Art collective Slanguage, installation view at LAXART. (Brian Forrest )
As part of the L.A. biennial, Slanguage Studio has taken over LAXART to celebrate its 10th anniversary. The art collective hosts art classes, performances and other events out of its Wilmington workspace, and with exhibitions at LACMA, MOCA and London’s Tate Modern, it is also the rare institution that successfully straddles the community and mainstream art worlds.
The exhibition reflects this mix: an odd assortment of works of varying interest and quality by students and resident artists. The salon-style arrangement renders the exhibition checklist all but useless, although ascertaining who made what is clearly beside the point. The “work” on view is not so much the physical objects as the collective efforts that spawned them.
This spirit will no doubt be much in evidence through the exhibition’s run as Slanguage activities are transplanted to LAXART. In the interim, there’s also a stunning exterior mural, a billboard and a digital slide show full of smiling artists and students.
One of these images depicts a young man standing next to a popsicle-stick model of an industrial crane (a symbol for the port city of Wilmington). Amid all the problems of youth, the construction of a popsicle-stick crane seems insignificant, even frivolous, but in the rigorous commitment to that frivolous act, one imagines something more potent and lasting may be constructed: pride, or perhaps confidence — the best kind of conceptual art.
If one were to flay a wayward Muppet — perish the thought! — one might end up with something like an Anna Betbeze painting. Ragged and furtively riddled with holes, her large, shaggy expanses of woven wool are distressed and stained in myriad colors from earthy to acid. The four works on view at François Ghebaly are beguiling, not only because they evoke monsters and shag carpeting, but because they so thoroughly fuse the grotesque with the Arcadian.
A circle of mottled rust and green shag ringed in an almost-sunny yellow, “Sunspot” is a much more tactile version of the cosmic phenomenon suggested by its title; it also resembles a gangly, hirsute sunflower. Then again, the work’s blotchy surfaces are a bit repellent, recalling Cindy Sherman’s vomit-strewn photographs, with their implicit jabs at the unbridled spew of Abstract Expressionism.
Other pieces evoke landscape painting. In “Tower,” a tall rectangle of wool that flows from the wall onto the floor, the upper third is relatively untouched, forming an off-white sky of sorts over dense swathes of blue-green and magenta below. “Labyrinth” takes this reference even further: a swirl of purplish wool resting on a high glass table, it literally forms a miniature, otherworldly landscape. With a view to the macro in the micro, Betbeze’s swirling modern tapestries remind us that the off-putting and the lovely are thoroughly intertwined.
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LAXART, 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 559-0166, through Sept. 2. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.laxart.org