Merle Schipper

A FISTFUL OF CATALOGUES

[1] [2]

[3] [4]

(1) Karen Carson, "Untitled," cotton duck and industrial zippers, 95 x 83", 1972, from "Karen Carson--A 25-Year Survey" at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
(2) Kim Dingle, "Priss Room Installation," mixed media installation, 1994-95, from "Kim Dingle" at Otis College of Art and Design. Photo: Chris Warner.
(3) Salvador Dali, backdrop for dream sequence from Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound," painting on muslin, 204 1/4 x 456", 1945, from "Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film Since 1945" at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Collection of Marius Olbrychowski, Los Angeles.
(4) Peter Voulkos, "Plate," stoneware with glaze, 3 1/4 x 16 1/4" diameter, 1962, from "The Art of Peter Voulkos" at the Newport Harbor Art Museum.

A few generations have emerged since Peter Voulkos made what was a very formidable impact on the local scene, not just as a ceramist, but in a multitude of ways, foremost among them his endowing the ceramic tradition with new stature as art. Yes, it all happened here in L. A., 1954-59, while Voulkos was at Otis, first hired by then director Millard Sheets, later fired by same for his unorthodox teaching and no holds barred approach to clay! The whole story and much, much more can be found in The Art of Peter Voulkos (Tokyo & Oakland: Kodansha & Oakland Museum, 1995), which arrived at the Newport Harbor Art Museum with the recent show there. It will fill you in on what co-author Rose Slivka deems "the most exciting, intense, obsessive and productive years of his career and [which] sparked the clay movement that spread throughout the country and the world."

Citing his invention and innovation in exploiting aspects of the medium for its full potential through engaging crack, edge and textures within a totally irreverent approach to the surface, Slivka, as editor of Crafts Horizons, has been a close-up observer of Voulkos' career to the present. Her account is most edifying. Oakland Museum Curator Karen Tzujimoto adds still more in discussing the factors that underlie Voulkos' process, such as his visit to Japan in 1974 and his adoption of Zen philosophy and, no less, his devotion to the guitar.

Then there is Art and Film Since 1945: Hall of Mirrors (Los Angeles & New York: MOCA & Monacelli, 1996), a weighty tome indeed, accompanying the show currently at The Museum of Contemporary Art's Temporary Contemporary. Curator Kerry Brougher's lengthy essay reveals him to be an ardent film buff who has a keenly astute familiarity with cinema's history. His heavily packed account covers figures from both art and film traditions, to deal with the interaction and often merging of the two, citing Weegee, Bruce Conner and Kenneth Anger with regard to the latter. Singling out Orson Welles as a metaphor for Hollywood itself, he sees the 50's as a turning point punctuated by the arrival of Pop. Warhol is assessed, as we might expect, as "the clearest example of an artist who shifts painting toward cinema and cinema toward painting." He also pairs Richard Hamilton with Michelangelo Antonioni (who told Rothko, "Your paintings are like my films--they are about nothing"), both interested in "articulating space and design of contemporary cinematic culture while simultaneously transmuting the medium in which they work." Further along he compares the effects of Brackhage's use of the hand-held camera to those achieved by Irwin, Turrell and Wheeler.

There seem to be few omissions in the gamut of names discussed here, those running from Hopper to Baldessari and from Hitchcock to Jarman. There is a lot to take in here, just as in the exhibition, but if the latter fails to reflect any discernible order, it is sustained in the book.

Dave Hickey and Peter Schjeldal both have a capacity for wit that can make their essays as entertaining as they are illuminating. In But Enough About Me, those words belonging to Karen Carson, whose 25-year career rewarded her with a triple header of shows at Otis College, the Santa Monica Museum of Art and LACE, Hickey, whose essay is hardly any less about himself than about Carson, admits to his admiration of the artist, as well as being a friend. Both of those factors undoubtedly enhance his perception of the "shameless veracity" he finds in her paintings. He views them as narratives about herself within the "hard surface of local reality," that being nearby Lincoln Boulevard in Venice!

Anne Ayres, curator of all three shows, examines Carson's evolution, from the remarkable zipper pieces to the recent Banners, especially the extraordinary Invasion of the Modernist (1995), which engages flatness and depth at once, con-tradictions notwithstanding. Ayres' perceptions are as acute as they are penetrating.

Schjeldahl's view of Kim Dingle in the catalogue for her show at Otis, is waggishly sharp in suggesting the narratives he reads in those cute-little-girl/demons, while identifying what lies behind the frilly frocks and scowls as commentaries on cultural values. In a second essay, Marilu Knode examines works in the show, giving us her take on the paradoxes there.

Ulrich Luckhardt and Paul Melia, co-authors of The Art of David Hockney: A Drawing Retrospective (London; Thames and Hudson, l995), accompanying the show at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), present brief texts to let the reader concentrate on viewing the drawings reproduced therein. His drawing to me, especially when in black-and-white, is his most satisfying work. Luckhardt offers a brief sketch of the development of the artist's career and the role drawings play, while Melia gives the reader a closer view, examining techniques and devices employed by the artist, highlighting the recent Ocean drawings and his sea of doodles. Catalogue divisions are introduced by commentaries.

Unlike Hockney's, Lari Pitman's drawings are frequently in vivid color, and might be judged paintings, so reading the catalogue for the show at the Hammer, organized by UC Santa Barbara, might serve as preparation for the forthcoming LACMA exhibition. Curator Elizabeth M. Brown's text opens to point to him, a graduate of CalArts, rejecting the painting-is-dead stance there. She examines the assertion of his South American heritage in his use of decoration, defines his iconography as social and political commentary, as well as his open declaration of identity as a gay artist. Brown's essay is followed by the brief Wall Eyed Ghosts by UC Santa Barbara professor Lawrence Rickets, largely a discourse on wallpaper prompted by Pittman's patterning, a reflection of his own interest in wallpaper.

Sigmar Polke Photoworks: When Pictures Vanish (Los Angeles & Zurich. MOCA & Scalo, 1996),from the winter exhibition at MOCA, features an extended essay by Curator Paul Schimmel (expanding on a briefer text by Maria Morris Hambourg, Photo Curator at New York's Metropolitan Museum) that focuses on the astonishing results of Polke's unorthodoxy as a photographer. Rejecting the discipline's considered imperative in photography, he allows accident and experiment to take over, permitting chance, error, and drug-induced hallucination to play a part in creating the extraordinary and unexpected effects found in the images reproduced in the book.

Departing from the usual theme here, Margaret Lazzari's The Practical Handbook for the Emerging Artist (Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1995) merits attention not only by new artists because it satisfies the everything-you-always-wanted-to-know category. Many whose emergence is well behind them could find it handy as well. Each section, accompanied by illuminating and often reassuring interviews with artists such as John Baldessari and Jenny Holzer, covers a number of subjects, all thoroughly researched, ranging from groundwork to graduate school. Financial Concerns, for example, offers a host of options that could serve as a survival kit, as well as practical information on such chores as record keeping and contracts. Well illustrated, and filled with charts and diagrams that are clear and intelligible, it offers a guide to installing works and, importantly, the correct way to label slides, among other helpful hints. The text, by the way, is lots livelier than you might expect on the subject.

Lastly, although it doesn't replace the show, one that didn't come to L.A., Willem de Kooning: The Late Paintings (San Francisco & Minneapolis: SFMOMA and Walker Art Center, 1995), offers a valuable assessment of the artist's work 1980-87, to affirm its place as worthy and essential in rounding out the artist's career. In co-author Gary Garrells' analysis he finds the canvases, "more open and fluid but full of lively movement, with surfaces skating between shimmering reflectiveness and matte softness."

In his sensitively written text, Robert Storr faces up to the state of affairs in the eighties, such as the heroic role played by De Kooning's former wife, the late Elaine De Kooning, but most of all about the gradual debilitation of the artist, caused by the onset and development of Alzheimers' disease, even as he continued to create an astonishing number of remarkable paintings.