Art review: ‘Somewhere on a Desert Highway’ at JK Gallery


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The small group show at JK Gallery, “Somewhere on a Desert Highway,” treads familiar ground — the mythic yet fraught relationship between Los Angeles and the desert. Although it features just 12 works by six artists, it might have benefited from a tighter focus. But for the most part, it proceeds with a light touch, suggesting uncanny, often humorous links between the landscape and the human body.

Melanie Schiff’s “Bush,” a black-and-white photograph of a clump of dry grass bears, not a passing resemblance to a part of the female anatomy colloquially referred to by the same name. A weathered wooden assemblage by John Outterbridge uses actual human hair in a modern-day version of a goddess or fertility icon. And Jeff Lipschutz’s tattered and bloated found phone book is another kind of hybrid, desert bloom.

Not all of the works play off one another so well. It’s not clear what Alexandra Grant’s small bronze sculptures of the word “love” have to do with the desert. They are related to the city via Grant’s involvement in the art-as-urban-revitalization effort, Watts House Project, but feel a bit tangential here. Eben Goff’s “Arc,” a large wood and wax sculpture that emerges out of the floor like a shark’s fin, supposedly refers to stanchions along the Los Angeles River but owes perhaps too large a debt to the elegant work of Martin Puryear.


The highlight of the show, however, is a 2006 video of artist Ben Patterson performing six classic Fluxus works in the desert near Joshua Tree. At the beginning, he announces that since it’s 100 degrees out, he will perform three of the works simultaneously: Robert Watts’ “Two Inches” (unfurling a 2-inch piece of ribbon and cutting it), LaMonte Young’s “Draw a Straight Line and Follow It” and Addi Koepcke’s “Music While You Work.” Patterson rigs up a two-wheel cart with a small boombox and a spool of receipt paper on the front and walks off into the desert, music and paper trailing behind him. It’s a quixotic moment that captures the artist’s determination, the extremes of desert life and the wonderful ridiculousness of it all.

– Sharon Mizota
JK Gallery, 2632 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 837-3330, through May 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Images: Jeff Lipschutz’s ‘4 U Only,’ 2007, top, and John Outterbridge’s ‘Remnants of an Apron Lost,’ 2002. Photo credit: Javad Kheradmandan.