen Herrera, Joe Goode at a right angle to a Jo Baer. The Arlington Heights neighborhood can intimately interact with artworks normally tagged for private consumption, in a community space that encourages cross-class and multidisciplinary dialogue. Bathrooms are separated with Jim Crow-era signage—“COLORED ONLY No Whites Allowed.”
The show’s wall texts are mouthpieces for many of the artists’ views on color. There’s some transcendental color theory mixed in with the hindsight of color’s more phobic usages.
The Underground Museum was co-founded in 2012 by Davis, who died in 2015 at the age of 32 from cancer, and his wife, the artist Karon Davis. It is an exhibition and event space, a storefront, and a community garden. Under the continued direction of Megan Steinman and the Davis family (Noah’s brother is the ever-dazzling filmmaker Kahlil Joseph, one of the directing eyes behind Beyoncé’s Lemonade), the Underground sets itself apart through its collaborative outreach, encouraging us to be bold in the ways we think and feel about art.
Bee-lining to Mid-City to check out “Hydrogenesis” at HILDE (on view from through July 15), we interrupted the gallery director Hilde Helphenstein as she put on her “high priestess” get-up the Swedish art duo Ohlsson/Dit-Cilinn urged her to don. “I’m worried about walking,” she admitted. She smiled and lifted her silk robe above socked heels to try the stairs. “By all means,” she enthused, “take a look around!” We had a private one-to-one with the auratic assemblage works of Ohlsson/Dit-Cillin before any opening night crowd arrived.
Showcasing urban refuse (the charred torso of a car), a buoy, salvaged sea creatures, a bud of weed, totemic bones, and a metal sword, “Hydrogenesis” is tonally exceptional. The Swedish duo have meticulously forged a mythology of their own, sampling from rock, metal music, a West Coast assemblage heritage, as well as Nordic shamanism. Theirs is a teasing embrace of the world as one already writ by entropy. A favorite piece: two remarkable and weathered rocks with hollow middles. One rocky navel holds a dried vine from store bought grapes.
Next, we talked at length with the budding Chicago-based artist Sean Gannon about his latest series of paintings, “Chew Slowly,” up at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles until July 8. He’s right at home in L.A. with his finish fetish approach to production. Using DuraLaq acrylic on medium-density fiberboard, as well as spray and sanding techniques to fabricate his works, Gannon meticulously builds up surface only to reduce it to a serial glaze. His work is a sardonic nod to the conceptual maneuvers of art predecessors, who attempted to outmaneuver commodity fetishism by aping and stoking it. His works quietly reference the “big boy” canon (Guston, Matisse, and Picasso) through coloration and figuration.
Gannon has a recurrent stock of abstracted characters and symbols: tear drops, a gender indeterminate set of breasts, swirling hair follicles that could stand in for pubes or the thrown back hair of someone climaxing, as well as lonely window frames and mirrors without reflection. His obsessively worked surfaces transmit the conceptual fervor of his series. Like Giacometti’s Boule suspendue of 1930, Gannon builds up frictional intimacy through ephemerally balanced or just-touching shapes.
Gannon calls out to the frightened heart of our social moment. What he captures so masterfully is masturbatory reclusion and our compensatory games of intimacy; how interior spaces (the corners of couches, the edges of things, empty rooms, rubbing) can supply us with autogenetic pleasure. One of Gannon’s works alludes to Picasso and the series of five tomato plants the Spaniard painted while the Nazis were invading France. These fictive fruit-veggies were emblems of hope and prosperity. Picasso was a foreigner in a distorted, wartime landscape making believe. His own asylum was, like our own, a strange and alienating grief.