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Alison Saar, "Topsy," paint/tar/mixed media on wood, 48.5 x 16 x 12", 1998


Alison Saar's art embodies the convulsive beauty that so fascinated Surrealists like André Breton. Inspired by Comte de Lautreamont's phrase "Beautiful as the chance encounter, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella," Breton sought to write poetry based on unexpected juxtapositions that would move the reader past culturally defined conceptual oppositions towards that "certain point of the mind from which life and death, the real and the imaginary, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, the high and the low, cease to be perceived contradictorily." Saar's paintings, sculptures, and installations included in Half in Shadow/Half in Light combine dualities of the suggested dark and light, as well as nature and culture, animate and inanimate, male and female, and do so in such compelling fashion that the viewer is moved to awed contemplation. This is one stunning exhibition (Jan Baum Gallery, West Hollywood).

Yayoi Kusama, "Yellow Net," o/c,
94.5 x 116", 1960.

Yayoi Kusama, "Infinity Mirror Room," mixed media
installation (posed with the artist), 1965, recreated 1998.
Photo: MOMA Contemporary, Fukuoka, Japan.

In this truly remarkable exhibition, curated by Lynn Zelevansky, a significant amount of paintings, drawings, collages, sculptures and installations from the period in which Yayoi Kusama resided in New York can be seen in the United States for the first time. Dating roughly from 1958 to 1968, the strength and importance of this work is evident even without knowing the historical context. Ranging from the Infinity Net paintings, overall painted surfaces in monochromatic, highly nuanced continuous lines, to the sculptures she fashioned of found furniture that she covered with a proliferation of small sewn and painted phallic protrusions, to the totalizing mirrored environments into which she introjected herself as image and energy, the work of Kusama fascinates and engages. Her photocollages evidence her belief in the universal expansion of energy matrices, reading as either a gloss on her well documented battle with madness, or more importantly, as evidence of a highly individual vision. Tinged with an open sexuality and overtly engaged in the issues of the body as direct protagonist in the making of art, Kusama will seem extremely contemporary to many viewers. Considered by many to be one of Japan's single most important artists, her work evinces the sort of ambition that might make such titles useful. Aside from the excellence of the work itself, the curatorial notes along with an extremely valuable audio visual slide and film component give one a chance to enter into contact with the thinking and overall output of this singular artist (Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], West Hollywood).

The Unreal Person: Portraiture in the Digital Age is an intelligent exhibition that looks at how computer technology has changed the notion of photographic veracity, especially when looking at images of people. Among standout works in the exhibition are Richard Hawkins' blood dripping portraits of male teenage idols, and Nancy Burson's morphings of men and women. All the artists in the exhibition use the computer to transform an image of reality into something else. In some the digital manipulation is obvious, in others it is seamless, yet in all the works we are well aware that the artists used digital technology to create something that could not have been made without the computer (Huntington Beach Art Center, Orange County).

Anthony Ausgang, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Rave," a/c, 42 x 24, 1997.


Whether the spirit of these innovative vehicles is technological, or they are engineered to transport the spirit, Vehicles Transcending the Millenium pulls together a stimulating array of mature (Roland Reiss, Michael McMillen), streetwise (Gilbert Lujan), soaringly high-minded (Ron Pippin), and humorous (Dustin Schuler, Anthony Ausgang) interpretations. If a good group show provokes open-ended rethinking of a core idea while giving you interesting images to chew on, this one certainly qualifies (Gallery 825, West Hollywood).

Drew Beattie and Daniel Davidson, "Five Butlers,"
acrylic/mixed media on canvas, 96 x 76", 1997.

Mark Ryden, "The Story Book,"
oil on panel, 12 x 10", 1997.

Beattie and Davidson are two northern California artists whose collaborative paintings incorporate both abstract and figurative elements. Their works incorporate elements from pop culture as well as a more geometric patterning derived technologically. Beattie and Davidson are not well known in Los Angeles, so this will be the first chance for many to see the impressive scope of their endeavors. Also in view is an ambitious exhibition curated by Laurie Steelink--A Tribute to La Luz de Jesus Gallery. This show includes works by people who have shown at this maverick East Hollywood gallery--artists whose works often deal with psycho-sexual subject matter. Among the artists included are Bill Barminski, Alex Gray, Robert Williams, Gary Panter and Georganne Deen (Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica).

The unique exhibition The Architecture of Reassurance: Designing the Disney Theme Parks explores the history of Disney's lands from the original concept to the most recent developments. Included are 350 drawings, paintings, plans and models for the parks, selected by curator Karal Ann Marling, from among 15,000 items in the Walt Disney Imagineering archives. Presented for the first time to the public, this presentation also includes posters, prints and advertisements, as well as historical photographs of projects both under construction and in use. Disney's own interests in preservation, conservation and planning are noted in this multimedia layout, available to all those who pass into the hub from whence the viewer can veer off to the choice of Main Street or Fantasyland, with its setting for Disney's animated films, to the reality of Frontierland and Adventureland, dealing with Disney's interpretations of the inhabited natural world, with talking birds, singing flowers, chanting columns, and up to the most recent environment to be built, the Indiana Jones Adventure. Taking another direction, Tomorrow-land depicts ever-changing, ever-evolving future cities, some of NASA's glamorized hardware stores, or complex Future Worlds created after Disney's death. Organized by the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, this participatory presentation shows how the Imagineers have influenced urban shopping districts, city planning, conservation and preservation, and transportation. More than Mickey's World, this exhibition demonstrates Architecture as Entertainment, with an immense amount of planning and construction behind the magic (UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Frank Romero, "Drive-In Movie," oil on wood with neon, 1993.


Frank Romero: Urban Iconography/Iconograpfia Urbana surveys 30 years of Romero's lively and incisive discourse with his home town. His characteristically muscular brushwork and high energy colors have helped define contemporary Chicano art. Romero's persistent return to thematic imagery--car culture, street architecture, pyramids, etc.--display the dedicated artist's obsession with mastering his formal tools. Often he is celebratory of the urban culture he depicts, though at times images are politically and emotionally charged. Romero tends to maintain a degree of ironic distance that is always reminding you that this guy primarily just wants an excuse to get to paint. That's why his body of work ends up being, on the whole, quite an up (CSU Los Angeles, Luckman Fine Arts Gallery, East Los Angeles).

The recently opened gallery building at 6150 Wilshire Boulevard in West Hollywood continues a trio of worthy shows:

Laura London's photographs depict teenage girls in dressing rooms, posing for themselves, each other and the camera in a variety of outfits, none of which are theirs. London is able to capture both the vulnerability and the determination of her young subjects. The photographs are cropped closely, only hinting at the settings in which they are taken. Also included are more candid Polaroids of groups of friends, for example, playing guitar on the bed, or hanging out on the stoop. These images provide a context to otherwise isolated situations (Works on Paper).

Anne Chu is a New York artist who makes figurative sculptures and watercolors. These works, in the shape of Buddhas and other Oriental figures, are carved out of blocks of wood and then abstractly painted in light, washed-out colors. Chu then makes watercolors based on the painted sculptures. The pieces, presented on a raised wooden platform, are graceful and elegant despite that fact that they are carved from a block of wood (Marc Foxx Gallery).

Miltos Manetas' is presenting simultaneous exhibitions entitled Mirrorsites 98 at many venues. Here he presents paintings of computer related hardware. The large paintings depict joysticks, a crisscross of cables as well as the machines themselves. In addition to the paintings there are also computer generated photographic images, as well as a video tape displaying fragments of a Nintendo-like game in which a male and female animated character duel to the death over and over again. Manetas' work is a show about "the landscape of the screen," a false world where anything can happen (Dan Bernier Gallery).

Mauro Staccioli, installation shot of current exhibition.


Mauro Staccioli uses forms associated with Minimalism--squares, circles and triangles. But his materials, colors and execution set him apart. One large (over six feet in diameter) disk from 1998 with a rough, textural surface in colors ranging from a deep reddish-purple to black, appears like a shallow plug of dark, fertile earth that has been solidified and set on edge. Staccioli's flirtation with the extremes of balance, hinted at in the disk, are articulated clearly in two giant wedges. Although in each piece, one point touches the wall, another the floor, they seem to defy gravity. The drawings accompanying the sculptures have a spare elegance and, taken together, a surprising narrative about movement that the sculptures alone do not convey (Porter Troupe Gallery, San Diego).

Robin Mitchell, "Ipso Facto,"
o/c, 84 x 60", 1998.

Sue Ann Robinson, "Walking Fools, Chap 4" (detail,
covers), mixed media unique artist's book, 1998.

COLA 1997-1998 is an exhibition of the work of the 13 winners of the L.A. Cultural Affairs Grants (COLA stands for "City of Los Angeles"). These artists work in a variety of mediums, making works that range from the figurative to the conceptual. There are new paintings by Robin Mitchell, Pattsi Valdez, Alice Fellows, James Doolin, and Bruce Richards, elegant book works by Sue Ann Robinson, video installations by Todd Gray and Eileen Cowin, photographic works by Betty Lee and installations by Erika Suderburg, David Bunn, and Therman Statom. The COLA grant exhibition ably represents the diverse range of quality work being created by Los Angeles artists (Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, Hollywood).

Santa Monica Auctions keeps holding these bidding wars twice a year, and in the enclosed ambience of Bergamot Station it all makes for an informal, party-like atmosphere. SMA operator Robert Berman comes to these as an art auction fan who wants to turn art fans on to an experience that mitigates the intimidating stuffiness of high-end auction house action. Thus he accepts consignments of work that the Sothebys of the world would never consider because the reserve would be too minimal, or the artist's track record has yet to establish the proper pedigree (not that the Picassos and Hockneys fail to get mixed in). So if you are a seasoned collector, there may, or may not, be some nuggets to consider (the Spring Auction preview opened in May at Bergamot Station, D-5; auction day is Sunday, June 7th, 1pm); but it'll definitely be a hoot. And if you are new to this, or your budget limits you to look for bargains, this is a good way to get your feet wet and indulge yourself. It's a low risk situation in a no-ties-allowed sort of environment (Santa Monica Auctions is operated by Robert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica).