Next month marks the christening of the new BCAM (Broad Contemporary Art Museum), which dramatically alters the campus of LACMA, and perhaps its public identity as well. We won’t get tangled up in the controversy over the rightness or parsimony of the building’s namesake going public with his decision to decline transferring ownership of the substance of his collection to an already presumably overburdened institution, at least not right now. As when MOCA launched two decades ago, Bergamot Station in the early ‘90s, and the Getty Center ten years back, such a moment is a natural one to take stock of the inevitable shift in our identity as a cultural player, how we perceive ourselves and how we are perceived internationally. No directing intent is required to reference shows that help make the point, and just possibly help shape the direction towards which art here is headed. If Robert Irwin’s current show draws on a half century of history, the dominant new work of an artist now in his 80’s signals an expansive, even audacious message flung towards the future. That future could be dominated by a number of tendencies vying for our attention in the fertile present. The rich personal mythologies invented by artists such as Sandeep Mukherjee and Laurie Hassold imply the potential for fresh cultural narratives. That narrative can feed meaningfully on the cult of celebrity, something Lynn Goldsmith does by moving beyond her rock star subjects to spin her own theatrical fantasies. It is also nourished by the most banal products of consumer culture in ways that old master painters and Pop artists would not have imaged but surely would approve, as Lynn Aldrich adeptly demonstrates. Personal obsession has always fed art both great and eccentric. Kaari Upson recasts the portrait with all the charm of a stalker to launch a narrative that veers uncomfortably between fabrication and reality. But there remain the joys and devotees of form for its own sake. The suave geometric and gestural sculpture of Guy Dill serve as a reminder that there is something timeless in art, that transcends the historical moment with grace. It can provoke a laugh over how there is so much that we get worked up about. Reminds me of the time the bottom went out of the tulip market. . . .
Here are your links to some of February's upcoming exhibition highlights:
As always, you’ll find more on the artists and their host venues referred to above in the exhibition capsules that follow.
In an exhibit that traces his path from his Abstract Expressionist paintings of the 1950s through his minimalist paintings, dot paintings and disks of the 1960s, and up to his current site-determined work, Robert Irwin demonstrates the continuity and significance of his quest. Irwin created five new pieces in response to the architectural environment of the two downtown buildings--one of which he helped design. For this exhibit, Irwin, who is characterized as one who ended his object-making in the early 1970s, has again produced a series of objects. But because he has gradually and systematically eliminated the nonessential elements from his object-making, it is not the object itself, but the experience it engenders that is the focus of Irwin’s art-making (at San Diego MoCA, Downtown, San Diego).
R.B. Kitaj saw himself, as an artist and a Jew, as an outsider. His narrative imagery continuously returns to Jewish issues concerning alienation, identity, the Diaspora, the Holocaust, the relationship of Jews to other groups, and powerful Jewish thinkers whose work influenced the Jewish and non-Jewish world. An expatriate, he attended then taught at London’s Royal College of Art for decades, admired by and close friends with the most prominent English artists. Initially associated with the Pop art movement, he discarded the Pop bandwagon and returned to painting how he wished to paint, always passionately humane, as exemplified in this exhibition entitled "Passion and Memory" (at the Skirball Center, West Los Angeles).
Tom Wesselmann’s stylized nudes and his sprightly still lifes from the late seventies through nineties are bursting with primary colors and a perky eroticism. The prints, sketches, paintings and enamel pieces on steel here are deceptively simple images. Best known for his large scale and highly charged "Great American Nudes" and "Still Life" series at the peak of New York Pop Art scene, in 1964 Wesselmann began his series of "Bedroom Paintings" and “Smokers," which continued through the eighties. Still lifes are lush and varied, ranging from the vivid hues and jazzy rhythms of the print "Mixed Bouquet with Leger" to the entrancing "Birthday Bouquet," where the flowers pop out in an intense array of color. His singular high wire artistic intensity combines linear animation with dazzling color and a keen observation of the human form to create Pop icons (at Forum, West Hollywood).
JOHN O’BRIEN on BREAKING RANKS
Breaking ranks can shake up the established order in favor of an uncertain or as yet unstable new ranking, or simply be the same ranks reassembling elsewhere. The art world as it is currently constituted, and with its momentary affluence is not conducive to shaking things up. But there are important instances and signs that a vital re-definition, re-alignment and broadening of the field are present and, perhaps, poised.
• Don't forget to go to the Gallery Pages section for the latest
featured exhibition announcements and portfolios; there's always some new ones going up:
• Visit AVR (ArtScene Visual Radio). . . .watch for, Peter Clothier’s current “Art of Outrage” offers a revealingand surprisingprofile of the late R.B. Kitaj; Marlena Donohue interviews and comments on Graciela Iturbide; Hunter Drohojowska interviews Michael Brewster; Mat Gleason shares his take on LACMA’s new Broad Museum of Contemporary Art; and the current AVR Show features Annie Buckley’s commentary on L.A.’s presence in the increasingly globalized art economypersonified by the Miami Art Fairs held last month.
• You'll also find the updates for February Openings Calendar at:
When obsession is a virtue--
Newcomer Kaari Upson is obsessed with "Larry" (not his real name), whose personal items Upson came upon and used as material for this installation. She invents a life for her character, imagining him as her lover, her father, her nemesis. A stuffed lifesize puppet of Larry, his head “surgically” removed and positioned over her own, fetishized snapshots and memorabilia, handwriting analysis all reflect an impressively overheated imagination (at Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles). . . . Swiss photographer Corina Gamma is obsessed here with one of the archetypes of California middle class good life, the amusement park. Square format images of isolated sections of the amusement rides teeter between the really macabre and the playful by virtue of cropping and blanching out of backgrounds (at d.e.n., Culver City). . . . Lynn Goldsmith’s well-known photography of rock icons as well as imaginative photo collages elaborate on her celebrated ability to capture the person behind the rock legend. In contrast, there are dreamy, theatrical self portraits of a costumed Goldsmith vamping as various roles inspired from fairy tales, imagination, and rock stardom (at Frank Pictures, Santa Monica). . . .
Where you stand is what you see--
Shari Wasson uses graphite and chalk pastels to masterfully render the most microscopic views of diminutive tides and currents at sea or in unknown pools. The subtly of the treatment of medium and subject is such that you think you are looking at stars or at microbes proliferating on a medium until you get up close. The scale also shape shifts from infinite to minute. The palette is mostly limited to neutral tones but occasional red marks guide the eye to suggest a change from something organic to something topographical and guided, like maps and charts (at Haus, Pasadena). . . . Yamamoto Masao, known for photos of landscapes and randomly peopled scenes often worked to look distressed and seemingly taken by accident, mounts unframed prints directly to the wall in a freely associative flow. Spread across three galleries, you put the ideas, narratives and insights together for themselves. This lends it all a feeling of sudden insight (at Craig Krull, Santa Monica). . . . Veteran abstract painter Gary Lang shows mixed-media works titled "Hybrid Variations" that start as monoprints on archival paper. From a basic formula of 7 to 10 vertical lines with spaces between, he weaves hand-made vinyl acrylic striations. Over this he paints with oils and works down the width of the bands. We see a spectral vibration when the paintings are viewed at different distances. Lang’s unique touch and sensibility dwells in the spaces between adjoining colors (at Edward Cella, Santa Barbara). . . .
Moving to make the ordinary moving--
Milford Zornes, a former student of Millard Sheets, first came to public attention with a group of young California Watercolor Society colleagues during the 1930s. This survey, "Last Man Standing" with 60 works from 1940 to the present, celebrates his 100th birthday as the last surviving member of that group. Besides the watercolors are a number of works produced during Zornes’ wartime service as one of 42 War Department artists serving in Asia from 1943 -1945. California landscape artists were also conscious of what lay beyond our borders in Mexico and Asia. Using wet-on-wet techniques, working en plein air, using white paper and dropping color on it, and using white as a color in and of itself were then innovative techniques with the medium that pop up in the watercolors here (at San Marino, Pasadena). . . . Bettina Hoffman’s "Parallax" exhibition consists of two large video projects featuring slow, meditative camerawork in a look at ordinary people doing everyday things in a kind of absent narrative. Hoffman’s camera remains on her subject while it is constantly on the move. The result is a swooning, mysterious look at stillness (at Kristi Engle, Northeast Los Angeles). . . . Yi-Li Chin Ward investigates the nude as pure color, fast moving gesture, and as a complex symbol of beauty and arousal. They treat the body in terms of a formal arrangement of shapes, but once that comes across, you realize that the artist charges and alters these images to also cue us that the female body is so much more than geometry (at 57 Underground, Pomona). . . .
Maximizing the sum of the parts--
Gertrude and Otto Natzler are highlighted in a memorial to Otto, who died last April. Landing in Los Angeles in 1938, they were able to get the glaze and shape to look as it were crafted by nature, a balance of spontaneity and perfectly controlled glazing techniques using super high temperatures and complex chemistry (at Couturier, West Hollywood). . . . Lynn Aldrich’s current exhibition, "All Nature Sings" is a tour de force use of ordinary material to create extraordinary objects. She couples rain gutters with clear plastic tubes, composes vast quantities of cleaning supplies, household implements and plumbing components that add up to more that the sum of the parts. Sculpturally and conceptually captivating, Aldrich lends this work social as well as political overtones that are founded on formal beauty and precise construction (at Carl Berg, West Hollywood). . . . In “Quintessential Clay” five artists-Patsy Cox, Rick Maldanado, Porntip Sangvanich, Biliana Popova, and Fred Yokel-offer a new take on the question of transnational art and influence. Each artist creates work that is both stylistically diverse and technically crafted in a different manner. These natives of Asia, Western and Eastern Europe, all have traveled extensively, and are brought together here to resculpt and rethink considered ideas about the Southern California clay movement (at Cal Poly Pomona, Kellogg Gallery, Pomona). . . . Karen Sullivan, a clay artist and sculptor, and Karen Green, who works with assemblage, sumi paint, and text engage in a visual "call and response" to each other. Sullivan’s red spiked cups invite close viewing, while Green claims power over the depiction of historical and art historical figures in black and white (at Bunny Gunner, Pomona). . . .
Laurie Hassold’s intricate assemblages crafted from clay and various found objects are beautiful manifestations of women’s existential tribulations, yet containing mythological elements of her own invention as well. These are offbeat allusions to spiritual and physical evolution informed by an eye for beauty and top notch craftsmanship (at Bert Green, Downtown). . . . Sandeep Mukherjee switches in this new work from the lush, exotic tones of earlier works--deep indigos, magentas, burnt rusts--to a black and white palette. Pigment continues to be dripped, brushed and patted onto a slick vellum surface that this engineer-turned painter uses with fresh subtlety, turning space into something both rich with symbolism and energized by our senses (at Pitzer Campus Galleries, Claremont) . . . . “Fifteen Minutes of Fame" features a selection of Andy Warhol silkscreens and a pair of interesting less-known paintings; but the star turn here is Lawrence Schiller’s mostly black and white still photographs of movie greats such as Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and several portraits Marilyn Monroe frolicking in and by a pool that reveal a melancholy core (at Rohrer Fine Art, Orange County). . . .
Hermetic in spirit, public in response--
“Possible Impossible Dimension,” curated by Holly Myers, includes six artists who approach abstraction with a rigorous sense of spatial dynamics and an abiding concern for the relationship between the world they create in their work and the world outside their studio. The historical architecture of the landmark building in which the galleries are housed is effectively referenced by the artists, notably by Bari Ziperstein’s chandelier, and Dorsey Dunn’s sound work, which creates a poignant reflection on history (at Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, Northeast Los Angeles). . . . Neil Farber, a founding member of the Winnipeg-based Royal Art Lodge, shows large drawings of globular heads stacked in uneasy layers. The figures are often made with no more than a blob of paint with eyes, mouth and hair, but he is able to imbue these heads with distinct personalities. They feel familiar, but the uncertain and seemingly perilous contexts, along with hints of looming socio-political disaster intones a distinct sadness (at Richard Heller, Santa Monica). . . . A group of alumni from Laguna College of Art and Design explore issues of power within the Catholic Church, as well as within the arts community and contemporary art business in Saving the Praey. This is sharp social commentary that draws from realism, illusionism, narration, and figurative painting (at SCA Project, Pomona). . . .
The pleasures of pure form--
L.A. staple artist Guy Dill demonstrates that he still has the chops with huge aluminum sculptures in abstract shapes of arcs and circles, which are counterpointed to denser and heavier looking large scale bronzes sounding the same note. Where he was once known for exceptional polish, here he leaves the joining for all to see to focus our attention on process rather than precious product. Also on view for the first time are aluminum wall panels, measuring four feet wide and up to eight feet high, that look for all intents like abstract painted gestures translated to the metal medium (at Bobbie Greenfield, Santa Monica). . . . In “The Surface of Space” among a strong group of painters Andy Moses launches his new series of luminous silver-hued spirals, while Dennis Ekstrom re-emerges from a long, self-imposed hiatus with monochromatic canvasses, making paint surfaces crack in intriguing ways (at Pharmaka, Downtown). . . . Virgina Katz’s mixed-media works on paper look like satellite photos of places that don’t exist or existed long ago, using hand-worked powders and washes recalling art history as well as memories of Jean Dubuffet and Jean Fautier’s texture studies of the 1950s. Janet Jenkin’s gestural oil paintings draw on abstract patterns and reference notions of sequential movement, always in deep, vibrant colors (at Jancar, Midtown). . . .
Reflecting on one era to launch a new one--
“Southern California Art of the 1960s and ‘70s” highlights Ed Kienholz’ “Back Seat Dodge ‘38,” this time with the door open (not closed as during the 1966 controversy), as well as important artists in the "light and space" movement, minimalist and assemblage movements. There are a number of stunning individual works here. But now LACMA’s, or at least the public’s dream of drawing at will from Eli Broad’s collection, which was to have been eventually brought into the LACMA permanent collection, to produce shows that take up where this leaves off has been dashed with his recent announcement that his foundation will retain control (at LACMA, West Hollywood). . . .