Review of reviews: Art & Music
Exhibit of the week
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
Various dates and locations, through Jan. 14
Is Los Angeles part of Latin America? asked Larry Wilson in the Los Angeles Daily News. “The answer, of course, is sí”: L.A. was founded by 11 Mexican families in 1781, didn’t enter its Anglo phase for a century, and today is home to more people of Latino descent than of any other ethnicity. At long last, the city’s art establishment is celebrating that reality this fall with 80 linked exhibitions, all underwritten by the Getty Foundation, at 70 Southern California institutions. The family bond between Latin America and all of Southland from San Diego to Santa Barbara feels especially strong at this political moment, “but it was always thus.” In the work of the 1,100 artists represented in the sprawling endeavor, the idea of home “emerges as an overarching theme,” said The Economist. One small show, at L.A.’s Craft & Folk Art Museum, makes the U.S.- Mexico borderland seem itself like a homeland by calling attention to the art inspired by the border among artists on both sides.
“Given the god-awful traffic in Southern California,” almost no one will be able to visit all 70 venues participating in “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” said Peter Plagens in The Wall Street Journal. But a recent sampling suggests that nearly half offer rewarding experiences: I didn’t even mind that I needed three hours to drive the mere 30 miles between the two halves of an exhibition about how Donald Duck reflects and embodies a history of cultural appropriation, cultural imperialism, and playful cross-cultural dialogue. The scattered “wow moments” in “Home—So Different, So Appealing” make that uneven Los Angeles County Museum of Art show a must-see before its mid-October closing. And for “pure pleasure,” nothing beats the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Martín Ramírez retrospective. Ramírez’s “stunning” drawings “combine ingenious ‘outsider’ figuration with passionately dizzying patterns,” and the Mexican-born ex–railroad worker created them all in the mental hospital he was thrown into after becoming homeless during the Great Depression.
This overdue celebration of Latin American art probably won’t last, said Holland Cotter in The New York Times. Many artists enjoying their “Hollywood moment” will fade back into obscurity, especially given that only a dozen of the “LA/LA” exhibitions will travel outside Southern California. Happily, one of those shows is “Radical Women,” now at UCLA’s Hammer Museum and heading to the Brooklyn Museum next spring. A “headspinning” showcase of art created between 1960 and 1985 by more than 100 female artists, it mixes marquee names like the pop-art queen Marisol with dozens of littleknown contemporaries. “In terms of sheer audacity,” it is “the single most exciting and hope-inspiring historical group show of contemporary art I’ve seen in 10 years.”
It should come as no surprise that Shania Twain’s first album in 15 years has “a darker, angrier, sultrier tone” than anything she’s recorded before, said Rob Harvilla in TheRinger.com. Since 2002’s Up!, the popcountry superstar endured a messy divorce from her cheating husband and contracted such a bad case of Lyme disease that she lost her singing voice for years. But though you won’t find the bubbly, carefree Shania of 2002 on Now, the album “isn’t the dirge you might have feared.” Whenever a song slips into anger, it also “sneaks in a rowdy horn section and plenty of strident defiance.” At moments like that, “the problem is Twain’s singing,” said Mikael Wood in the Los Angeles Times. Her damaged voice is lower and less flexible than before, and though it serves her reasonably well on slow, moody tracks, it comes across as “flat and robotic” on the busy, uptempo numbers that used to be her strength. On the party song “More Fun,” her exhortations prove “about as convincing as an ad in an airline magazine.”
Harmony of Difference
Though it lasts just 32 minutes, Kamasi Washington’s new EP “builds a towering euphoria,” said Sarah Lawson in PasteMagazine.com. An “ideal” follow-up to the jazz saxophonist’s three-disc 2015 debut, Harmony of Difference finds the 36-year-old Kendrick Lamar collaborator and overnight superstar combining ’70s funk, modal and smooth jazz, and even flourishes of calypso. Across a mere six tracks, he creates “a polyphonic soundscape that is vast and oceanlike, rushing at you in swells before bearing you out to sea to succumb to complete submersion.” As before, Washington’s music is “both a challenge and a balm,” said Mark Richardson in Pitchfork.com. “Truth,” the final, 13-minute track, showcases his talent for “explosively grand” compositions. Strings and choirs “reach for the heavens” as they revisit motifs introduced earlier in the six-part suite. Listening to the whole record in one sitting is “like looking at a sculpture from multiple angles”: “Suddenly the three-dimensional form clicks in your mind, and you apprehend the whole.”
Relatives in Descent
Protomartyr’s apocalyptic new album feels “uniquely attuned to our cultural moment,” said Clayton Purdom in AVClub.com. The Detroit post-punk band has made bleak music since its 2012 debut, but every song now is “a gloaming din of guitars” perfectly matched to singer Joe Casey’s weary baritone voice and grim imagery. Relatives in Descent is “an album of apocalyptic vision, of late-capitalist desolation, beaches full of bones, atomized discourse, poison clouds and soil, and foul trumpets blasting like bombs.” The band’s first three albums drew on the post-punk legacy of acts like Pere Ubu and Public Image Limited, said Jon Pareles in The New York Times. Now, on its fourth album, the band is moving toward a more original sound, pioneering a “post-post-punk” vocabulary that includes “relentless minimalist repetition, melodic (though still jagged) guitar leads, and song structures that keep taking left turns.” Protomartyr “offers no easy consolations, no release—only tension, wound ever more tightly.”