MERLE SCHIPPER

THE BEST OF
CURRENT CATALOGUES
FOR HOLIDAY READING



Martin Lubliner, "Betty Asher and Ken Tyler", photograph, 1968, from the exhibition (hosted by Craig Krull Gallery) and catalogue, "Photographing the L.A. Art Scene: 1955-1975."




Some of the catalogues recently issued look back to the '50s and '60s in the L.A. art scene, recalling a time when this community was just emerging as a major art center. Young artists were then plunging into untried modes and mediums, engaging new ideas and fearlessly taking chances that they might not dare attempt now. But then, damage to careers was hardly a problem, for they received little notice, and sales, if they occurred at all, were rare.

This comes to mind when looking through Photographing the L.A. Art Scene: 1955-1975 (Santa Monica: Smart Art Press, 1996), not a large-format book, but packed with images from another time. As the catalogue of the recent show of the same title at the Craig Krull Gallery at Bergamot Station, it's a permanent record of the work on the walls. Opening it confronts you with the period, be it nostalgia-evoking or a revelation of events of which you were heretofore unaware. Although it tends to focus on the milieu that formed around the Ferus Gallery (1957-1963), it is not limited to that presence, while bringing to the our attention incidents ranging from the Wally Berman arrest to the Babitz/Duchamp chess game.

Along with great shots by pros such as Charles Brittin, Dennis Hopper, Jerry McMillan, Edmund Teske and others, some not principally recognized for their picture-taking prowess, it includes brief essays by Krull, Larry Bell, Ed Ruscha and others.

Then there is Kienholz: A Retrospective (New York: Whitney Museum & D.A.P., 1996), accompanying the exhibition of work by Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz. The principal essay by Curator Walter Hopps, who, with Keinholz operated the original Ferus gallery, offers the close-up observations of a long-time friend of the late artist, whose work foresaw conceptualism. Hopps recaps events of those times, including the front page scandal caused by Keinholz' Back Seat Dodge '38 at his 1966 LACMA show. The essays include one by Marcus Raskin that looks at Keinholz' merging of illusion and reality in relation to violence in the American society of the '50s and '60s, along with the perceptions of Jurgin Hartin, Thomas McEvilley, and others. Commentaries by Hopps and Rosetta Brooks accompany the plates.

Ed Moses"Crazed-Cracked", zcrylic and asphaltum on canvas, 75 x 120", 1995.

The continuous change he finds underlaying the work of another member of the Ferus Gallery group is examined in depth by curator John Yau, who sees Ed Moses as a unique figure among postmodernists. In examining his work from the early, atmospheric Gorkyesque drawings and vertical-band paintings reminiscent of Guston, through the 1961 Rose drawings and paper constructions, to his mid-'90s work, in Ed Moses: A Retrospective of the Paintings and Drawings, 1951-l996 (UC Press: Berkeley & L.A., l996), the catalogue for his recent smash show at MOCA. Yau looks into the artist's adoption of motifs such as those in Navajo weavings, along with the impact of Buddhism. While he is attentive to Moses' interest in the architecture of Venice, his studio base during most of a career spanning five decades, the writer refers to the artist's engagement of "southern California light" only in relation to his memorable deconstruction of the Rico Mizuno gallery in 1969. Except for a brief reference to Sam Francis, the curator finds sources and influences in New York.

Ferus and the Light and Space movement both get attention in Laura Meyer's essay "From Finish Fetish to Feminism" in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ( L.A. & Berkeley: UCLA/Hammer & UC
Press, 1996), published with the exhibition that took place recently at the Hammer. Chicago, then Judy Gerowitz, at the time used much the same synthetic materials as Larry Bell and Craig Kauffman. While receiving praise for formal content, in Meyer's view she was not recognized for the expression of a "new female identity," despite the attention to "maleness" attributed to the others' work, and did not find notice for its specifically feminist sexuality nor for its significance for the feminist art movement, which found its base in Los Angeles in the l970s.

Editor Amelia Jones discusses critical views of The Dinner Party when it was originally presented along with the issues raised as "sexual politics." Other noteworthy essays are by Anette Kubitz, who looks at responses to The Dinner Party in Europe; Susan Kandel, on stripping away the veil of female imagery; Laura Cottingham on lesbianism and its place in the feminist art movement; and Nancy Ring, questioning the absence of racism and anti-Semitism in The Dinner Party (we find Chicago confronting anti-Semitism more recently in The Holocaust Project [1993]).

Surrealist Man Ray came on the local scene here before all of that, 1940-l95l, having been offered free transportation from New York after fleeing Naziism in Europe, to become an "isolato in Hollywood." Essayist Dickran Tashjian brings
to light the only now-told story of Man Ray's stay in L.A. in Man Ray: Paris>>L.A. (Santa Monica; Smart Art Press, 1996), the beautifully designed and illustrated volume which accompanies the museum-scale show at Tom Patchett's Track 16 Gallery and the Robert Berman Gallery. With brief passages by both Patchett and Berman, an interview with James and Barbara Byrnes (the latter then art curator at the Los Angeles County Museum in Exposition Park), who were at that time closely associated with the artist within a milieu that included Henry Miller and the Walter Arensbergs (who never bought any work by Ray). Probably most important for the artist was his meeting with Juliet Browner, who became his wife, but he continued to work productively at painting, photography and object making--especially chess sets --while here. Although he had exhibitions, including his first retrospective in 1944 at what was then the Pasadena Art Institute, in "continuing unnoticed" as he put it, he undoubtedly found L.A. well removed from Paris not only in miles but in its attitude towards contemporary art.

Work by Ray is also included in Visionary States: Surrealist Prints from the Gilbert Kaplan Collection, published by the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, UCLA, for the exhibition just ended at the Hammer. This volume is packed with illustrations that should remind art viewers that the innovative forms and untried techniques of the past can still make for exciting viewing.

Following Riva Casteleman's introductory essay on collecting prints in America, Robert Rainwater discusses the printmaking of of key figures such as Max Ernst and his invention of "frottage" in 1925; he examines the importance of the Paris dealer Henry Kahnweiler, who introduced Andre Masson to the idea of a book with original prints. Miro's automatism, especially in lithographs that reflected his response to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war is also examined here, along with Dali's Les Chants de Maldoror, among the "heliogravures" which combined photography with intaglio, to mark an exceptional, if controversial achievement by the artist as a printmaker.

Timothy Baum discusses other Surrealists as well, particularly in relation to book art, mentioning Masson's erotic etchings for books by Louis Aragon and Georges Bataille, while also praising Dali as then at his best. He singles out the importance of Hayter,who moved his Atelier 17 to New York at the outbreak of World War II, as a catalyst.

Man Ray may have thought he was isolated in L.A. but Agnes Pelton (1881-1961), who spent her late years not far from Palm Springs, was not only an isolated figure, but her most remarkable work was until now little noticed during recent decades. The subject of a retrospective originally organized by Michael Zakian for the Palms Springs Museum, and shown more recently at Pepperdine University's Frederick R. Weissman Museum, the catalogue for
Agnes Pelton: Poet of Nature, presents the highly imginative images of an artist who sought to reveal the essence of things rather than their outward appearance, engaging with the occult as well, choosing the flame, which frequently appears in her work, as her personal emblem. A founder of the Transcendental Painting group with Raymond Jonson, and a contemporary of Georgia O'Keeffe, Zakian's text reveals her as a modernist of rare sensibility for her times or even since, creating paintings that exude a fragile, vaporous atmosphere, perhaps reflecting a personality whose melancholy state might have had its source in the event of a family scandal, her grandmother's liaison with Henry Ward Beecher!

Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts (Los Angeles: LACMA, 1996) should make this multi-faceted personality accessible as an artist if he is only familiar to you as a writer, which is probably true for most acquainted with his books, considering that, as essayist Robert Sobieszek tells us, he only showed his visual work after the death of his collaborator Brion Gysin, in 1986. Gysin was the primary influence on the use of techniques that Burroughs adopted, principally the collage-like ideas such as the "cut-ups" as well as the "fold-ins" and other inventions that engaged chance and randomness to contribute to an "expansion of consciousness," much like the writing, which also abandoned convention. Here Sobieszek also acquaints the reader with Burroughs' experiments in music and his impact there on a range of figures from Herbie Hancock to Kurt Cobain.

The show is not scheduled to open at the Hammer until January 28, 1997, but the catalogue for Too Jewish: Challenging Traditional Identities (New Brunswick & New York: Rutgers University & the Jewish Museum, 1996) in which Jewish artists examine their identities, is already available. While it illuminates a number of serious issues, it offers a good deal of delight as well as information. Following a brief forward by Linda Nochlin recalling her memories of the Hasidim she disparaged while growing up in Crown Heights, New York, Curator Norman L. Kleeblatt's "Passing into Multiculturalism" discusses the work in the show as it refers to commonly attributed stereotypes, such as body parts and the idea of the "Jewish American Princess", or in relation to traditions and the place of the Jew in American society, subjects further examined in other essays. These include, most notably, Rhonda Leiberman's witty "Jewish Barbie", and the sober piece by Margaret Olin on Jewish art critics, principally Clement Greenberg.

And thats the bunch for this year. Happy holidays!