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With Spring comes studio tours it seems. The culminating event for years has been the Venice Art Walk in May, and various locales have had artists throw open their studios to the strolling public, from Santa Barbara to San Diego to Fullerton.

LACE used to coordinate a weekend of open studios in downtown L.A. in their better days and when they were located there. The downtown Loft District continues to provide digs to the city's most glorious crossection of artists. View 'em all, seemingly, at DADA's Fall warehouse exhibition. But this is the month to take the measure of two of Southern California's key loft complexes, apartment buildings, if you will, for people who prefer to spread themselves out over a 5,000 foot space, hopefully for the cost of a two-bedroom apartment.

Imagine the neighbor to your left heating up ceramic sculpture in a 2,000 degree kiln, and the one on the right doing video recordings of a performance piece that has them smacking god-knows-what against your west wall. Mr. Rogers' neighborhood it ain't. But stimulating creative environment it is, and places like The Brewery and the Santa Fe Art Colony are the closest thing to paradise for literally hundreds of artists.

Two weekends in April are your opportunities to soak up the atmosphere in which the stuff you normally see at the galleries gets dreamed up and made.

On April 5th and 6th, from noon-5pm the Santa Fe Art Colony opens up at 2401 S. Santa Fe (two blocks south of Washington Blvd. and the 10 Freeway exit). In addition to the dozens of open artists' studios there will be a silent auction, proceeds to benefit Para Los Niños. Parking next to and across the street from the Colony is available, and the whole thing, parking included, is free. If you need to know more, call (213) 587-6381 or 587-5513.

Which brings us to The Brewery, the Monster Studio City of the World, 21 buildings occupying 23 (count 'em) acres of what was once the Pabst Blue Ribbon, uh, brewery. More than 100 artists will be jostling for your attention on April 26th and 27th from 11am-6pm. There is plenty of parking in and around the complex and, like the Santa Fe Colony's, the tour and parking are all freebies. Located at North Main St. and Avenue 21, you're looking at the northeast section of downtown L.A., about a mile northeast of Chinatown, and right by the 5 Freeway. If you want to talk to someone on the phone there the number is (213) 694-2911.

Upwards of 5,000 people come downtown for these studio tours each year, pretty good numbers. Just in case you're among the fearful who regard these parts of town as placing your life at risk, please understand that these are in fact very safe areas. Really, you can bring the kids.

Julian Schnabel burst upon the art scene in the 1980's. Now that it is 1997 we can step back and begin to access his art. On view are both new and older paintings ranging from 1987 to 1996. Included is one of his infamous plate paintings as well as a few sculptures. The works take on allegorical themes as well as explore the formal properties of painting. They are overpowering compositions.

Harry Callahan has been making photographs for over 50 years. His early works on view here are form studies in line, light, and shadow. Callahan championed the art of high contrast, making elegant and poetic compositions of blades of grass or telephone lines where the background disappeared. Callahan also made numerous photographs of his wife (and muse) Eleanor. A selection of those, from 1948-53, are on view (PaceWildenstein, Beverly Hills).

As the last show of photographs here before the facility closes for rennovation work that will continue for about four years, The Eye of Sam Wagstaff is an appropriate exhibition. Wagstaff was an insightful collector who was interested in all aspects of photography. The Getty acquired his collection in 1984 and this exhibition emphasizes scope of his vision. On view are examples ranging from Alfred Steiglitz to Robert Mapplethorp (J. Paul Getty Art Museum, Malibu).

Sylvia Glass is a prolific artist who continues to explore the past to find contemporary connections. Delicately and sensitively folding and stitching found bits of metal, twigs, seeds, pods, bones and man-made artifacts into her paintings, books and boxes, she adds drawings, handprints and writing. This work communicates a sense of resurrection that innately resides in memory and loss. The inclusion of a selection of trompe l'oeil drawings and an overall lighter palette indicates her evolving steps in a new direction. Individual works beckon you to closely investigate their intricate detail. The work echoes the loneliness of ruins and, at the same time, affirms life's natural cycle of renewal (Barnsdall Art Park, Junior Arts Cen ter Gallery, Hollywood).

Frank Gehry, Walt Disney Hall, Exterior Study (l.) and Interior Study (r.), 1995.
Photo credits: Joshua White (l.); Paul Goldman (r.)

It is a treat to see Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Hall: A Celebration of Music and Architecture. This exhibition presents architectural plans and materials as well as a full scale model of the proposed music hall's interior as well as its already familiar facade. The model is constructed to be seen at eye level, giving viewers an idea of what it will be like to sit in the audience. The exhibit is quite successful in simulating the experience of being in that environment (Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown).

With a realistic approach to rendering subject matter, Ray Turner creates impressive paintings describing the individual characters in the race track scenario. Jockey, horse-breeder, or horse are presented--before and after the race--at their moments of preparation, concentration, exertion, as well as quiet exhilaration or sorrow for winning or losing. The racetrack experience gives the artist the ability to capture the eloquence of the human being and his animal in the act of extending themselves to meet an ever increasing challenge. Turner masterfully uses a rich palette of color and lush application of paint. There is a profusion of bold brushstrokes, gestural painting, and dark and light areas that accent the individual expressions of figures portrayed (Sarah Bain Gallery, Orange County).

Ray Turner, "Into the Paddock", oil on canvas, 102"x65", 1997.

"Matineé", oil on canvas, 30"x40", 1997.

Jerry Wayne Downs fashions surreal worlds populated with unlikely companions--an elegant theatre staircase that leads to a gossamer unknown in Staircase, a highway so jam-packed that rapid-paced vehicles are rendered immobile in No Exit, or, as depicted in Matinee, a movie theater in a romantic forest becomes a forest in a romantic movie theater. Downs deliberately calibrates these seemingly out-of-joint and juxtaposed relationships with enough sleight-of-hand and sorcery to excite the viewer into rethinking the meaning of art and the artist's message each time the work is encountered. Downs' subject matter is engaging for yet another reason--his superb mastery of the painter's craft. The artist articulates his dreamlike landscapes with perfect brushstrokes, exquisite colors, and flawless rendering, tantalizing the viewer to enter each canvas and partake of the surreal delights within (Diane Nelson Fine Art, Orange County).

Tony Oursler's video projections both shock and amuse. The darkened gallery hosts an array of objects ranging from suspended spheres to jars of animal parts onto which an image is projected. The spheres each support the image of an eye. Oursler videotaped his subjects watching TV, and the resulting image focuses on the movement of the cornea. The projections upon the jars are ambiguous and ominous. They consist of fragmented moving lips. Although sound plays a major part in Oursler's work it is hard to make out what the image is saying. Best known for his doll-like sculptures, this show is a departure from the expected, but quite a fascinating effort (Margo Leavin Gallery, West Hollywood).

Vik Muniz photographs a constructed reality. His images appear to be portraits, landscapes or objects, when in actuality they are fabrications. For one series he fashioned everyday objects out of wire, photographing them against a blank background. The final works look like photographs of drawings. In the Sugar Children, images he created portraits by carefully filling a black sheet with grains of sugar. The texture of the sugar appears as though it were the grain of the photograph. The most compelling images in the exhibition are the two monochromatic landscape photographs that seem to be of a waterfront scene, when in actually they are entirely constructed out of thread. Muniz is interested in the camera's ability to manipuate 3-D space and in his own ability to control photographic reality (Dan Bernier Gallery, Santa Monica).

Richard Billingham is a young photographer from England who makes unusual and disturbing color photographs of his family. The works are oddly framed--taken from off-angles with flash bursts oblitering part of the information--snapshots of domestic scenes that depict unusual encounters between an alcholic father, a cat-loving overweight mother, and various siblings. Billingham does not pass judgement on his family, neutrally presenting what he sees and what he lives. The works are haunting and intimate. You want to look and see, while at the same time you are not sure whether what you are seeing is real (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).