Anish Kapoor (January 31-March 7, 2016)
Anish Kapoor’s audience has come to expect of him either emphatically polished, reflective objects of irregular, somewhat organic shape or much more perfectly rounded things whose pigmented surfaces are so deeply, darkly colored that all light seems to disappear into them. Another of Kapoor’s popular gambits, immense, usually accessible structures, essentially posits one of the other formulas on a grand scale; the dramatic effect turns the spectator into the object, but does not contradict his aesthetic. Included in Kapoor’s latest Los Angeles exhibition, however, were sculptures that do seem to bring him into new aesthetic realms. Such seemingly atypical works – which dominated this show, both in number and in size – have Kapoor whipping material into a violent froth, as if he were casting the waves of a turbulent ocean. The free-standing sculptures of this ilk are enterable, like portable caves – if, that is, the mouths of caves could be wind-whipped. Not formed over eons by water erosion, mind you, but actually sculpted in a matter of hours by blasts of air strong enough to twist and cool the flow of lava into permanently gnarled hyper-rocks.
To be sure, the show included more typical confabulations (and one or two mirroring discs, which in their slick constancy combine aspects of Kapoor’s two popular approaches). The presence of these crowd-pleasers contrasted with the odd objects out, making the latter seem that much stranger. But they are natively strange, huge and angry and yet marvelously self-possessed, like mythic beasts ripped from a mountainside, given life and then frozen by some gargantuan taxidermist into their wildest gestures. They are not friendly or playful or soothing, as are their more familiar counterparts, but they are mysterious and grippingly resonant, even alluring in their imposing presence. They add a whole dimension to Kapoor’s sculpture, a dimension that conflates manufacture with natural process, if not in reality, then at least in metaphoric presence. The single most unworldly work in Kapoor’s show imposes the gritty, opaque surface of the new “monster” pieces onto a monster-size disk leaning against the wall. Here, the relative regularity of the sculpture’s perimeter hints at some designated function, as if a titan’s hand mirror had been dredged up from the ocean floor.
Glenn Ligon (March 14-April 18, 2016)
Glenn Ligon has long combined a preoccupation with African-American history – especially with the fraught socio-political history of Blacks in the United States, its protagonist persistent and more than occasionally triumphant in the face of equally enduring, and vicious, suppression – with a neo-conceptual focus on words and verbal expression as visual texture and rhythm. This exhibition features a landmark work. Reliant on image as well as word, Ligon’s 1996 silkscreen painting Hands shows the moment at the previous year’s Million Man March at which the entire crowd pledged solidarity and a dedication to social justice. The grainy image struggles to emerge from the murk, as if trying to clarify itself and command our attention. It gets that attention because of its scale, not so much because of the image itself. Ligon’s intervention isolates and amplifies the event, turning it into the monument it deserves to be. Hands anchors a vast room whose other walls are lined with even grainier panels, this time all words. In fact, these words hark back to an earlier, less peaceful demonstration of African-American frustration, the Harlem riots of 1964 – and do so through the previously established focus of another discipline altogether.
One of the first “minimalist” compositions of composer Steve Reich was his 1966 electronic piece Come Out, taking the testimony of a teenager wrongly accused of murder during the riots and turning a single phrase – “come out to show them” – into a hypnotically insistent phase pattern. Reich’s approach and the pulsing, echoing soundwork that resulted from his simple formula parallel Ligon’s own riveting method. Ligon turns Come Out into a vast panorama of words silkscreened onto canvas (with the same powdery coal-black effect as in Hands) so that the phrase can be read on top of itself, over and over and over again, in certain portions of each panel, while other portions turn impenetrably dense – just as do certain portions of Reich’s electronic piece. It is one of the grandest, most telling contemporary “translations” of music into visual form, honoring and at the same time commandeering the spirit in which the music was originally forged.
By stark contrast, two neon sculptures sit in a side room, their words – both reading “AMERICA” – blinking on and off with the nervous excitement of a Vegas attraction. But since the panels have been placed face down on the floor, their message, patriotic and exploitative, has been rendered illegible. It is, of course, a different illegibility than that of the “come out” phrase, but the frustration of its compromise gives a more complex meaning to its thwarted message: after all, “America” includes African-Americans, among others, and the waning of our country’s self-image affects good folks as well as bad.
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