El Greco, "The Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion," o/c, 145 x 107 cm, 1580-82.
Old Masters Brought to Light: European Paintings from the National Museum of Art of Romania is historical on more than one level. First, there's the era in which the work was executed. With religious fervor at a peak during the Reformation and Counter Reformation these are paintings with a mission. Then there's the story of the canvases themselves--a tale of monarchs, communist regimes and war-damaged artwork from the 1989 unheaval. But history aside, what still astounds is the painters' painting. The posture and gestures of the figures in El Greco's The Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion, for example, indicate the discussion is both consequential and contentious. There are some stellar pieces here--the two El Grecos and a magnificent Rembrandt. A dark and brooking painting, the viewer can feel the power in the figure of the queen (San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego).
Christopher Wool, "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," enamel on aluminum, 108 x 72", 1995.
Viewers assaulted by Christopher Wool's fifty-odd, mostly black and white, large pattern paintings and stenciled text pieces often reach for meaning by attempting to read messages encoded by the artist. Wool manipulates the effects of the bold, brash, street smart block letters used in the word paintings by ordering the text to convey simultaneous meanings. Their visual clout is strengthened through his avoidance of polite punctuation. These daunting works impact like a schizophrenic collision of the repetitious, methodical processes of Minimalist construction with the sensuous, gestural slosh of Modernism. Unconscious desires seem to be buried under surfaces shouting to be seen and read at the same time (MOCA, Downtown).
Ron Herron, Monte Carlo Surface Park, 1969.
Archigram was a group of British architects who worked in the 1960's and 1970's. They produced manifestos and pamphlets, as well as models, drawings and videotapes that called for a revolution in traditional architecture. Their works reflected the music and design styles of the times. Most of their ideas were too far fetched to be built, but right on target in terms of the reinterpretation of British culture at the time. This exhibition fills the gallery floor to ceiling with numerous drawings and sketches made by the group, and aptly presents an informative and ambitious multi-media slide show that articulates the ideas and motivations behind their work (Art Center, Pasadena).
Brett Reichman, "A Painting That Tells a Story," o/c, 96 x 72", 1997.
San Franciscan Brett Reichman's oil paintings show a meticulous attention to detail both in the images and in the careful, traditional methodology of his preparation. The larger paintings here can take more than a year to complete. Reichman uses objects found at flea markets such as a child's molded rubber lamb with tight curls, or a stuffed pixie doll with green and red candy stripes as still life models. He then blends and manipulates the objects in various compositional combinations to create bright but eerie images that suggest childhood in a fetish mode, where innocence is lost in sexual connotation. The surface of his paintings is carefully defined with intense color against vaguely threatening shadow. In Too Hard a Knot to Untie red, green and white striped appendages are knotted together, two ending in elfin caps that suggest a painful phallic obsession. A Painting that Tells a Story combines decorative scrollwork with lambs' heads and the head of a pixie triumphantly mounted on the body of the lamb, as well as ornate keys and mirror frames. The images are falsely happy, with an overall shadow and muted light of loss (OCMA, Newport Beach, Orange County).
Gordon Wagner, "Mexican Night Clerk," mixed media assemblage, 80 x 32 x 3 1/2", 1960-65.
An exhibition combining the paintings of John McLaughlin, the primary pioneer of reductivist abstraction on the West Coast, with the lively and loaded assemblages of Gordon Wagner constitutes an interesting argument that their respective aesthetics were never adversarial. Ironically the professional engineer was Wagner, for whom the gathering and recasting of junk into art was a sideline for years before leaving his job in aerospace. A student of Asian culture as well as a dealer in Japanese art before World War II, McLaughlin had to work his way to the painting he is best remembered for. Wagner did not come to assemblage until his late thirties; McLaughlin arrived at his Zen-inspired geometries in his early fifties. Both were directly influenced by non-Western cultures--Wagner by Native American and Mexican, McLaughlin by the Japanese. It is also significant that McLaughlin's untitled works were hand-painted within meditative states. Wagner's art shares in this poetic gentility more than in Edward Kienholz' political rage or George Herms' urban guerilla aesthetic. In the context of their Modernist era they embraced formalism but strove to infuse it, to great effect, with the warmth of their humanity (Tobey C. Moss Gallery, West Hollywood).
Raul Guerrero, "Petroleo en Nica,", 1992.
The title of Raul M. Guerrero's Problemas y secretos maravillosos de las Indias/Problems and Marvelous Secrets of the Indies comes from a 1591 text by Spanish explorer Juan de Cardenas. This is fitting, as Guerrero's strongest pieces are his visual interpretations of the people and culture of Latin America. Club Guadalajara de Noche is among a series about Tijuana's La Coahuila red light district. Guerrero infuses the figures with lurid colors, energizing the dancing figures while adding a tinge of uneasiness. Twelve Tomos make up another splendid series. Each Tomo chronicles a stop along the Paseo de la Reforme, Mexico City's main street. Seamlessly blending past and present, corporeal and spiritual, they are like a collection of short stories. In addition to his narrative strengths, Guerrero's consistent and fearless use of color also becomes clear in this exhibition (Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Downtown, San Diego).