Maybe Los Angeles Really Is Greater

05/23/2011 7:00 AM |

The massive survey of Angeleno artists Greater L.A. (through June 10)—curators Eleanor Cayre, Benjamin Godsill, and Joel Mesler's response to MoMA PS1's quinquennial survey of local talent Greater New York—offers a thesis-less snapshot of the Los Angeles scene via 48 artists currently working there. The exhibition reaffirms the importance of place and provenance in art-making without forcing a necessarily vague reading onto the works on view.

Inevitably, continuities emerge in the participants' choices of subjects, materials and styles. Some are familiarly SoCal-specific: Alex Prager's cinematic photos and an installation of rented film props by Alex Israel; playful subversions of car culture like Matt Johnson's bronze statue of a tire stretched into an elegant swirl and Ruben Ochoa's photograph of a freeway wall punctured by a holographic hole; and absurd self-documenting video art, like Skip Arnold's descriptively titled "Head Shaking #2" (2009), or Joe Deutch installing a boot on an LAPD cruiser and filming the ensuing confusion in "Boot_Reboot" (2010). With internet-facilitated internationalism greatly diminishing the significance of regional schools and styles, it's comforting (and, here, compelling) to see certain localized interests persist.

Still, there's plenty of art here that evades attempts to file it away in some distinctly West Coast category. Jason Meadows' untitled tower of graffiti-adorned filing cabinets could be some post-apocalyptic tribe's monument to their paper-pushing ancestors. A set of sculptures by Anna Sew Hoy combines drooping denim, felt and other textiles and industrial materials with enjoyably delicate results. Pieces like Patrick Jackson's tables piled with dung-like dirt and Ry Rocklen's brick wall embedded with sunglasses evidence a sense of self-depracating humor that's often sorely lacking from the self-serious New York scene.

There's some frustrating work in this broad sampling too—I still find Brendan Fowler's trendy picture frame smashups incredibly uninteresting. But on the whole it's about as comprehensive and rich a gathering of important L.A. artists as we're likely to see here for several years. Greater L.A. doesn't slot that city's artists into constricting groups or themes, but it does suggest that they're more fundamentally affected by their environment than their East Coast counterparts.

(Photos by the author)