Chadwick Rantanen at team (bungalow)


When taking in the work of Chadwick Rantanen, death doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Yet, its currents ripple throughout Alarmer, the artist’s current solo at team (bungalow). Housed within the show are deer and duck decoys as well as fly and rat traps—items designed to facilitate the demise of living beings through attractive, and deceptive, strategies. In reality, though, Rantanen is less concerned with the end of life than in the deceitfulness and potentiality inherent to such objects.

Comprised of just six works that make shrewd use of team’s interior and exterior settings, Alarmer is by turns a continuation and a departure for Rantanen. Works such as Triple Play Motion Doves and Crow Spread (all works 2017) exemplify tactics of intervention and restructuring that have been central to the artist’s practice. These sculptures incorporate bird decoys whose battery components were retrofitted to accept Rantanen-designed adaptors, enabling AAA batteries to operate instead of AAs—an action that frustrates and ultimately deteriorates their intended functionality. To keep them active, the artist’s winged adaptors will need to be replaced by gallery staff and, eventually, their owners—making clear that for Rantanen, his art is not only the interrupted object set adrift, but also the temporal and quasi-site specific activity that it facilitates.

Unlike the artist’s manipulation of mass-produced objects, works such as Hanging Strips (Yellow) and Admitting (Green) are entirely of his own design. A multi-part flytrap and an oversize rat trap, respectively, they offer an abject take on objectified duplicity, even if their hardened glue is incapable of ensnaring vermin. Admitting (Green), the show’s most dissonant and engaging work, commingles allusions to a rat trap and a hospital admitting room, allowing that we are all subjects of deceit as much as we are perpetrators of it. Despite such caustic allusions, moralizing is not the takeaway from Alarmer, but rather it’s that Rantanen’s art renders unseen systems visible, highlighting that potential can be seized even in the most familiar of places.

Image:  Chadwick Rantanen, Alarmer (Installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and team (gallery, inc.).

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, March 30, 2017

Die Kränken at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives


A form of nostalgia pervades artist collective die Kränken’s multifaceted exhibition Sprayed with Tears, currently on view at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives. Its accompanying text states die Kränken (“the sick” in German) “strives for new strategies of queer radicality”—yet, their exhibition is surprisingly dedicated to the past. Sprayed with Tears centers mostly on the history of the Blue Max, a Southern California gay motorcycle club, and their fetishistic garb, ritualized performances, and subcultural codes.

Dominating the downstairs portion of the exhibition is a projection of die Kränken’s captivating reinterpretation of Blue Max’s annual performance. Installed opposite is a decorated bar that serves as an approximation of the Black Pipe, a now-defunct leather bar, and subject of frequent LAPD raids. Illuminating archival biker footage and multiple framed prints round out the installation. The second story mezzanine is dedicated to a suite of 16 adroitly designed bandanas that contemporize the hanky code, an antiquated means of signaling to others, precisely what your kink is via colored handkerchiefs.

That these emblems are of a gay male identity that is either bygone or evaporating as a result of homosexual assimilation into heteronormative society is of apparent frustration for die Kränken. However, their reevaluation here seems less an attempt at actual resuscitation than a stopgap measure against total erosion of certain gay lifestyles. As such, Sprayed with Tears functions more as a self-conscious throwback during an era of widespread gay visibility, and suggests that this very visibility will eventually be a corrosive force for queer subcultures. While die Kränken’s retooling of gay motorcycle club activities sheds light on prior homosexual appropriation of a straight counterculture, it doesn’t assertively suggest what such a model should be today—leaving one asking when does fetishized nostalgia end and new queer radicality begin?

Image: Die Kränken, Black Pipe Intervention (Video still) (2016). Image courtesy of the artist and ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, March 15, 2017

Creature at the Broad


On the surface, museums dedicated to private art collections seem more like glorifications of investment than valorizations of creativity—though what comprises a collection makes clear on which end of that spectrum it truly is. When billionaire philanthropic and art-collecting duo Eli and Edythe Broad—whose surname appears on virtually every cultural edifice in Los Angeles—announced plans to build a museum to house their own art collection, it was more a given than a surprise. Yet the mystery lay less in the couple’s imminent desire to construct a monument to their art holdings and more in how this collection-cum-institution would actually function in an age of global museum expansion and private foundation proliferation.

At the time of the Broad’s inaugural exhibition, the reviews were almost exclusively negative, with many critics pointing out the installation’s safe, art market-approved homogeny. It is true that the collection is overwhelmingly comprised of blue-chip, auction-sanctioned art; however, “markets always distinguish between what’s salable and what’s not, but they can’t calculate quality.”1 Thus the real question is: Can vital, culturally significant exhibitions be mounted purely from such dedication to art’s established markets? If Creature, the current exhibition at the Broad, is any guide, the answer is probably not.

Regardless (or possibly because of) the collection’s oft-cited limitations, Creature’s thesis seems willfully porous. Its introductory wall text states, “We navigate constantly a fluid zone between our instincts and our learned behaviors,” and goes on to posit that “art can reframe—at times even rupture—preconceived or stale notions about what it means to be human.” Certainly, the conflict between our instinctual, desire-driven selves and the body as a physical, mental and social construct makes for an intriguing and fertile exhibition context. Yet such curatorial succinctness was either unattainable or was simply not the goal here, as the wall text goes on to state, “this exhibition examines the wide-ranging terrain of creaturely life, from everyday animals to extraordinary monsters to human beings.”

With these additional obfuscating layers, Creature becomes a nebulous, rambling display that is essentially split into three commingling divisions: tension between subjectivity and societal systems (Baselitz, Golub, Wojnarowicz), corporeal spectacle (Houseago, Koons, Murakami), and zoological allusions (Balkenhol, Basquiat, Vaisman). Unsurprisingly, the latter two’s respective sensationalistic and non-human qualities irreparably compromise the integrity of the former. For instance, Andy Warhol’s The Kiss (Bela Lugosi) (1963), which opens the show, is an appropriated image from the 1931 film Dracula, in which the titular vampire prepares to feast on his female victim. In this context, Warhol’s screenprint sets an unshakable art-as-spectacle tone, one that is echoed by Thomas Houseago’s monstrous Giant Figure (Cyclops) (2011), Tony Oursler’s suspended cloud Dust (2006), and Takashi Murakami’s inexcusably misogynistic sculpture Nurse Ko2 (Original rendering by Nishi-E-Da, modeling by BOME and Genpachi Tokaimura, advised Masahiko Asano, full scale sculpture by Lucky-Wide Co., Ltd.) (2011). The exaggerated and uncanny nature of these and other works injects the physical aspects found in the work of Kiki Smith and Cindy Sherman—to name just two—with a debased, overly theatrical tenor.

This is not to say that Creature does not incorporate exceptional artwork. In addition to excellent pieces by Georg Baselitz, Bruce Nauman, Jenny Holzer, Cindy Sherman, and Ellen Gallagher, is David Wojnarowicz’s Late Afternoon in the Forest (1986), perhaps the one work in the show that perfectly ticks all three of Creature’s thematic boxes. It makes sense, then, that it appears both at the beginning and end—due to the show’s circular layout viewers experience this particular work twice. The Broads own at least three of Wojnarowicz’s works and, according to the museum’s website, they were acquired in 1986, a time when the openly gay artist was authoring intensely personal, visceral reactions to the AIDS crisis era in which he lived (he died from the disease in 1992). His work’s inclusion here is an absolute highlight, one that is tinged with the sadness that seemingly very few works of this kind of zeitgeist vitality have found their way into this collection.

Put simply, Creature favors spectacle over substance. As a result, continually urgent issues of race, gender, sexuality, and governmental power that could have been more potently explored are either ignored completely or are dealt with in a sublimated manner indicative of “the synthesis of contemporary art, spectacle and tourism that has already triumphed in much of the world,”2 leaving the show’s potential for examinations of “the body” in any other sense than corporeally largely untapped.


1 Knight, Christopher, “An early look in the Broad museum reveals a show that doesn’t quite gel,” Los Angeles Times, September 13, 2015. Link

2 McDonough, Tom, “Complacency in Crisis: On Jeff Koons at Versaille,” Texte Zur Kunst 73 (March 2009), p. 156.

Image: David Wojnarowicz, Late Afternoon in the Forest (1986). Courtesy of the Broad Art Foundation and the Estate of David Wojnarowicz.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, Issue 7 (February 2017)

Sam Durant at Blum & Poe


Last fall, Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant built The Meeting House, a temporary structure that served as the framework for several “lyceums” (lectures, performances and poetry readings) on the history of African-American relations to Concord, MA, where the project was staged. Build Therefore Your Own World, the artist’s current solo exhibition at Blum & Poe, largely stems from the activities that took place during the project’s run. The result is a densely layered, demanding installation in which disparate histories and narratives are woven together to form new, synthesized wholes.

Appearing first is Every spirit builds a house, and beyond its house a world…Build therefore your own world (2017), an enormous, four-part installation in the form of a wooden house that is constructed from the floorboards of The Meeting House. Painted on each partition are texts by four African-American poets that were commissioned for the Concord project, setting the literary-minded and racially-conscious tone of the show. These allusions to the inseparability of race from the written word are repeated elsewhere in the exhibition in works such as Erasure, Appearance (Garrison’s Walking Stick, Thoreau’s Pencil) (2016) and Transcendental (Wheatley’s Desk, Emerson’s Chair) (2016), in which items owned by Concord’s transcendentalist writers penetrate those owned by former slaves, astutely suggesting that the freedom of thought enjoyed by writers such as these and the history of black servitude are inextricably linked.

While Durant’s fused histories successfully underscore America’s centuries-spanning intractability with race, the exhibition frequently buckles under the weight of its myriad literary, cultural, social and historical references. Though these multifarious allusions reflect the complexity and uneasiness of the subjects explored here, reading of the checklist’s didactic blurbs and diagrams is a prerequisite for full engagement with them. As a result, navigating the exhibition can at times be more frustrating than rewarding.

Image: Sam Durant, Build Therefore Your Own World (Installation view). Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. Photo: Joshua White.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, February 1, 2017


Paul Sietsema at Matthew Marks


Los Angeles-based artist Paul Sietsema has long been praised for his film work, though recently the artist’s practice has been mostly dedicated to painting. Accordingly, of the fifteen total works that comprised his recent solo at Matthew Marks’s L.A. outpost, only two were films, both of which had already appeared in the artist’s previous show with gallery, in New York in 2014. The remaining thirteen pieces were exquisitely rendered photorealistic paintings on canvas and paper. To merely describe the impeccable illusionistic qualities of Sietsema’s paintings would do a disservice to the mobilized concepts of temporality, obsolescence, and circulation that determine their production. Regardless of medium, Sietsema’s project can be seen as a self-reflexive analysis of cultural production, specifically the distribution status of art objects—from exhibition to acquisition to their dissemination within the culture industry.

For this exhibition, Sietsema chose the color green as a catalyst. Among the color’s myriad significations are fecundity, inexperience, envy and greed, the final the show’s most salient. Most works directly address or incorporate money in the form of coins, credit cards, dollar bills and percentages, while others variously allude to age-generated value, museological effects and painterly processes. Sietsema’s chosen color emphasis plays out in the main gallery’s installation in a wittily entropic manner, commencing with the chromatically saturated Green painting (all works 2016), moving towards the lichen hues of 1997 and 1998, and ending with the relatively pallid pairing of Telephone painting and Figure ground study (50/50), both of which employ green only sparingly. This flow from purity to dilution hints at the eventual rupture of artistic, technological, and financial systems. As such, Sietsema’s indefatigably analogue works find themselves becoming increasingly relevant in the face of digital omnipotence. Indeed, his unrelenting reliance upon and allusions to outmoded technologies (as in Telephone painting’s rotary telephone) uncannily address the speed of evolution and the inevitability of obsolescence.

Image: Paul Sietsema Figure ground study (50/50), Ink and enamel on paper in artist’s frame
54 1/2 x 59 3/8 inches (138 x 151 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks, Los Angeles

Originally published in Flash Art, vol. 49, no. 312, (January/February 2017), pp. 74-75.

Nate Lowman at Maccarone


Nate Lowman’s New York solo debut in 2005 presciently gave the art world something it dearly wanted: a brash, critically indifferent, and smug handling of subject material deployed by an aspiring artist-persona. Ultimately, what made Lowman so successful was his glib drive to appropriate common vernaculars and parlay them into structurally seductive, highly desirable art commodities while maintaining a socially aware, flippant remove. A decade on, the balance has tipped.

Immediately upon entering Lowman’s current solo at Maccarone’s cavernous Los Angeles outpost, the viewer is confronted with the gigantic Untitled (2013-2015), a 50-part, painted representation of the United States, installed on the gallery’s central wall. The canvas used in each “state” was purportedly birthed from the production of other Lowman paintings—here the artist makes rampant use of the indexicality of dripped paint on drop-cloth, not so much as a means of analyzing the material labor of painting, or even that of its socio-physical constructs, but to further the saleable combination of trite bohemian gestures and attitude-as-product ethos that has always been his trademark.

The nine serially produced paintings hung on the flanking walls manage to recall early Sue Williams and late Julian Schnabel alike, but do little of their own accord. In them, perplexing texts such as “Tae Kwan Do,” or “Ask the Dust” are slathered over images of Earth as seen from the moon. At his very best, Lowman holds a knowing mirror up to American society, exposing its base and illogical desires. Indeed, it’s not hard to draw parallels between the vapid, cocksure grandstanding that held so much sway on November 8th and Lowman’s baroque excursions on view here.

Image: Nate Lowman Untitled, 2013-2015. Mixed media on canvas dropcloth, 168 x 336 inches (426.7 x 853.4 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Maccarone New York and Los Angeles
Photo: Joshua White

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, November 17, 2016

Maggie Lee at 356 Mission


Maggie Lee deals with memory and reconstructs her past experiences via filmic, sculptural and installation processes. Those who have not yet seen her film, Mommy (2015)the artist’s poignant and innovative ode to her deceased mother—may dismiss the defiantly lo-fi production that is Gigi*s Underground, her current solo exhibition at 356 Mission. Lee’s deskilled aesthetic belies the complex nature of her diaristic output—a collaged and repurposed reality that brims with nostalgia, aspiration, and heartache.

Gigi*s Underground is an atmospheric exploration of the unexpected quandaries when adolescence transitions into adulthood (sex, friendship, ambition). The resulting desire-infused installation is a collapsed representation of a club, a runway, a film set, and a bedroom all at once. While the polygonal and heart-shaped iconography that appears in works such as Superstar (all works 2016) and Gigi*s Friend, respectively, function as a harkening back to a more innocent life, Gigi*s mid-aughts club kid ambiance reigns supreme, subordinating the individual works to its service.

Maggie Lee once said that editing is a lot like DJing. It makes sense, then, that Gigi*s Underground haunts back to 2006, when she was heavily involved with the New York electronic music scene. It is the memories of this social milieu—and the desire to return to it while dealing with her mother’s death in New Jersey—that ultimately drives the installation. It’s rare when artists lay bare the moments that got them to where they are now, as we often cringe at the recollection of our fumbling and awkward youths instead of embracing it. In the end, if we don’t have our memories, what do we really have?

Image: Maggie Lee: Gigi*s Underground (installation view) (2016)
Courtesy of the artist, Real Fine Arts, New York, and 356 S. Mission Road, Los Angeles
Photo: Brica Wilcox.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, October 12, 2016