Five Artsy Things to Do This Week, Including Sam Benjamin's 'Brief History of Porn' Lecture
Courtesy Actual Size L.A. A shrine-like installation in Gustavo Herrera and Spencer Douglass's exhibition "Hollenbeck"
If you need a break from all the nostalgic historicizing saturating the art world these days, dash over to see an ingenious artist-made, open-air storefront on Alvarado. But don't stay gone too long, because some kinds of nostalgia -- like the Chinatown gallery that's currently a shrine to 1800s ambition -- are worth experiencing.
5. For mature audiences only
Sam Benjamin went to Brown, studied art and then, in 1999, headed West to make it as an artist in California. Thanks to a few hard knocks and a flea-market vendor with a cache of vintage pornos, he spent nearly a decade making "progressive" adult flicks instead. It was all far from idyllic, but Benjamin emerged an expert and he'll maneuver between the gritty, gross and gorgeous when he gives his nonexplicit lecture "Brief History of Porn" at Human Resources on Nov. 4. Human Resources, 410 Cottage Home St., Chinatown; Fri., Nov. 4, 7 p.m. (213) 290-4752, humanresourcesla.com.
4. Fathers of the photo fetish
Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken had weak spots for vintage porn, too, though it wasn't vintage when they first started weaving it into their photos and collages. Work by the two L.A. artists from the 1960 and '70s hangs side by side in the Armory Center exhibition "Speaking in Tongues." Their reimagining of magazine spreads, TV stills and found photographs feels fantastically fresh -- it's like they were the first to discover that pinups, ads and the like could be art and, somehow, they make smut seem enlightened.Armory Center for the Arts, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; through Jan. 22. (626) 449-0139, armoryarts.org.
3. Avant-garde architecture on a shoestring budget
The storefront windows of experimental art space Machine Project will move this week. Artist Nate Page figured out how to pull them far back into the space to turn Machine into a "storefront plaza." You'll be able to step right into the main room with no glass in your way. While you'd expect something like this from fully funded postmodern architecture, Page is on a budget and working along a quaint stretch of Alvarado, which makes it so much better. Machine Project, 1200-D N. Alvarado St.; through January 2012. (213) 483-8761, machineproject.com.
Of all the reasons to visit historically dense "Now Dig This!" -- an exhibition at the Hammer of black artists working in L.A. between 1960 and 1980 -- the smart word-art interplay may be among the best. In works like Dale Brockman Davis' Viet Nam Game, John Outterbridge's No Time for Jivin'! and John T. Riddle's Ghetto Merchant, the art acts as the majestically composed setups for punch lines the titles deliver. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd.; through Jan. 8. (310) 443-7000, hammer.ucla.edu.
1. Victorian Los Angeles with a modern soundtrack
If you've seen Robert Altman's classic Western McCabe and Mrs. Miller, you know how much sway the sad, satirical Leonard Cohen score has over the film's aura. A similar mood pervades Gustavo Herrera and Spencer Douglass' installation "Hollenbeck," at Chinatown's tiny Actual Size gallery. Shrinelike arrays of objects flank a dialogue-free video projection. In the video, Herrera plays John Edward Hollenbeck, the 19th-century tycoon who went from broke transient to owner of 6,728 acres of East L.A. The soundtrack even includes traces of Cohen's music, though it's dominated by Charles Mingus' tragic track "The Clown." Actual Size Los Angeles, 741 New High St., Chinatown; through Nov. 27. (213) 290-5458, actualsizela.com.