Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel @ The Hammer Museum


I used to think gender was everything; the lense through which all else must be viewed. Got a problem? Put on your gender inspectors and poof, the solution, once hidden behind culture’s murky gender norms, would be revealed. But since Hilary Clinton’s loss (could we hate anything more than a woman who seeks power?), and Caitlin Jenner’s rise (not her personal story and strength but the media’s strange infatuation with it) — and to be honest, probably quite a long while before that - I'd come to think maybe I'd lost touch with the meaning of the word. Leave it to the next generation, I thought, who, at best, see gender as an intensely personal and political choice and, at worst, see it as invisible. But artist Sarah Lucas took no such defeat. Using the typical tools of contemporary art, she does what any badass person does with a complicated topic: she makes it strange, funny, a question mark. Her summer show at the Hammer (can’t help but wonder if the touchy subject was hidden in the downtime month) used gender signifiers to question the legacy of art as a male domain.

Though the female body was partially on view here (the advertisement for the show was a self portrait of the artist with fried eggs on her shirt where her breasts might lay) the main thrust - if you will - was to confront the solipsistic art world and its comfortable, if cloaked, collusion with what's considered male. The photo posted at the entrance of the gallery was another self portrait - this time of the artist in a leather jacket eating, of all things, a partially unpeeled banana. “Men of the art world,” I hear her saying, her eyes direct and playful, “I’m coming for YOU!”

Indeed, humor was the show’s own foil, which Lucas uses with a masterful touch. One of the entry pieces was a mechanical hand pumping up and down near a penis shaped dildo, surrounded by a box of mirrors. Without the mirrors the piece has no humor at all, but just by adding a frame, a reflection, a reflexive wall, the sculpture turns into a joke about the masterbatory nature of solo work.

Later in the show a huge clay sculpture of a penis takes up the middle of one of the gallery rooms, which kind of bothered me, until I thought of it As suggesting that the penis is extinct. Like we might go visit in the halls of the natural history museum someday and point at it with awe and curiosity, as we do a bunch of dinosaur bones; a big dusty relic. Behind the penis hung a big sculpture of Jesus, made up in a graphic print, reminding us how saturated our world is with iconography of all kinds. Or perhaps he was just there to watching the penis, on guard.

My favorite piece was a video of the artist sitting by a kind of pale blue fountain (image above), reading aloud from a book of prose. She seemed at once to be making fun of the desire to film yourself reading aloud from the work of another author in the name of art (love the sound of your own voice, do you?) and also curious about that desire. The cord for the video camera was visible on the floor next to her; a clear shout out to Cindy Sherman’s, who left the mark of her camera’s click extender in her Untitled Film Stills; confronting the assumption that woman's bodies are only works of art when captured by the gaze of man.

Porn also got a laugh, with photographs of stuffed leg and arm-like shapes humping and holding each other, which, from afar might look like pages from a nudie magazine, but, close-up were clearly mushy forms made by hand, like the limbs of a doll. Given the similarly, might we also question our view of what's perverse?

The entry placard to the show warned that you may want to use parental discretion when visiting the show with children, which I support, if only to protect yourself from having to answer many many questions. The biggest confusion my toddler had was also my own; what exactly ARE the long thin leg looking things, covered with colorful stocking, sitting, otherwise body-less, on the outskirts of a pool table? Something about the violence that occurs in male spaces when the female body is a part? Or the requirement of women to be both sexy and half of themselves to fit into the male game? To me, this work was more uncomfortable than all the penises and porn combined; the suggestion that the sanctity of men's pleasure, though old-school, is as strong as it ever was.



Megan Whitmarsh: "Arts & Leisure Section" @ Los Angeles Municipal Gallery
1 min read
There is something so feminine about Megan Whitmarsh’s work - her requirement that all things turn soft - the plant pot, the newspaper, the mirror - objects with their own weight and materials turned equal into quilted puffs, to match the pillows that sit in a circular way, under
Lorna Simpson: Momentum @ Frieze Los Angeles, Paramount Backlot P10
1 min read
Of all the work I saw at the Frieze Fair LA, the video billboard by Lorna Simpson was by far my favorite. The piece features en pointe ballet dancers of color, sporting afros and golden uniforms, looking slightly bored and more than qualified, on what might be audition or practice
Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe @ Palm Springs Art Museum
4 min read
As I walked around the Alexander Girard exhibit, my daughter, Olive, was on a search for images she recognized from a children's book of his work that she had at home, given to us by a friend who had not consciously remembered we had a screen print of his hanging
Rebecca Bruno: Deux @ the Sowden House
3 min read
The Sowden House, designed by  Lloyd Wright, impressed me right away: its imposing concrete exterior,  huge inner courtyard -- designed originally to be a theatre and then turned, somewhat controversially, into a pool and entertainment space – and long corridors, passing by sometimes extravagantly designed rooms, were unlike any other place
Ren Hang: What We Do Is Secret @ MAMA Gallery
3 min read
In August 2016 I started a review of Ren Hang’s photographs but I couldn’t finish it. I got as far as a few descriptive paragraphs and some amount of analysis but there was something bothering me about the work that I couldn’t put my finger on. The
Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel @ The Hammer Museum
3 min read
I used to think gender was everything; the lense through which all else must be viewed. Got a problem? Put on your gender inspectors and poof, the solution, once hidden behind culture’s murky gender norms, would be revealed. But since Hilary Clinton’s loss (could we hate anything more
Allen Ruppersberg: "Lectures and Film Screenings (1994)" @ The Hammer Museum
2 min read
I had about 20 minutes to get through the entire career of Allen Ruppersberg, but that’s all I needed to fall in love. His capacity to transport you in time and space is so effortless, and his point of view so full of joy and humor, that he redeems
Karen O & Danger Mouse: An Encounter with Lux Prima @ Marciano Art Foundation
10 min read
Karen O is the only singer I know whose lyrics are secondary; just there to mark the feeling. But you can recognize her voice in an instant; if you hear a Karen O moan, you know it. It’s croaky and wise beyond its years. There’s nothing better than