Diana Thater, "The Best Animals are the Flat Animals - the Best Space is the Deep Space," 35mm production still from the installation, 1998.
Diana Thater makes obtuse works. The subjects of her videos are usually animals behaving in a seemingly human fashion. Her work explores the viewer's relationship to space as well as video's relationship to painting. Showing two fine installations concurrently, Thater transforms space within the Schindler House, mesmerizing the viewer and prohibiting construction of meaning from any narrow, single-point perspective. Elements of the work build to more than the sum of their parts. The lush green pastures of an exotic animal farm in Kansas form the background for shots of zebras lead on short rein. They fill the screen of a Sony TV set angled on the floor in front of a Schindler window. Three tighter, monochromatic images of majestic white horses repetitively bow in an adjacent space. Dramatically lit vegetation filmed at the L. A. County Arboretum and rhythmic, projected patterns of zebra skin complete the mix. Thater's title for the work, The best animals are the flat animals - the best space is the deep space, only begins to alert the viewer to the intricate handling of complex elements referenced here. Issues including modes of perception, nature's interaction with culture, the role of the artist in constructing illusion, and the interrelationship of real and constructed space are raised as the artist questions the methodologies of artistic and filmic representation (MAK Center, West Hollywood).
In the other installation, titled Cactus Race, there are four monitors scattered on the floor of the gallery. Each comes on sequencially for a short moment of time. We see a giraffe, then a monkey, then a walrus, and then a shot of blowing leaves. Then the room goes dark. Suddenly for a brief moment, we see a projected image of a dolphin. After the dolphin image, the rooms goes dark again. The, the last (or first, depending where you enter the gallery) video comes on. This video presents plastic letters in different colors making up words and phrases taken from Alice in Wonderland that pulse on and off. The sentence is of course incomplete. We read and see only a fragment of a whole that cycles indefinitely. But no matter how we look we never receive conclusive information (Patrick Painter Gallery, Santa Monica).
Richard Serra, Double Torqued Ellipse II, weatherproof steel, outer: 119 x 276 x 36/ inner: 119 x 286 x 196, 1998.
Photo: Dirk Reinartz
The massive steel slabs (each is 13 feet high and weighs over 40 tons) that occupy the entire grounds of the Geffen Contemporary seem surprisingly gentle and soft for all their immense monumentality. It is probably due to the unexpected angles which Richard Serras Torqued Ellipses take on as they slope off their normal axis and head into an improbable encounter between the quiet poetry of porcelain ceramic and the dense materiality of hypertrophied modern industry. In any case, the results are an astounding array of levitating, monumental steel ellipses that pull the viewer physically into meanders that lead to the empty space at their center. Serra's apocalyptic vision of dystopian urban mazes is transformed into a magical juggling act, where the materiality of modern sculpture defies gravity with a refreshing lightness and spirit (MOCA, The Geffen Contemporary, Downtown).
Color Fields, curated by David Pagel, presents the works of a selection of Los Angeles women painters. These women work with abstraction, making images that explore shape, form and color relationships in new and complex ways. Among the artists included in the exhibition are Linda Besemer, Monique Prieto, Ingrid Calame, Laura Owens, and Pae White. When shown together and written about as they have been, the works of these artists coalesce into a new movement. One that begins where color field painters of the 1960's left off (CSU Los Angeles, Luckman Gallery, East Los Angeles).
Enrique Martinez Celaya, "The Great Wait," silver gelatin print, 1998.
In an exhibition entitled Berlin Enriqué Martinez Celaya presents his first body of photographic works [see the item on Celayas recent paintings, also collectively titled Berlin, last month--Ed.]. These black and white images depict people and places montaged together in a seamless fashion. Many of the images are drawn, and Celaya uses poetic fragments to explore metaphorical relationships between the individual and the places where they reside (Stephen Cohen Gallery, West Hollywood). Gordon Stettinius, "Roller Girl," photograph, 1997. Michelle Bates, "Helter Skelter," photograph, 1991.
Craig Kauffman's elegant linear works on white grounds are some of the best works he has produced in years. Each work is a study of the relationships between forms moving in and out of an undefined minimal space. These are elegant and well articulated abstractions. In the gallerys Project Room is an amazing installation of more than 1,000 small kites by Jacob Hashimoto. The sculptures are suspended from the ceiling with thin thread, filling the space. As you enter into the gallery you are confronted with what appears to be a wall of small cloud images. One can walk around the suspended kites, and as you do the images move en mass, creating the sensation of birds in flight. Hashimoto's installation is obsessive, yet out of such obsessive creation a wonderful effect is achieved (Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica).
New York-based artist Richard Prince, who pioneered "rephoto- graphy" and achieved international acclaim with works featuring appropriated imagery including Marlboro men, cartoons and traveling salesmen jokes, is on the road again with an exploration into more abstract imagery. The new output achieves its energetic mass through a rhythmic integration of childish stick figures and the hand-lettered text of crass jokes screened into layers of dense splotches of warm, mainly monochromatic swipes of paint. The allover pattern is a departure for Prince, whose works are usually more minimal. "My wife" is the common butt of chuckles that repeatedly play off immature scrawls in Prince's acrylic and silkscreened creations, forming a subtext lining the lower edges of the five largest works. The jokes are neither funny nor offensive, rather just banal statements that look at out-of-the-ordinary situations. These works explore the imperfections and misinterpretations of spoken text and pictorial symbols (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).
Photographers from various parts of the U.S. demonstrate that talent transcends equipment, that an artist can render beautiful imagery even when using a toy camera in Toy Stories: Narratives from Plastic Cameras. The Diana and its cousin the Holga are all-plastic cameras without shutter speed, f-stops, or even a sharp glass lens. When Diana was originally created in the '70s, primarily for children, it sold for less than one dollar and at the very most three dollars. Because there is no focus mechanism, the imagery produced is a bit fuzzy and dream-like, which adds to the sense of poetry inherent in all the work. Photographers give up control and yield to whatever the camera takes. Uniqueness, however, comes from subject matter and the individual methods each artist brings to the color and black & white developing and printing processes. Despite the difference in type of cameras used, the range of subject matter is similar to what might be found in any traditional photo exhibition. Gordon Stettinius captures precious human moments. Jennifer Jenkins sets up delightful still lifes. The effects of El Niño on the environment intrigue Francis Schanberger. Robert Owen's sensitive eye finds abstractions in every day objects. Mark Sink recreates the Swiss painter Henri Fuseli's angelic compositions in black and white. And Michelle Bates, who probably creates the boldest and most humorous work of the group, renders playful and poignant aspects of life. Jacqueline Ramirez, a photographer known for her innovative work, curated the exhibition (OCCCA, Orange County).
Gordon Stettinius, "Roller Girl," photograph, 1997.
Michelle Bates, "Helter Skelter," photograph, 1991.