For this May edition of Art Beat, SIXTY chooses a series of exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles that include little-known artists as well as hip-hop moguls. From monumental abstract sculptures to photos taken by a French philosopher, here are some must-see exhibitions. Herewith, your guide to the best shows currently on display in both of our ports.
NEW YORK: Damián Ortega at Gladstone
Damián Ortega is not only inspired by everyday objects—he uses them, quite literally. The Mexico City-based artist is known for doing things like deconstructing a Volkswagen Beetle and elegantly suspending its parts in a gallery, and for using tortillas as a medium. A regular at biennials and major museums, Ortega is having an exhibition of new work at Gladstone Gallery that will show his more traditional sculpting skills.
Porous Structures will include large-scale works that employ bricks, cement, sand, and clay to create representations of geological formations, such as volcanoes and mountains. These are monumental works, but they still retain the poetry that Ortega is known for. The artist uses recognizable building materials to create natural formations as commentary on humans’ impact on the environment.
Through these works, Ortega is showing how materials add up to the larger thing you’re looking at. They’re fundamentally architectural in that sense—a big part of Ortega’s practice—but what makes them art is the fact that they push viewers to consider the many possibilities of everyday objects, those that you usually wouldn’t give a second thought to. Through June 8, 2019.
NEW YORK: Sarah Trigg at Black Ball Projects
Most people think of the artist’s studio is a kind of mythical space. We imagine artists having breakthroughs (and breakdowns), pushing materials to the max, and executing grand visions of aesthetic brilliance, or toiling away in creative despair. In 2009, Sarah Trigg embarked on a wild four-year project, visiting and interviewing over 200 artists in their studios, which resulted in a book called Studio Life.
The experience of researching and writing the book surely had an effect. Trigg, also an artist, has a show at Black Ball Projects lyrically titled Territorial Expansion of the Innermost Continent. The exhibition shows her multifarious assemblages, things that border between sculpture and painting, which exhibit the materials and processes that created them.
The works are made from a range of materials, including acrylic, aluminum, even pumice stone. Unlike most artists, who try to make evidence of their craft invisible, you can tell from looking at Trigg’s works that they’ve been handled by an artist in their studio. Dried paint chips, crumpled epoxies, disfigured rods: These works celebrate the studio process, but also brings it down to earth. Through May 26, 2019.
NEW YORK: Alicja Kwade at The Met
If you prefer a trippier, more perception-bending art, consider paying a visit to Alicja Kwade’s new installation on the roof of The Met. The Polish artist dedicates herself to understanding the complex and often intractable issues of physics and philosophy. As she says, when she hits the limit of understanding is when she finally makes her artwork.
Using steel and stone, Kwade has created a miniature solar system for the iconic museum’s rooftop space. An elegant series of stones, chiseled into perfect spheres, are attached to a grid that maps nicely onto the skyline behind it. The material of the spheres are left au naturel, so you can see the lines that, like rings in trees, represent the age of the stones.
Reflecting on time, space, and that squiggly space where the two come together, the exhibition is Kwade’s first in the United States. Though it might be tempting to read the work as mere representations of the celestial ether in which we live, Kwade is asking us to see ourselves as planets, or atoms, spinning through space. Through October 27, 2019.
LOS ANGELES: Bauhaus at LACMA
Last month was the 100th anniversary of a movement that likely inspired at least some of your design preferences, maybe your living room. The Bauhaus, a school that formed in 1919 and was disbanded by the Nazis, was committed to the Weimar ideals of liberal politics and artistic experimentation. Design in all its forms—from graphic to furniture to architecture—was deeply impacted by Bauhaus’ faculty and students.
An exhibition at LACMA presents pieces and ephemera that define the popular understanding of Bauhaus style: geometric balance, primary color, industrial, mechanistic forms. One work that’s on view is Marcel Breuer’s B5 side chair. You may mistaken this for an IKEA outdoor patio piece, but in fact, it’s a historic object that helped define the modernist vision.
Rigorous simplicity is perhaps what defined the Bauhaus style, but that’s not all there was to the school. The show is a diverse one, illustrating the sundry ways in which designers were pushing the envelope. Prints, ceramics, and ephemera provide a fresh glimpse into this very influential institution. Not only was your hip furniture born here, but so much else. Exhibition is ongoing.
LOS ANGELES: Jean Baudrillard at Chateau Shatto
The philosopher Jean Baudrillard is important for many reasons. While heady, his ideas about hyperreality and simulacra presaged our current era of fake news, VR and AR worlds, and global digital networks. Interestingly enough, Baudrillard also took pretty photographs of everyday things he saw while walking. An exhibition of this theorist’s work is up at Chateau Shatto.
Even though his books picked apart the dense contemporary network of meanings, symbols, and systems, Baudrillard photographed things like airports, trees, and garbage. But it wasn’t because he found something visually compelling in these things. As he told Art Press in 1996, “That my photographs are beautiful or not does not interest me. The stakes are not aesthetic. It is more an anthropological arrangement.”
Knowing this, one can see the real beauty and critical purpose of the philosopher’s images. They’re reflections of in-between spaces, false appearances, the parallels between presence and absence. For someone who wrote The Conspiracy of Art, in which the privileged position of art was totally dismantled, they’re an interesting suite. Through May 25, 2019.
LOS ANGELES: Hip Hop Photography at Annenberg Space
The story of hip hop is a story of imagery. A new and vital exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography is presenting the work of 60 photographers who snapped photos of rappers from the genre’s golden age to today. Portraiture is revealed as essential to the evolution of rap—from the iconic image of a crowned Biggie Smalls to the unforgettable style of Salt-N-Pepa, a masked MF Doom to a still-nerdy Kanye.
With Fab 5 Freddy as creative director, the exhibition is highlighting the artists who captured these images, images which were then used to develop hip-hop and rap as a global phenomenon. Little is known of these photographers, whose subjects vastly outshadowed them, but the show does well in giving credit where it’s due. It’s also an intimate look: the photogs contact sheets (the thumbnails from a day’s shoot) are on display.
So, not only are we given an inside look into the day-to-day work of these photographers, but we’re also given a look at the outtakes of shoots with people like Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z. What makes this exhibition stellar though is the new light thrown on people like Jamel Shabazz and Eric Coleman, those who spent lifetimes behind their lenses, creating their own inimitable art. Through August 18, 2019.
Header photo: Sarah Trigg, GRAVITY CUT FROM TWO PARTS, 2019, epoxy clay and acrylic, 2.5 x 8 x 10 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Black Ball Projects.