Charles Long at Tanya Bonakdar and at the Hammer

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For decades, Charles Long has lived in Southern California, taught at U.C. Riverside and shown regularly in New York. Yet, his last solo show in L.A. was over a decade ago at Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

This month, there are two presentations of his work. His solo show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, a New York-based gallery with a new location here on Highland Avenue, is titled “husbands sons fathers brothers.” It is divided into five sections in different rooms of the brilliant light-filled space designed by architect Linda Taalman. Each body of work corresponds to one of those masculine nouns and the work is meant as a response to the assumptions of patriarchy.

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Charles Long brothers, 2018 Acrylic lacquer on epoxy resin. Six parts: 17 1/4 (height) x 20 inches (diameter); 43.8 x 50.8 cm (diameter) each. Photo by Brica Wilcox. Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles.

Long now lives near Mount Baldy and was dismayed at the sight of the many stumps of once mature trees. Using the shapes and surface patterns of tree trunks and limbs, Long makes mostly white sculptures with an appealingly goofy appearance. A bundle of branches lying on the floor: sons. Half a dozen tree trunks are arranged in a circle, as though for a campfire confessional: brothers. A series of urinal shaped fountains are embossed with subtly embossed male faces. Actual holy water leaks from their eyes like tears: husbands (Abelard). A pile of organic forms mounded against a wall: fathers. A single pacifier on one of the stumps: baby.

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Charles Long husbands, 2018. Six works, All are acrylic lacquer, epoxy, pump, blessed holy water, Los Angeles tap water. Photo by Brica Wilcox. Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles 

The pieces are strongly symbolic of strength, growth, and temporality while the hidden, comic faces within the cut ends of the wood suggest fragility, sadness and loss. For each cut branch refers to a severed member, the cross section of a dissected penis. This disturbing knowledge complicates considerably our initial interpretations and notions of our relationship to the natural world. Though applying to the sinister side of our so- called anthropocene era, his work looks equally at the personal cost of long standing ideologies. The show continues through Aug. 18

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Charles Long, fathers, 2018 Hydrocal, papier-mâché, water-based paint. 63 x 70 x 43 inches; 160 x 177.8 x 109.2 cm. Photo by Brica Wilcox. Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles 

The show is a timely counterpart to paradigm lost, Long’s raucous installation in the Hammer’s exhibition, Made in L.A. 2018. Trees, branches and trunks constitute the bulk of said piece, again with the double entendre of deforestation dovetailing with emasculation. The dim atmosphere is eerie, with a special soundtrack, and lit from above by the stained glass window that he created for the room.

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Charles Long,  Installation view. Made in L.A. 2018, June 3-September 2, 2018, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest.

The presentation of Long’s art illustrates an important goal of the Hammer biennial: to present older, more established artists who deserve renewed critical attention. Well-known since the 1990s for sculptures that combined aspects of canonical modern sculpture with the human body, the two shows reveal where that journey has led. The Hammer show continues through Sept. 2.