It just might vie for the title of L.A.’s least glamorous art neighborhood: Arlington Heights, specifically three blocks of West Washington Boulevard between 3rd and 6th avenues.
Lacking the romance of downtown’s warehouses and the grittiness of Hollywood, many of its nondescript storefronts are empty. Others harbor modest churches, a lawnmower shop and the Jamaican restaurant and store Natraliart.
The galleries’ proximity makes for a quick, walk-able afternoon of art viewing. If you don’t mind getting back in the car or bus, you could easily extend it east to Park View/Paul Soto gallery or southwest to Chimento Contemporary.
I began my visit at Ochi Projects on the corner of West Washington and 3rd. On Jan. 11 the gallery will open a Nick McPhail show as well as “Hard Concept, Soft Material,” a group exhibition with works by Rachel Apthorp, Areli Arellano and Sean-Kierre Lyons. When I stopped by, sculptures by Karolina Maszkiewicz and drawings by John Zappas were on view.
Maszkiewicz makes small, lovely sculptures from wood found in the aftermath of the 2018 Woolsey fire, which destroyed more than 1,600 structures in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The artist varnishes, sands and paints the fragments, topping them with wiry appendages that evoke the mobiles of Alexander Calder.
In some places Maszkiewicz seems to restore the wood’s former finish as furniture or structure. In others she leaves the surfaces rough and charred. Sprouting from the top of these otherworldly nuggets are flat shapes suspended at the end of wires, which move ever so slightly as you circulate. They make something small and beautiful out of something incomprehensibly large and destructive.
Zappas’ drawings also begin with found items: tabletops from Ikea that have been damaged in transit. He sands down their edges, revealing their particleboard construction, and drags a thick black oil stick across them. The works highlight the waste of an international corporation; like Maszkiewicz’s sculptures, they attempt to revive the detritus of a bafflingly large phenomenon. Their black squiggles also echo Maszkiewicz’s intuitive lines but feel more self-consciously “arty” and a little arid.
On the same block, I passed the gallery Shoot the Lobster. It was closed, but the group exhibition “Notes on Intimacy” is up through Feb. 2.
Kristina Kite Gallery
Continuing west, on the opposite corner of West Washington and 4th, is Kristina Kite Gallery. There’s no identifying signage, only a fancy Beaux Arts pediment over the door. A wide-ranging group show has been co-organized with Hannah Hoffman Gallery, formerly of Hollywood.
The premise of the show, running through Jan. 11, is maddeningly vague, but I suppose the works by Nancy Buchanan, Tony Chew, Frieda Toranzo Jaeger, Nicolas A. Moufarrege, Michael Queenland and Sean Townley are all concerned with taking things out of context.
It’s always a pleasure to see Buchanan’s delicate drawings from the 1970s, here represented by images of sex acts and juxtapositions of natural imagery that suggest the non sequiturs of dreams.
Chew does something similar in his curious still-life paintings. The odd collections of objects — bandages, a branch, a drum, a bottle of Scope mouthwash — are meant as literal representations of urban slang words, although the code remains opaque to me.
Yet most intriguing is a single painting from 1980 by Moufarrege, who died in 1985. A combination of painting and embroidery, it depicts a pyramid framed by decorative elements in a murky, dried blood palette. The mysterious image mixes oil painting and decorative arts while raising questions about how non-Western cultures are represented.
The Underground Museum
On the next block, also in an unmarked building, is the Underground Museum. Through Feb. 16 it features videos by Rodney McMillian which were first shown three years ago at Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art. The work on view at the Underground Museum is usually attuned to the neighborhood, whose residents are predominantly black and Latino. McMillian’s videos explore various facets of racism in the U.S. and were shot in his native South Carolina, on a plantation in Mississippi and in New York City.
Each of the videos features a performance by McMillian. He reads a children’s story in a dilapidated house, dons an Iron Man mask to clean a gravesite, recites a Sun Ra text in the middle of a field and journeys north to New York City wearing a priest’s cassock and an Ultraman mask.
In one video, he crawls on his belly through a lush landscape wearing camouflage fatigues. A nearby loudspeaker on a stand plays an a cappella rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” As McMillian’s figure crawls through the grass, we realize it’s him singing into a microphone, gasping with effort. The song’s dark lyrics are commonly understood as a reckoning with the horrors of the Vietnam War. By transporting this reference from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the American South, McMillian suggests that the “war” has always been here, on the home front.
By focusing on work relevant to the surrounding community, the Underground Museum offers an alternative to art washing, in which galleries pave the way for gentrification. I worry in writing this article that I’m doing a disservice, amplifying the area as a destination, encouraging others to visit. They will no doubt want to drink some fancy coffee, but I hope that in understanding these few blocks as a neighborhood they’ll also see how it can support an artistic community on its own terms.
Shoot the Lobster, 3315 W. Washington Blvd. Open Saturdays-Sundays. (212) 560-0670, www.shootthelobster.com
Kristina Kite Gallery, 3400 W. Washington Blvd. Open Wednesdays-Saturdays. (323) 804-1016, www.kristinakitegallery.la
The Underground Museum, 3508 W. Washington Blvd. Open Wednesdays-Sundays. (323) 989-9925, www.theunderground-museum.org
Park View/Paul Soto, 2271 W. Washington Blvd. Open Wednesdays-Saturdays.
(213) 509-3518, www.paulsoto.net
Chimento Contemporary, 4480 W. Adams Blvd. Open Wednesdays-Saturdays. (323) 998-0464, www.chimentocontemporary.net
Check out our earlier gallery guide to Highland Avenue.