History often plays a secondary yet crucial role in so many artists’ work. If it is not a meaningful creative task to record history, what artist of any ambition fails to consider what their role might be in making it? Not to mention the import of how art contributes within the larger scheme of social progress. Most months we encounter a certain number of exhibitions that step us back in time, whether far into its depths, where the Terra Cotta Warriors dating from ancient China’s 1st dynasty carry us, or the recent past, as in the way Wifredo Lam’s tightly organized retrospective delivers us to the days of the School of Paris, or the cultural environment of Cuba a half century before Castro. Until recently when we encountered serious art from third world countries, such as Lam’s, we naturally expected to see a blend of what would be reasonably current in European or modernist thought with indigenous traditions. A selection of “Contemporary Art from India” demonstrates the truth of this perception, both in terms of historical aesthetic models and available subject matter. Anyone who follows changes in the international art market over the last decade is also aware that this truism is rapidly changing. It’s interesting what happens when a dedicated contemporary artist delves into historical material as a central source to their aesthetic strategy, as does Lawrence Gipe, who manages to undermine romanticizing the propaganda of past decades by deftly inflating it. Others assume the role of social anthropologist, revealing us to ourselves by virtue of a broad and extended study, such as August Sander’s famous effort to record the German national character in photographs. Of course, looking back eventually brings us to examine our own historical moment, a practice that many engage in, but always risking that personal polemics will drown out aesthetic discretion. Peter Saul sets an unusual countefoil to post modern ambivalence in that his treatment of topical subjects drives the artist’s personal opinion. It is surprising how he expresses it in image form. What is a constant when encountering artists’ reflection on or expression of history is that it makes us place ourselves in time: like the “You Are Here” map at the local mall. Art may disrupt or fix in place existing assumptions, but it is a subtext that provokes us to deal with context.
As always, you’ll find more on the artists and their host venues referred to above in the exhibition capsules that follow.
Here are your links to some of July’s upcoming exhibition highlights:
• WIFREDO LAM
In "Wifredo Lam in North America” one sees how the artist was well acquainted with Picasso and many other Parisian modernists, absorbing their influences along with that of Surrealist mentor Andre Breton. However, Lam also drew from his life as the Cuban-born, eighth son of an African-Spanish mother and a Chinese father. The drawings, prints and paintings here also display the spiritual influence of a godmother who was an influential priestess in the Santeria religion. The exhibition has just enough material, including photographs of Lam, his family and friends, to reveal his complex soul and oeuvre (at the Museum of Latin American Art [MoLAA], Long Beach).
• GINA HAN
Gina Han’s latest paintings feel like poetically composed and constructed organic communities, planted with primitive pods that seem to grow on each piece’s surface into alert and tenderhearted creatures. Her works also reveal a protean imagination, a powerful and fragile feminine sensibility, as well as a high degree of skill in the handling of her materials. Han pours her paint directly onto her canvasses or wood panels, yet manages to construct leafy and/or bean/egg-shaped forms. These rise slightly off their surfaces in relief, with perfectly defined outer edges. Han’s multiple paneled works are created individually then arranged as an ensemble improvisationally (at Ruth Bachofner, Santa Monica).
• ARLENE BOGNA
Arlene Bogna’s "Safari Americana" photographs make the viewer sink into a nostalgic reverie. They include color-saturated images of hulking man-made bovines standing like dumb, complacent sentinels in dark R.V. parks or empty dirt lots. They exert a strong whiff of this country’s historic car culture. She asks us to consider what it is in human nature, or the American psyche, that makes us delight in the sight of painted, three dimensional animals perched atop sign poles or hawking honey from flat bed trucks. Bogna’s images have the spontaneous feel of snapshots, yet the carefully orchestrated camera angles and artist’s repeated down-low perspective capture the sheer naive exhibitionism of the roadway animal signs (at Gallery 825, West Hollywood).
• PETER SAUL
In an interview to be featured on his latest "The Art of Outrage" on ArtScene Visual Radio, Peter Clothier talks with Peter Saul, who since the early 1960s has been a gadfly in the art world, joyfully embracing social issues and public politics, satirizing the abuses and excesses of American culture. His paintings are unabashedly lively, colorful, decidedly uncool, sometimes surreal and often grotesque, punch line funny and, yes, painfully accurate in skewering their targets. Saul talks about having, in recent years, George W. Bush as the subject in some of his work, ironically grateful for his misbehavior and craziness (at the Orange County Museum [OCMA], Orange County).
• Don't forget to go to the Gallery Pages section for the latest featured exhibition and event announcements; there's always some new ones going up:
• Visit AVR (ArtScene Visual Radio). . . . The current AVR Show features stories on exhibitions featuring D.J. Hall, David Amico, Jerome Witkin and others; Hunter Drohojowska-Philp‘s current interview with Lyn Kienholz, covers stories about Ed, the ‘60s, and her current project, an encyclopedia of L.A. Art. Watch for Peter Clothier’s latest “Art of Outrage,” featuring the above noted interview with Peter Saul, as well as one with Tony de los Reyes; and Marlena Donohueshe’s back!--visits with artist Keith Puccinelli.
• You'll also find the updates for July/August Openings Calendar at:
The endless sources of human comedy--
Philip-Lorca diCorcia orchestrates tight, crisp photos taken on the mean streets, featuring underbelly figures engaged in often socially marginal activities. The "Hustler" suite, taken around the hotel in Hollywood where Janis Joplin hung out, stands out. An installation of 1,000 of the artist’s Polaroid photographs display a contrasting lighter, looser hand (at LACMA, West Hollywood). . . . The German photographer August Sander’s 130 subjects on display here are one corner of his grand project, a comprehensive portrait of the German people. His theory that "we can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do by reading in his face whether he is happy or troubled" can be put to the test by looking at the photos before reading the subtitles, where we find faces of city people, urban youth, artists, foreign workers, etc. (at Getty Center, West Los Angeles). . . . The Puppet Show includes historical material, installations and video that take the use of puppets or dolls as characters or formal elements in narrative as well as abstract art. Shipping crates double as containers for individual videos, a tact which successfully separates the time-based work from the sculptures and installations. And, of course, puppet shows are scheduled throughout the summer (at Santa Monica Museum, Santa Monica). . . .
Slinking through Eden--
Silfrido Ibara’s most impressive canvases are done in a tight, non-atmospheric, magic realist style. Most images here immersively depict dense, green proliferations of rain forests. The trees are seen just at mid-trunk, entwined vines coiled around the trunks, with a subtext here of a planet in a very precarious relationship to its natural habitats (at Latin American Masters, Beverly Hills) . . . . French photographer Guillaume Zuili shows photographs that capture the radical global change taking place on the periphery of cities from rural to urban life styles. Emphasis is on the products of climate change and a world economic pinch that is forcing more family farmers out of traditional land-based cultures all over the world (at Couturier, West Hollywood). . . . Tomoko Sawada’s "Bride" photographs, consists of a series of diptychs hung as a large grid. She explores traditional roles and fashion as well as the notion of arranged marriage in images of herself costumed as a modern Western and as a traditional Japanese bride. Marked by Sawada’s absence of expression she repeatedly transforms herself via the design of the modern dress, hairstyle and makeup (at Rose, Santa Monica). . . . A selection of stunning prints, mostly from the 1930s by the remarkable Bernice Abbott are confident, concise and oddly masculine. The shots can be from way up high looking down on the power of skyscrapers dwarfed below our sightline, as in "Night View, New York" or "The Flat Iron Building." Here Abbott smartly reverses the terrible dwarfing effect the city had on humans back then, as the economy weakened and utopian progress might not have seemed an option. Just as masterful are intimate views in which Abbott pulls us right down into the gritty cultural ghettos of pre-WW II urban hubs. These are subtle, rich vintage prints and seeing these classic images again is a real pleasure (at Fahey/Klein, West Hollywood). . . .
Shifting aesthetic loyalties--
Conceptualist pioneer Lawrence Weiner’s retrospective fills the cavernous Geffen Contemporary with temporary walls designed to enhance the flow of words able to transform the process of reading and thinking about what words signify into art. We normally encounter Weiner one statement at a time, so having this whole chorus of statements to interact with extends our gaze “As Far as the Eye Can See” (at MOCA, Geffen Contemporary, Downtown). . . . British painter David Somerville switches from abstract painting to modernist Expressionism along the lines of Henri Matisse. Interior scenes with red walls, easels that could be windows, windows that could be paintings are depicted with intense Fauve color and free line (at George Billis, Culver City). . . . The cleverness of the title Reclaiming the 'F' Word: Posters on the International Feminisms and its plural noun suggests that "feminism" has myriad faces. It emanates from not just the Women's Building in L.A. but globally, and has been the expletive deleted for decades. That humor hides the seriousness of a survey dating from the early days of the modern feminist movement in the 1970s up to the present shows us via graphic design and posters that feminism was always a complex matrix of concerns (at CSU Northridge, Valley). . . .
Return of the prodigal artists--
Contemporary Art from India is featured at two venues, showcasing paintings, photography, and mixed media wall-based works by six artists. Shobha Broota, one of the country’s most celebrated artists, offers paintings and wall sculptures exquisitely connected to the divine. Color seems to move from a central hub that expresses a unifying force. Sheeba Chhachhi is represented with two fascinating series of photographs of women who have given up secular lives to become wandering mystics. The apparent culturally specific iconography central to some of the work can get lost in the Western translation (at Western Project, and d.e.n., both Culver City). . . . Pintores de Aztlan is a group selection of Chicano/a artists, the result of a five-year effort to introduce them more widely to Spanish and European viewers. The exhibition originates from La Casa Encendida in Madrid seen here via excerpted but nonetheless impressive examples from the late Carlos Almaraz, Wayne Healy, Patssi Valdez Adan Hernandez and others (at Patricia Correia, Santa Monica). . . .
Living with dust--
Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor is a treat that should not be missed. This is the largest loan of the famous Guardian figures and other significant artifacts ever to travel to the U.S. from the tomb complex. There are a dozen or so stalwart still warriors, archival materials and 100 sets of objects (at Bowers Museum, Orange County). . . . Lawrence Gipe, a thoughtful and seasoned painter, copies existing archival visual culture from sources such as old Life Magazine images rich with meaning. In Gipe’s hands they are rendered more poignant, higher pitched and vigorously mysterious when translated to canvas. Their large size is key, adding to an authoritative presence established by the quality of the painting, which apes the feel of old Magnum silver prints in views of Russian factories or Americans playing golf in the Middle East (at Lora Schlesinger, Santa Monica). . . . Lael Corbin’s installation evokes an intense response to living through a home remodel. Memories of endless dust, disorder, and frustration are mingled with the thrill of anticipation and progress. One can feel the ultimate and ongoing gratification with the developing changes, but this is nonetheless art, not life pretending to be art (at Luis de Jesus, San Diego). . . .
Stewing over a mixture of media--
Pat O’Neill makes a remarkable breakthrough from digital reality into actuality, transcending the virtual (film) and combining the two-dimensional environment with an erotic biomorphism. Conversations between sculptures made of cast bronze combining acacia, burls, pine, rose branches, and Morning Glories allow us to create the narrative for ourselves in refined layered collages, film and sculpture (at Rosamund Felsen, Santa Monica). . . . This year’s C.O.L.A. 2008 Individual Artist Fellowships exhibition includes nine award recipients, whose diverse aesthetics and use of media--ranging from painting and photography, to installation and videonecessarily confounds any curatorial theme or intent. The strengths of thee individual artists reflect well on the state of L.A.’s cultural environment (at Municipal Art Gallery, Hollywood). . . . Todd Carpenter’s paintings and photographs are all about light, including urban scenes of Los Angeles shot early or late in the day when the color of the light is tweaked and shadows are their longest. Carpenter switches from color to black-and-white, as well as changing subject matter in his paintings of tree trunks, branches and other natural forms, which become almost abstract, echoing the object they represent (at 4 Walls, San Diego). . . .