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Top 3 This Week

Let Lindsay Preston Zappas curate your art viewing experiences this week. Here are our Top 3 picks of what not to miss. Scroll down for Insider stories.

Rodrigo Valenzuela, Afterwork #2, 2021. Silver gelatin print, 40 x 32. Image courtesy of the artist and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. Photo: Paul Salveson.

1. Rodrigo Valenzuela at Luis de Jesus

In Work for a Post Worker’s World, Rodrigo Valenzuela’s grayscale photographs feel like ominous apocalyptic factory scenes — pictures of invented machinery that, devoid of people, imply a future where the robots have taken over. A closer look, however, reveals familiar materials arranged in haphazard but careful compositions. 

The machinery is in fact crafted with objects that Valenzuela finds on the streets of LA — he transforms, for instance, a bucket, the bottom of an office chair, a styrofoam package for a speaker, and a chop-saw blade into some kind of imposing sci-fi torture device. City detritus becomes the speculative ephemera of ruin. In one series, titled Weapons, Valenzuela’s invented sculptural bots are screen printed onto panels which have been wallpapered with worker time cards, the words “strike” and “union” stamped across them like a kind of textual underpainting. 

While Valenzuela’s photographs engage in the political content of workers’ rights, labor unions, and capitalist systems (largely based on his own childhood experiences growing up under Pinochet’s Chilean dictatorship), he leaves his pictures open-ended and non-didactic — the viewer is given space to piece together their own invented narrative of the scenes. 

Did the workers revolt? Did they go on strike? Were they eradicated somehow? Are we seeing some kind of aftermath of protest? All of the works are photographed from a frontal perspective in spaces with limited depths of field, allowing the compositions to feel like psychological projections — spaces meant to elicit thought experiments more than document any specific narrative.

On view: January 8–February 19, 2022 Open map

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Katie Cowan, as the sun chases the unfurling fray (installation view) (2022). Image courtesy of the artist and Philip Martin Gallery.

2. Katie Cowan at Philip Martin Gallery

Katy Cowan’s vibrant sculptures and wall works in her new solo show use rope to unexpected effect. The material, often cast in aluminum, tactically becomes a stand-in for the artist’s own mark-making. The works begin with humble compositions of rope stapled or pinned to a wooden backing. After being cast in aluminum, Cowan then floods her compositions with vibrantly painted oil and graphite, colors and gradients that transform the abstract works into swirling landscapes ripe with movement. 

While some works read more like paintings, in others, Cowan frees her rope forms from any bound edges. In Sunbreaks pile, gentle and across (2021), a large cast rope swirls and worms across the gallery wall, a free floating, three-dimensional form on which Cowan paints her sunset hues and applies smaller graphite details. 

The work could be an enlarged version of lines laid down on her more saturated compositions. Via its installation directly to the wall, the artist clues us into her decentralized approach to painting: one in which objects become abstract artist marks, their swirling shapes and frayed edges as expressive as those drawn by Cowan’s own hand.

On view: January 8–February 12, 2022 Open map

Simple Feast
Jane Margarette, Chase a Rainbow, 2022. Ceramic, glaze, 74 x 43 x 5 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Anat Ebgi Gallery. Photo: Matthew Kroening.

3. Jane Margarette at Anat Ebgi

The first piece I encountered at Jane Margarette’s solo show, A Honey of Tangle, was a cartoonishly oversized pink ceramic latch, held in place with a turning padlock. The artwork, Latch 3 (2019), implies a kinetic motion, a theme that continues across the works on view. 

In the main gallery, more locks and latches take the shape of fantastical birds and butterflies, each given an implied sense of movement. Hinges, hasps, and latches abound, often held in place with delicate ceramic chains or twee baubles that ornament the sculptural wall works. Chase a Rainbow (2022) takes the form of a large luna moth, its lime green wings hinged and notched around two latches, a delicate chain dangling from each like an oversized necklace. Ornamenting the chain are small glazed lemons and strawberries, adding more style than security. 

Margarette’s fantastical birds and butterflies also share space with more threatening beasts — one work takes the form of a large bat, with a ceramic knife acting as its locking mechanism. Still, these more threatening characters and flourishes feel harmless, more of a cheeky send up to grim subject matter than actual rumination of it. In that sense, Easy Daisy (2021) — a wall-mounted lock with a spiked dog collar dangling down from a pastel chain — seems to deflate its own premonition of danger even as it alludes to it. Despite their mechanical or bestial forms, the sculptures’ candy-coated aesthetic allows them to evade any real premonition of danger and instead flirt with a kind of cutesy, teenage goth nostalgia.

On view: January 8–February 12, 2022 Open map

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A Closer Look

Katherina Olschbaur’s “Untitled (Three Messengers)” appears at Nicodim Gallery. Photo by Lee Tyler Thompson.

From greyscale to a world of color

Rodrigo Valenzuela’s black and white photographs are hung down the street from Katherina Olschbaur’s explosion of color at Nicodim gallery. While Valenzuela bases his fictional works on labor issues, Olschbaur begins with fictional parables — Greek and Roman myths, to be exact — remade into contemporary visions that embrace sensuality and gender fluidity. I recently joined Greater LA’s Steve Chiotakis to discuss the two exhibitions and their artists’ respective approaches to narrative, fantasy, and color.


Gallery Talk

Gallery talk is your insider look into the stories of gallerists, curators, and artists in the Los Angeles art community.

Rodrigo Valenzuela, New Work for a Post-Worker’s World (installation view) (2022). Image courtesy of the artist and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. Photo: Paul Salveson.

The Logic Behind Constructing Images

While some artists take inspiration from real world images of ruin, Valenzuela reverse engineers the concept. “Maybe being an immigrant has made me aware that not everything that is different is art or worth a picture,” Valenzuela explains in an interview with Christian Viveros-Fauné, published in a recent artist monograph. “I don’t want to use the camera to fetishize something that is completely normal to others,” Valenzuela continues. “Most people and things that we encounter carry a social, economic, and material history that is rich and complex … I’m more interested in deconstructing the histories of those objects and their materiality, which in turn creates a vocabulary and discourse around them.”


Lindsay Preston Zappas is KCRW's Arts Correspondent and the founder/ editor-in-chief of Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles (Carla).

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