Issue 28 May 2022

Issue 27 February 2022

Issue 26 November 2021

Issue 25 August 2021

Issue 24 May 2021

Issue 23 February 2021

Issue 22 November 2020

Issue 21 August 2020

Issue 20 May 2020

Issue 19 February 2020

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
Parasites in Love –Travis Diehl
To Crush Absolute On Patrick Staff and
Destroying the Institution
–Jonathan Griffin
Victoria Fu:
Camera Obscured
–Cat Kron
Resurgence of Resistance How Pattern & Decoration's Popularity
Can Help Reshape the Canon
–Catherine Wagley
Trace, Place, Politics Julie Mehretu's Coded Abstractions
–Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.: Featuring: Friedrich Kunath,
Tristan Unrau, and Nevine Mahmoud
–Claressinka Anderson & Joe Pugliese
Reviews April Street
at Vielmetter Los Angeles
–Aaron Horst

Chiraag Bhakta
at Human Resources
–Julie Weitz

Don’t Think: Tom, Joe
and Rick Potts

at POTTS
–Matt Stromberg

Sarah McMenimen
at Garden
–Michael Wright

The Medea Insurrection
at the Wende Museum
–Jennifer Remenchik

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Mike Kelley
at Hauser & Wirth
–Angella d’Avignon
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Issue 18 November 2019

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
The Briar and the Tar Nayland Blake at the ICA LA
and Matthew Marks Gallery
–Travis Diehl
Putting Aesthetics
to Hope
Tracking Photography’s Role
in Feminist Communities
– Catherine Wagley
Instagram STARtists
and Bad Painting
– Anna Elise Johnson
Interview with Jamillah James – Lindsay Preston Zappas
Working Artists Featuring Catherine Fairbanks,
Paul Pescador, and Rachel Mason
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Children of the Sun
at LADIES’ ROOM
– Jessica Simmons

Derek Paul Jack Boyle
at SMART OBJECTS
–Aaron Horst

Karl Holmqvist
at House of Gaga, Los Angeles
–Lee Purvey

Katja Seib
at Château Shatto
–Ashton Cooper

Jeanette Mundt
at Overduin & Co.
–Matt Stromberg
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Issue 17 August 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Green Chip David Hammons
at Hauser & Wirth
–Travis Diehl
Whatever Gets You
Through the Night
The Artists of Dilexi
and Wartime Trauma
–Jonathan Griffin
Generous Collectors How the Grinsteins
Supported Artists
–Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Donna Huanca
–Lindsy Preston Zappas
Working Artist Featuring Ragen Moss, Justen LeRoy,
and Bari Ziperstein
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Sarah Lucas
at the Hammer Museum
–Yxta Maya Murray

George Herms and Terence Koh
at Morán Morán
–Matt Stromberg

Hannah Hur
at Bel Ami
–Michael Wright

Sebastian Hernandez
at NAVEL
–Julie Weitz

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Alex Israel
at Greene Naftali
–Rosa Tyhurst

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Issue 16 May 2019

Trulee Hall's Untamed Magic Catherine Wagley
Ingredients for a Braver Art Scene Ceci Moss
I Shit on Your Graves Travis Diehl
Interview with Ruby Neri Jonathan Griffin
Carolee Schneemann and the Art of Saying Yes! Chelsea Beck
Exquisite L.A. Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Ry Rocklen
at Honor Fraser
–Cat Kron

Rob Thom
at M+B
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age
of Black Power, 1963-1983
at The Broad
–Matt Stromberg

Anna Sew Hoy & Diedrick Brackens
at Various Small Fires
–Aaron Horst

Julia Haft-Candell & Suzan Frecon
at Parrasch Heijnen
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Shahryar Nashat
at Swiss Institute
–Christie Hayden
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Issue 15 February 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor
Men on Women
Geena Brown
Eyes Without a Voice
Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto
Christina Catherine Martinez
Seven Minute Dream Machine
Jordan Wolfson's (Female figure)
Travis Diehl
Laughing in Private
Vanessa Place's Rape Jokes
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Rosha Yaghmai
Laura Brown
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Patrick Martinez,
Ramiro Gomez, and John Valadez
Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Outliers and American
Vanguard Art at LACMA
–Jonathan Griffin

Sperm Cult
at LAXART
–Matt Stromberg

Kahlil Joseph
at MOCA PDC
–Jessica Simmons

Ingrid Luche
at Ghebaly Gallery
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Matt Paweski
at Park View / Paul Soto
–John Zane Zappas

Trenton Doyle Hancock
at Shulamit Nazarian
–Colony Little

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Catherine Opie
at Lehmann Maupin
–Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 14 November 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer and Figurative Religion Catherine Wagley
Lynch in Traffic Travis Diehl
The Remixed Symbology of Nina Chanel Abney Lindsay Preston Zappas
Interview with Kulapat Yantrasast Christie Hayden
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Sandra de la Loza, Gloria Galvez, and Steve Wong
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews Raúl de Nieves
at Freedman Fitzpatrick
-Aaron Horst

Gertrud Parker
at Parker Gallery
-Ashton Cooper

Robert Yarber
at Nicodim Gallery
-Jonathan Griffin

Nikita Gale
at Commonwealth & Council
-Simone Krug

Lari Pittman
at Regen Projects
-Matt Stromberg

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Eckhaus Latta
at the Whitney Museum
of American Art
-Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 13 August 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
Everything Boring
Catherine Wagley
The Collaborative Art
World of Norm Laich
Matt Stromberg
Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
Made in L.A. 2018 Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Jennifer Remenchik
Aaron Horst
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Anna Sew Hoy, Guadalupe Rosales, and Shizu Saldamando
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews It's Snowing in LA
at AA|LA
–Matthew Lax

Fiona Conner
at the MAK Center
–Thomas Duncan

Show 2
at The Gallery @ Michael's
–Simone Krug

Deborah Roberts
at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
–Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi

Mimi Lauter
at Blum & Poe
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Math Bass
at Mary Boone
–Ashton Cooper

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
–Laura Brown
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Issue 12 May 2018

Poetic Energies and
Radical Celebrations:
Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger
Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
Florals in Feminism
and Across L.A.
Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
Interview with Christina Quarles Ashton Cooper
Object Project
Featuring Suné Woods, Michelle Dizon,
and Yong Soon Min
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Meleko Mokgosi
at The Fowler Museum at UCLA
-Jessica Simmons

Chris Kraus
at Chateau Shatto
- Aaron Horst

Ben Sanders
at Ochi Projects
- Matt Stromberg

iris yirei hsu
at the Women's Center
for Creative Work
- Hana Cohn

Harald Szeemann
at the Getty Research Institute
- Olivian Cha

Ali Prosch
at Bed and Breakfast
- Jennifer Remenchik

Reena Spaulings
at Matthew Marks
- Thomas Duncan
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Issue 11 February 2018

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Museum as Selfie Station Matt Stromberg
Accessible as Humanly as Possible Catherine Wagley
On Laura Owens on Laura Owens Travis Diehl
Interview with Puppies Puppies Jonathan Griffin
Object Project Lindsay Preston Zappas, Jeff McLane
Reviews Dulce Dientes
at Rainbow in Spanish
- Aaron Horst

Adrián Villas Rojas
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
- Lindsay Preston Zappas

Nevine Mahmoud
at M+B
- Angella D'Avignon

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
at the Hammer Museum
- Thomas Duncan

Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
at Parker Gallery
- Keith J. Varadi

David Hockney
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.A. in N.Y.)
- Ashton Cooper

Edgar Arceneaux
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (L.A. in S.F.)
- Hana Cohn
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Issue 10 November 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Barely Living with Art:
The Labor of Domestic
Spaces in Los Angeles
Eli Diner
She Wanted Adventure:
Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley
Catherine Wagley
The Languages of
All-Women Exhibitions
Lindsay Preston Zappas
L.A. Povera Travis Diehl
On Eclipses:
When Language
and Photography Fail
Jessica Simmons
Interview with
Hamza Walker
Julie Wietz
Object Project
Featuring: Rosha Yaghmai,
Dianna Molzan, and Patrick Jackson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McLane
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
Reviews
Regen Projects
Ibid Gallery
One National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA PDC
The Mistake Room
Luis De Jesus Gallery
the University Art Gallery at CSULB
the Autry Museum
Reviews Cheyenne Julien
at Smart Objects

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
at team bungalow

Ravi Jackson
at Richard Telles

Tactility of Line
at Elevator Mondays

Trigger: Gender as a Tool as a Weapon
at the New Museum
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 9 August 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
Reconstituting Group Material
Travis Diehl
The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Object Project
Featuring: Rebecca Morris,
Linda Stark, Alex Olson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McClane
Reviews Mark Bradford
at the Venice Biennale

Broken Language
at Shulamit Nazarian

Artists of Color
at the Underground Museum

Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
at Del Vaz Projects

Home
at LACMA

Analia Saban at
Sprueth Magers
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Issue 8 May 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures:
Alice Könitz and LAMOA
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Penny Slinger
Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
taisha paggett
Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Alessandro Pessoli
at Marc Foxx

Jennie Jieun Lee
at The Pit

Trisha Baga
at 356 Mission

Jimmie Durham
at The Hammer

Parallel City
at Ms. Barbers

Jason Rhodes
at Hauser & Wirth
Letter to the Editor
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Issue 7 February 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Generous
Structures
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
Evaluating the
"Human Condition"
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
Brenna Youngblood
Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Creature
at The Broad

Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler
at House of Gaga // Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Karl Haendel
at Susanne Vielmetter

Wolfgang Tillmans
at Regen Projects

Ma
at Chateau Shatto

The Rat Bastard Protective Association
at the Landing
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Issue 6 November 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
Cool School
Catherine Wagley
The Rise
of the L.A.
Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
Mernet Larsen
Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
at LACMA
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
Analia Saban
Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews
Made in L.A. 2016
at The Hammer Museum

Doug Aitken
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

Mertzbau
at Tif Sigfrids

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Mark A. Rodruigez
at Park View

The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
at Four Six One Nine
(S.F. in L.A.)
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Issue 5 August 2016

Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Non-Fiction
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
at REDCAT
Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Revolution in the Making
at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
at Ben Maltz Gallery
at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
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Issue 4 May 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Reconsidering
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
at LACMA
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews L.A. Art Fairs

Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room
at LACMA

Evan Holloway
at David Kordansky Gallery

Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue
at The Mistake Room

Carter Mull
at fused space
(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 3 February 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
F.B.I.
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
and LOUDHAILER
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
with Amalia Ulman
Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
Reviews Honeydew
at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
at California State University, Fullerton

Trisha Donnelly
at Matthew Marks Gallery

Bradford Kessler
at ASHES/ASHES
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Issue 2 November 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
Molly Larkey
Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings:
Orion Martin
at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
Layers of Leimert Park Catherine Wagley
Junkspace Junk Food:
Parker Ito
at Kaldi, Smart Objects,
White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Max Maslansky Photographs
Monica Majoli
at the Tom of Finland Foundation
White Lee, Black Lee:
William Pope.L’s "Reenactor"
Travis Diehl
Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
at The Hammer Museum

Tongues Untied
at MOCA Pacific Design Center

No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
(L.A. in Berlin)
Snap Reviews Martin Basher at Anat Ebgi
Body Parts I-V at ASHES ASHES
Eve Fowler at Mier Gallery
Matt Siegle at Park View
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Issue 1 August 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
MEAT PHYSICS/
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
with Alexandra Grant
SOGTFO
at François Ghebaly
Jonathan Griffin
#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
@barnettcohen
Mateo Tannatt
Photographs
Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Slow View:
Discussion on One Work
Anna Breininger
with Julian Rogers
Reviews Pierre Huyghe
at LACMA

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
at Gagosian, Beverly Hills

Pat O'Niell
at Cherry and Martin

A New Rhythm
at Park View

Unwatchable Scenes and
Other Unreliable Images...
at Public Fiction

Charles Gaines
at The Hammer Museum

Henry Taylor
at Blum & Poe/ Untitled
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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the Landing
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USC Fisher Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN)
Whitney Museum of American Art, Frances Mulhall Achilles Library (New York, NY)
Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)

Raul Guerrero’s Deflated Mythologies

Leer en Español

Raul Guerrero, Hot Dog: The Weinerschnitzel (2006). Oil on linen, 70 x 80 x 1.5 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Elon Schoenholz

One of the most immediately conspicuous paintings in Raul Guerrero’s summer show at David Kordansky Gallery was also an anomaly. Hot Dog: The Weinerschnitzel (2006) was the only depiction of food in the exhibition, and the painting in a show of 26 works that veered closest to photorealism. It pictures a hot dog, blown up far beyond life-size in a white cardboard box, with looping, thick mustard applied to vaguely resemble eyes and a nose, while pieces of chopped onion—so sharp and defined they look like cascading shards of ice—stood in for the mouth. The fact that the exhibition, titled Fata Morgana (an Italian phrase referring to a mirage on the horizon), included such anomalies—paintings that seemed like worlds unto themselves—is part of what made it so delightful. The paintings, though always figurative, moved from looseness to complex precision in a way that made agility seem synonymous with pleasure. 

The themes that ran through the work—settler colonialism, revisionist history, cinematic myth-making, and mythopoetics more generally—have been recurrent across Guerrero’s work for the half-century he has been an exhibiting painter. And yet, as is so often the case when an artist’s work suddenly appears at impressive scale in a space with blue-chip sleekness, it feels as though we are being asked to look at it all differently, to assess the artist’s position in the art world’s self-made mythologies. The timing of Fata Morgana—amidst a volley of claims about figuration’s relevance or lack thereof, and a slow turn in Los Angeles toward recognizing the abundance of under-acknowledged conceptual figuration in recent history, much of it from artists of color who have been here all along—lends the show an almost meta feel. The work parodies mythologies and reductive narratives in a way that makes art historical angling seem especially beside the point.

As is frequently the trajectory when a lesser-known artist with a long career begins to get their due, Guerrero’s Kordansky show comes on the heels of a rush of smaller exhibitions at grassroots spaces: shows at artist-run POTTS and Ortuzar Projects (both 2018) were followed by a small exhibition at the more well-heeled Kayne Griffin (2020) (which is right across the street from Kordansky), and a two-person show at Marc Selwyn Fine Art (2021). I am fascinated by, and write disproportionately often, about artists who are under-acclaimed until, very quickly, they are not. This rapid transition occurs in part because many of these artists, in Los Angeles at least, began working in the 1950s–1970s and took an approach nonconformist enough to stay on the fringes at a moment when experimentation was rampant and rents were still cheap enough to make risk-taking worthwhile. But I am also fascinated by the questions that this phenomenon of delayed recognition raises: What biases and narrow-imagining permitted the downplaying of the work of an artist who was there all along? What were they doing that didn’t fit within the mainstream stories being told about art? It is especially gratifying to think about these questions in relation to Guerrero’s work, given the painter’s steep interest in how reductive narratives infect and limit our imaginations (consider the historical paintings he recreated with a kind of happy-go-lucky aplomb for Fata Morgana, such as Ataque de Una Diligencia [1995–2021], which highlights the absurd way in which much 19th century art romanticized historical, racist violence). 

Last March, soon after artist William Leavitt officially joined the roster of Marc Selwyn Fine Art, he curated a show that paired his new work with Guerrero’s. The two artists first met in the early 1970s after both had graduated from art school (Leavitt from Claremont Graduate, Guerrero from Chouinard), and the press release cited the influence of both surrealism and conceptualism on both artists’ early work. The former freed them from traditional expectations of figuration, while the latter made painting feel like just one of many potential mediums for getting ideas across (and thus less precious). In choosing works by Guerrero to accompany his own paintings—many of which picture Southern California as a kind of theater set (windows floating with no house in sight or a chair alone in the foreground of a cityscape)—Leavitt selected those that reflected Guerrero’s “fever dream experience of growing up in a Eurocentric culture, biologically Mexican yet technically American.”1 For instance, there was the lushly painted Still Life with Sarape and Crystal Ball (2012), a riff on a northern Renaissance vanitas painting, with objects laid out across a striped sarape cloth and a comical cubist painting hovering in the background. 

Both Guerrero and Leavitt have been and are still interested in fever dreams, contradictions, and breaking the fourth wall. They make paintings that demonstrate that they are painting about dreams, myths, and our relationship to imagery (not paintings about capital “P” Painting, but very much concerned with representation, of the cultural and historical kind). In this way, when they both began working and showing 50 years ago, they were of a moment with idea-driven figuration, albeit one overshadowed by the more dominant trends toward minimalism and off-canvas-conceptualism. Their kind of figuration was championed most consistently by Ceeje Gallery, an L.A. space that persisted from 1959 into the late 1960s and exhibited several artists who took a kind of conceptual approach to figurative painting: Charles Garabedian, Maxwell Hendler, Ben Sakoguchi, Marvin Harden. Leavitt and Guerrero came of age as artists only slightly later than these Ceeje artists, and Guerrero belonged to the gallery’s milieu but not its roster. Sakoguchi, like Guerrero, was interested in mythologies around Southern California’s history, and made paintings that were lighthearted, precise, and always self-conscious of their identity as pictures (for years, he used the orange crate as a template, always incorporating the crate’s logo, then using the rest of the canvas for cultural commentary, such as in his Chavez Ravine Brand (2005) which depicted the mass evictions in Chavez Ravine to make way for the construction of Dodger Stadium). Garabedian and Leavitt, both of whom are white, received perhaps the most acclaim the soonest, although even Leavitt did not receive his first solo museum exhibition until his 2011 MOCA show. Guerrero, Sakoguchi, and Harden (who made strikingly minimal prints of farm animals, among other subjects) were all artists of color working in a deeply segregated city, where most galleries had few, if any, non-white artists on their rosters. Their approach to figuration also diverged at a time when the dominant West Coast narratives were moving from Light and Space toward pop, conceptualism, and performance—and the post-AbEx conversation about whether painting was dead began infecting art schools. That conversation—about painting and its death, or about how figuration became irrelevant after the ascent of abstraction (a tired perspective pushed by the likes of Clement Greenberg)—is and should be very boring. Yet its influence persists. 

Raul Guerrero, Buffalo Hunt (After George Catlin) (2021). Oil on linen, 46 x 102 x 1.5 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Elon Schoenholz.

As figuration has never actually disappeared from contemporary art’s landscape, it’s not quite accurate to say it’s having a resurgence; but the debates about figuration, part and parcel with art discourse’s constant need to define and name trends, is certainly having a moment. Thanks to a few recent articles on “zombie figuration,” a term coined by Alex Greenberger at ARTNews and championed by Dean Kissick at The Spectator, we are once again throwing around reductive ideas about originality and progress in relation to figurative painting. In his January essay, Kissick mentioned the “lack of new ideas in art” multiple times, referring to so-called zombie figuration as “a renunciation of art’s radical avant-garde potential,”2 and peddling the notion once again that art follows a linear progression of innovation. Yet as frustrating as such thinking is, the talk of zombies spurred some compelling backlash. In Momus this spring, artist Jason Stopa brought together a panel of three fellow painters to discuss whether there was indeed a crisis in figuration. Didier William found the word crisis “hyperbolic,” but acknowledged that the buzz and frustration stemmed in part from the fact that the “very broad sort of art-historical umbrella of ‘figuration’ is inaccurate and insufficient.” He noted the way artists are “using the body…, citing history, mythology, [and] personal narrative.”3 Guerrero has likewise incorporated all of these approaches into his work over the years. 

At a time when conversations about figuration are once again contentiously vacillating between the reductive and expansive, Guerrero’s work feels particularly on point—mostly because of the way it punctures notions of linear progress, both through its styles and subjects. While Fata Morgana includes multiple bodies of work, the largest, newest body was completed this year and takes the Great Plains and Black Hills of South Dakota loosely as its subject. The inspiration for this series dates back over three decades, to the early 1990s, when the artist visited South Dakota and ended up in a bar where he thought, as he told Los Angeles Times columnist Carolina Miranda, “I’m going to get killed.” He was American, of Mexican ancestry, and the men at the bar were white and rugged, like they’d emerged from the kind of movie that romanticizes Manifest Destiny, something like How the West Was Won. “I realized that everything I knew about this place was through media—movies, television,” Guerrero said.4

The paintings combine his memory of this moment in South Dakota with iconic Wild West mythologies, though Guerrero remixes the stories we’ve been told. He painted the series dry-on-dry, so that the oil paint nearly resembles chalk, relying largely on the length, width, and squiggles of the lines to convey depth and motion, a formal strategy that makes everyone look more cartoonish. In one painting, a man robs a bank, though the teller windows look like jail cells with men grasping at the metal bars (The Black Hills c. 1880s: Bank Robber – B, 2021). Another, among the most raucous in the series, depicts a bar fight; two men are at the center of the action, one wields a gun while the other awkwardly tackles him (The Black Hills c. 1880s: Bar Room Brawl, 2021). The eyes of both figures convey a kind of confusion, as if they’re not sure why they’re playing these roles in the story. This trick with the eyes is a common one across Guerrero’s more recent paintings. In Buffalo Hunt (After George Catlin) (2021)—a whimsically pastel reinterpretation of an iconic, racist Western artwork, which is not part of the Black Hills series and thus more fluid than chalky—an Indigenous hunter on horseback catapults toward a buffalo. The hunter stays in character, flatly, stereotypically depicted as wild-eyed, with his bow and arrow raised and ready. But the buffalo looks out at us, the viewers, resigned yet full of concern about being the victim in this on-canvas plotline (while the buffalo Guerrero used as his source in the Catlin painting also had sad, big eyes, Guerrero’s depiction really plays up the animal’s personality). No one escapes the clichéd narratives in these paintings, but the figures do appear to desperately want out of the endless cycle of cartoonishly-flattened histories. 

Guerrero poked at some other, more local, art-specific myths in Fata Morgana as well. For years, he has been painting scenes at famous local bars, places celebrities and artists have been known to frequent. Chez Jay: Santa Monica (2006) takes a swipe at another artist who celebrated Los Angeles watering holes, Edward Kienholz. In 1965, Kienholz famously replicated the West Hollywood bar Barney’s Beanery, a notoriously bigoted and homophobic establishment that featured a “Fagots [sic] Stay Out” sign until 1945, the slur prominently misspelled for decades. Outside the installation, Kienholz included a copy of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner with the visible headline, “Children Kill Children in Vietnam Riots,” but inside, he gave all the patrons clocks for heads, all set to 10:10, to emphasize that such alarming news falls away in a place like Barney’s, where time seems to stop. Guerrero’s painting, equally full of idiosyncratic detail (the red and white awning, the taxidermy fish on the wall, the whiteboard with the specials), also places clocks on patrons’ heads, each set near or around 5:35—one digital clock reads 5:34, while another seems close to 5:24 and yet another 5:50. Perhaps my reading here is overly insider-y, too premised on my latent frustration with Kienholz and all he represented, but this painting feels to me an indictment of the notion that a watering hole can be a sanctuary, where the outside world falls away and somehow patrons reach an unspoken consensus. As he does so well across many of his paintings, Guerrero acknowledges the allure of such simple myths—including those romanticizing Westward expansion, the colonization of the Southwest, and even figuration’s role in art history—while at the same time deflating them.

Raul Guerrero, Fata Morgana (installation view) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Jeff McLane.

Raul Guerrero, Chez Jay: Santa Monica (2006). Oil on linen, 80 × 108 × 1.25 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Elon Schoenholz.


This essay was originally published in Carla issue 26.

  1. Marc Selwyn Fine Art, “William Leavitt & Raul Guerrero: Time and Place, Curated by William Leavitt,” Press Release, January 2021.
  2. Dean Kissick, “The rise of bad figurative painting,” The Spectator, January 30, 2021, https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-rise-of-bad-figurative-painting.
  3. Jason Stopa, “‘I Don’t Go to Crisis Just Yet’: Four Painters Discuss the Rise of Figurative Painting,” Momus, April 30, 2021, https://momus.ca/i-dont-go-to-crisis-just-yet-four-painters-on-the-rise-of-figurative-painting/.
  4. Carolina A. Miranda, “Newsletter: Painter Raul Guerrero skewers American history in wry solo show at David Kordansky Gallery,” Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/newsletter/2021-08-14/painter-raul-guerrero-skewers-western-expansion-essential-arts-essential-arts.

Catherine Wagley writes about art and visual culture in Los Angeles.

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