December 2016

The dozen or so objects—call them sculpture, furniture, or something poised indeterminately in between—included in Roy McMakin’s recent exhibition at Garth Greenan Gallery for the most part proceeded from a superficially simple line of inquiry: What happens to a conventionally functional artifact when that artifact has its conventional function tampered with? It’s a question with which McMakin—a Wyoming-born artist and craftsman who studied at the University of California, San Diego, in the late 1970s and early ‘80s with teachers such as Allan Kaprow and Manny Farber and who today also works both as an architect and a commercial furniture designer—has spent years engaging. It’s also one situated within a constellation of philosophical inquiries that the world of contemporary art has in recent years increasingly turned its attention toward: the matter, as the editors of October put it in a recent issue devoted to the subject, of “materialisms.” McMakin’s constructions on display here were in most instances bits of found vernacular furniture denatured by being placed into physical, and metaphysical, dialogue with objects and forms made by the artist; they asked sneakily complex questions about the conditions of “things,” both in relation to, and independent of, human apperception and use. And at their slipperiest they evoked, in a rather unassuming and plainspoken way, the “broken tools” of so much interest to present-day interpreters of the Heideggerian ontology of objects: pieces of “equipment” that usually withdraw from us into anonymous utility, but when rendered inoperative instead announce themselves anew, estranged from conditions of ready use and revealing a certain, if opaque, mode of presence.

November 11, 2016

Once the canon of great artists is established, altering it is next to impossible.

Case in point: the introspective, quietly breathtaking art of John McLaughlin (1898-1976). His geometric abstract paintings are the subject of a gorgeous retrospective exhibition that opens Sunday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

October 23, 2016

Some of the objects are conjoined, like Siamese twins, or nested inside each other, like memories. Others are grouped together — four identical green tables, each twenty-seven inches high, or two white chairs, one proportionately smaller than the other. At one point, while looking at the green tables, I had the sudden urge to wipe the dust off one of them, except there wasn’t any dust.