Spooky, Unsettling, Mad

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at080916a.jpgAs a rule, I prefer in this program to talk about just one or two of the best exhibitions I’ve seen recently, but today I want to make an exception. So many good shows I saw last week, it makes sense to mention all of them – even if briefly. The traveling exhibition, Phantasmagoria: Specters of Absence, opened downtown at the USC Fisher Museum with the works of twelve artists from around the world, all of them reminding us that ghosts and unsettling shadows are always lurking just around the corner. Internationally renowned South African artist William Kentridge presents a brilliantly spooky video animation of shadow puppet theater, while French artist Christian Boltanski invites us to peer through a barely-open door into a mysterious dark space with projected images inside. Staring at nine mirror-like metallic discs by Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz gets you nowhere -– until you come very close and literally breathe onto these discs to reveal a hidden image which disappears as quickly as it appears.

at080916b.jpg In Culver City, I saw the latest works by LA-based Alexandra Grant, who was the subject of a focus show last year at MOCA. In her exhibition at Honor Fraser gallery, her works continue to revolve around a cluster of words either painted, sculpted, or projected in her trademark intricate fashion, with all the words written backwards. This is one of those rare cases in which I find myself engaged with the artwork both aesthetically and intellectually, on equal terms.

at080916c.jpg An exhibition of well-known Chicago artist Kerry James Marshall at Koplin Del Rio is pure delight. The gallery has been showing his works for almost two decades; his art continues to be dominated by eloquent images of African-American men and women, painted with an unexpected mixture of forcefulness and lyricism.

at080916d.jpgGoing to the Santa Monica Museum of Art, you would be well-advised to brace yourself against the tidal wave of inspired madness generated by LA artist Martin Kersels in his solo show there. Numerous photographs document his monumental, bulky frame soaring through the air, stumbling on the ground, or being 'attacked' by friends. His sculptural installations make you think about a 'creative workshop' of mental institute patients, and I mean that as a compliment.

at080916e.jpg The museum's Project Room presents a selection of poignant and pungent figurative paintings by Henry Taylor, in his first museum exhibition in LA, the city where he has lived a long time, including years as a homeless person. All that he brought with him years later when he enrolled at CalArts and graduated not just with a diploma, but with a unique and powerful vision. His personal story is an inspiration; his roughly painted images with their unexpectedly elegant colors linger in the memory.

at080916f.jpg The exhibition by Manfred Müller at nearby Rose Gallery shows this versatile artist in peak form. This German artist settled in LA almost fifteen years ago, and now we can claim him as our own. His sculptures made out of folded paper used to be saturated with strong colors; now he prefers the austerity and purity of white, which, in his hands, has endless permutations. In a new series of limited-edition prints, the artist combines slightly smudged black and white photographs with vast expanses of color, including intense red and cobalt blue. These latest works present an unusual fusion of European melancholy with Yankee enthusiasm and showmanship.

Phantasmagoria: Specters of Absence
On view at the USC Fisher Museum of Art through November 8

Alexandra Grant: A.D.D.G. (aux dehors des guillemets)
On view at Honor Fraser through October 25

Kerry James Marshall: PORTRAITS, PIN-UPS?And Wistful Romantic Idylls
On view at Koplin Del Rio through October 24

Martin Kersels: Heavyweight Champion
On view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art through December 13

Henry Taylor: Girrrrrl!
On view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Project Room 1, through December 13

Manfred Müller: Hidden Cache No. 1
On view at Rose Gallery through November 29

Banner image: composite of three Manfred Müller prints (L to R) Past/Present, Incline, Been Surprised; all from 2008, 35" x 46" pigment color prints on Crane Museo Max paper