Reading Art

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Mostly, we think of art as the realm of the visual but for much of the modern era, artists have used words, as well. Conceptual artists of the 1970's, especially, explored linguistics.

A show closing this weekend at alternative space LA Contemporary Exhibitions in Hollywood addresses the use of language by 10 Latin American artists. Customizing Language closes this Sunday. Organized by Idurre Alonso and Selene Preciado, the first show to come out of LACE's new Emerging Curator Program, the idea stems in part from the role of poetry in the conceptual art of Latin America. The highly politicized work of that period reflected the oppressive regimes operating throughout Central and South America in the 1960's and 1970's.

The artists selected for this exhibition also operate with critical political and social intent though visually their work is manifestly engaging.

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(L) Rubén Ortiz-Torres, "Bandera magonista (Magon's Flag)," 2013
Urethane and chromo-luminescent paint on aluminum
Rubén Ortiz-Torres, "Ceci n'est pas une Machine that Kills Fascists," 2015
Urethane and chromo-luminescent paint on aluminum

Mexican-born Rubén Ortiz-Torres, who lives in LA, presents a pair of red monochome paintings made with the custom car finishes used by lowriders that undermines the neutrality usually associated with such work. Ceci n'est pas une Machine that Kills Fascists (2015) alludes to the slogan that Woody Guthrie had on his guitar and those words are rendered on the painting in a script that recalls graffiti. The French words come from a Magritte painting that describes the impossibility of knowing true meaning from either images or words. Ortiz-Torres may be making paintings with political history and meaning yet he incorporates the element of doubt, the disbelief that any such aesthetic action could lead to societal change.

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(L)Beatriz Cortez, "La máquina de la fortuna/The Fortune Teller Machine," 2014
(Kaqchikel edition, made in collaboration with Kaqjay Moloj)
(R) "La máquina de la fortuna/The Fortune Teller Machine" (Nomad edition), 2014

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Beatriz Cortez, "La máquina de la fortuna/The Fortune Teller Machine," 2014
(Kaqchikel edition, made in collaboration with Kaqjay Moloj collective)

Some of the most delightfully disturbing pieces in the show are by Beatriz Cortez, born in El Salvador, now living in LA and teaching at Cal State Northridge. La Maguina de la Fortuna/The Fortune Teller Machine (2014) . There are two versions of a quirky novelty, a wooden box with a mechanical parakeet on a perch. Push a button and the machine spews out a printed fortune. However, these texts are specialized. One group of texts is printed in the Mayan language, a collaboration with Kaqchikel Maya collective called Kaqjay Moloj, listing desires that the artists conceived. The other machine sends out texts about what a group of collaborators, often other immigrants, might have done together to have a different future. There are also a number of large fat books on pedestals that Cortiz has burned to represent the fact that they were censored as well as book altered to grow as a living garden.

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Camilo Ontiveros, "Refugees. Welcome Signs" 2015
Courtesy the artist

Camilo Ontiveros, born in Mexico, living in LA, has an installation of simple profundity. Scouring thrift stores, he collected dozens of welcome signs in various modes of cute or quaint. Arranging them on a wall is a reminder of the disparity between the open-armed cliché of US history and the increasingly aggressive attempts to curtail immigration.

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Mely Barragán, "Macho," 2009
Soft sculpture (black felt and stuffing)

LACE, selling catalogs produced over its 30-year history, is just one of countless booths at Printed Matter's LA Book Fair held this weekend at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. In this digital era, this fair has been a surprising hit, attracting tens of thousands of visitors interested in words on paper. Limited edition artist books, catalogues of all sorts, music and fiction by artists and others, prepare to be hit with an avalanche.

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Sterling Ruby, "Deep Orange," 2016
Edition of 20, sold to benefit the LA Art Book Fair

With some 300 presenters from 20 countries, here are a few of the not to be missed: Richard Prince's vinyl record at 303 imprint, and Kim Gordon's Design Office at Gagosian, Al Ruppersberg's long-awaited El Segundo Record Club at Marc Selwyn and Jason Rhoades' Perfect World at David Zwirner. And Fiona Banner's new artist book based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness, (with her show now at 1301 PE). Move fast and you might get one of Sterling Ruby's awesome new editions Deep Orange with proceeds benefiting the book fair. And it's FREE! Unless you want to go right now! Tonight's preview costs $10.

All photos by Christopher Wormald, courtesy of LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions)