King Yanzo Ho Scrolls, 5th Court

Twenty large painted scrolls on paper used in funeral services show the passage of the soul through ten stages of afterlife in A Journey Through Chinese Hell. The scrolls depict various sins and punishments graphically in a purgatorial series of courts through which the imperfect soul must migrate. The scrolls are carefully annotated and diagramed, lending insight into Chinese morality. Normally burned after the funeral, these artworks have been preserved. They thus provide us with an unlikely opportunity to experience the Yin, or spirit world, and Yang, or human world, as reflected in each other for the dynastic courts of the late 19th- and early 20th-century. Judgements and punishments are visualized as being very much like those on earth in the afterlife (Bowers Museum, Orange County).

Critiques of Pure Abstraction is a smart and concise exhibition that traces the current use of abstraction. It juxtaposes works by well known and lesser known artists who use traditional conventions of abstraction in new ways. Included in the exhibition are Rachel Lachowicz' painting made from eye make-up as well as her homage to Carl Andre, consisting ofsqares of red lipstick placed on the floor to form a large grid; Johnathan Lasker's large abstract Doodles; Sherri Levine's painted knots of wood; Nam June Paik's video line; as well as notable works by Jasper Johns, Anette Lemieux and Peter Halley.

Presented together for the first time is a survey of drawings by Los Angeles artist Lari Pittman. This survey chronicles Pittman's work from the early '80s to the present and includes drawings and paintings on paper. It gives viewers the opportunity to trace the development of Pittman's obsessive style and to celebrate his technical mastery (UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum of Art, West Los Angeles).

"Mary Stuart's Ravishment Descending Time", installation detail, 1996.

Barbara McCarren's installation bears the title Mary Stuart's Ravishment Descending Time, and is presented as "an excerpted portrait of an eviscerated personality." This "evisceration" is not just a metaphorical construct. After Queen Elizabeth I's unfortunate rival was beheaded, her vital organs were removed from her body and secreted outside London so that her Catholic followers could not make martyric relics of them. McCarren tropes on this fact by covering one whole wall with gruesomely lifelike reconstructions of body parts--mostly exemplars of corporal pathologies such as pockmarks, rheumy eyes and syphilitc genitalia--derived from Mary's evidently extensive medical records. If this qualifies Ravishment as the grossest installation of the season, much of the rest of the piece qualifies it as the most elegant. The biographical constellation of images under little glass bubbles, the spiral of black orbs bearing pitying (and punning) French phrases (Sa Vertue Máttire, Tu As Martyre), the thick lock of hair issuing from a mail slot, even the sculpted womb suspended from above and lit from within, all provide poetic ciphers elaborating on the Marian legend. It is a legend, as McCarren demonstrates, that for once can be constructed from a plethora rather than a dearth of factual details (Side Street Projects, Santa Monica).

Decade of Protest, Political Posters from the United States, Vietnam and Cuba, 1965-1975 is a museum quality exhibition juxtaposing political posters from Vietnam, Cuba and the United States made between 1965 and 1975. In addition to these powerful graphic statements, the exhibition also includes a collection of protest buttons and two photographic essays by contemporary photographer William Short and writer Willa Seidelberg. Short's black and white photographs from a recent trip to Vietnam, as well as his images of vets, present a different point of view and a more personal story of the war. In Short's photographs and accompanying texts vets speak out against the war (Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica).

"Perseverance" from the series "Restoration of Virtue", black neoprene/rubber grommets/air compressor, 13' x 7' x 12", 1996.

In Restoration of Virtues Susan Hornbeak-Ortiz brings freshness to a profound yet rarely tackled subject in contemporary art--individual morality and a search for basic truths. The artist creates eleven installations, each capturing an essential virtue. One inevitably encounters and struggles with each on life's journey. The uniqueness and value of the exhibition stems from both the nature of the subject matter and its eloquent presentations. Universal themes such as "Self-Discipline", "Patience", or "Gratitude" in lesser hands would come off as judgmental, romantic, or even saccharine sweet. But in Hornbeak-Ortiz' hands these soul-searching statements are artistically riveting. The work is direct, bold, understated, frequently oversize, and expertly crafted. The contemporary manner in which each virtue is conceived--an immense inner tube for Perserverence, a working chicken brooder for Nurture, or Wisdom portrayed with two taxidermist's glass sheep's eyes that pop open within lampshade eye sockets--jolts the viewer into reflecting on the meaning and significance of each virtue described (Chapman University, Guggenheim Gallery, Orange County).

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(1) Harold Paris, "Soft Soul", cast silicone/mixed media, 10 x 8", 1970.
(2) Jeanne Patterson, "Untitled" (Nipples), mixed media, dimensions variable, 1993.

Sexy: Sensual Abstraction in California, 1950s-1990s is a group exhibition curated by Julia Couzens and Hilary Baker that investigates the sexy and sexual in art. This exhibition features the work of 12 artists and carefully balances men and women, young and old. The curators' aim was to celebrate the sensual pleasures of seeing art as well as the sensual pleasures of the materials use to create the forms. The works on view are both two- and three-dimensional and almost all have a tactile "please touch me" quality to them. There are beautiful paintings by Craig Kaufmann and John Altoon. Terry O'Shea and Harold Paris are there with exquisite little treasures. Ross Ruder and Jeanne Patterson lead the latest generation's forays into the sensuous. While Sexy can't begin to cover the entire historical field of abstracted sexuality, it does stake out a part of the territory well worth looking at (Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena).

Untitled (Two Nudes), oil on board, 9 1/2 x 12 1/4", nd

Louis Eilshemius was one of those urban eccentrics who fertilize the ferment of artistic discourse with their very presence, and turn out some beguiling work besides. A fin-de-siécle New Yorker, and not at all an untrained naïf, Eilshemius still merged the spirits of Albert Pinkham Ryder, Henri Rousseau and the myriad unsung masters of the barroom odalisque with his oddly painted nude figures cavorting in bucolic landscape settings (and framed by ersatz curved borders). While his brushstroke was almost lasciviously rich and sinuous, Eilshemius' palette reigned itself in around the brown-green range--not old-master brown, but a woody light brown, rather like underpainting. The selection presented here--part of the Eilshemius collection once owned by Sidney Janis, the painter's postwar rediscoverer--may be top-heavy with these stereotypical works, it also features numerous digressions, including a stunningly raw-edged view, without figures, of a waterfall in the woods, as well as several humorous ink drawings (Kantor Gallery, West Hollywood).

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