Return to Articles


Charles Ray, “No,” color photograph in artist’s frame, 38 x 30”, 1991.


In Charles Ray's retrospective one is invited to witness a world gone mad. Beginning with the oversized toy fire truck parked on Grand Avenue and ending with the infamous Oh! Charley, Charley, Charley that depicts an orgy of 8 naked mannequins modeled after the artist. Ray's work, however, is not all fun and games. He is interested in the relationship of reality to its distorted image, and throughout his career has made sculptural works that explore this theme. Ray is a master craftsman, and each work that comprises his carefully limited body of work is conceived and executed to perfection. On view is Fall ‘91, the oversized mannequin of a woman dressed in a pink suit that was first exhibited in the landmark Helter Skelter exhibition, as well as his seemingly solid Ink Box. This is a show not to be missed (The Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown).

Robert Rauschenberg, "Sling Shots Lit #1," lith box assemblage
with lithography and screen print, 84 1/4 x 36 x 12", 1963.


Robert Rauschenberg took what historically began as poetically graceful collage and transformed it into something raw, cluttered, and reflective of the cacophony of modern life. Known for evocative experimentation through social and political iconography, in this exhibition--Rauschenberg in Transparency, a selection of some 15 works from 1963--the artist maintains the same visual gutsiness, but with an elegant use of light, motion, and dimensionality. In some works, Rauschenberg uses mylar to create layers of Zen-like hanging scrolls, each adorned with bold colored lithographic and screenprint imagery placed in a light box. The incongruity of arbitrary images in what seems like a contemplative and profound setting tests the viewer’s orientation. As you shift your vision, or as air currents pass through delicate materials, the sensuous three-dimensionality of the work comes alive. In others, Rauschenberg creates deliberate motion by the use of motors. Clear plexiglass disks, emblazoned with colored screenprints, are placed in repetitive row-like ar- rangements. A button can be pushed that set the disks to spinning, thus altering the visual arrangement and changing the look of the entire piece. On the surface, the works are playful and inventive, giving the viewer a sense of participating in the creation of the art, but ultimately, they are about Rauschenberg’s concern for creating paradoxes and ambiguities (OCMA Newport Beach, Orange County).

In this exhibition of 40 photographs, lovers of Impressionism can see photographs by one of their favorite painters. Edgar Degas photographed his subjects with the same compassion as he painted them. Dancers, landscapes and portraits are presented. Degas worked with a large format camera making glass negatives. Numerous of these original plates are on display. In 1895 Degas took full advantage of this still new medium, making stunning photographs that at last emerge to take their place as an important addition to his oeuvre (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).

Don Bachardy, "Peter Alexander," acrylic on paper, 1998.


Over sixty paintings and drawings of Los Angeles area artists date back to as early as 1966 (Chris Burden) and right up through 1998 (Peter Alexander). Don Bachardy’s portraiture is compelling and alive, and of particular interest to afficianados of the Southern California art scene who are familiar with the subject artists and their work. The works, all on paper, are executed in acrylic or ink. The paintings fall into two general groups. One is done in a light, decorative style, often picking up a pattern in clothing with the artist/model seated or reclining. The second group composes the image around the head and shoulders with heavier paint and a strong, somewhat Expressionist style. Many of these works convey a strong emotional intensity. The ink drawings make up a large number of the earlier works here. They display meticulous draftsmanship and attention to accuracy of appearance and pose. Several are nude studies. Displayed with many of these portraits, which are signed and dated by the artist/poser, are short accounts of the sittings. These accounts refer to the experience of sitting for a portrait, something the artists are clearly unaccustomed to. They repeatedly complain about how difficult it was to make the time to sit for four to six hours, not to mention having to sit still for that time. Their appreciation of the finished results Bachardy regularly obtains is equally clear (Laguna Art Museum, Orange County).

For years Joel Shapiro has been making figurative sculptures that gracefully articulate the forms of the body using simple geometric shapes. His newest works come off of the wall at odd angles, as if attempting to fly. These painted bronzes, at once funny and poignant, are among his finest works. Georg Baselitz, the German painter best known for his images of upside-down figures, here combines single portraits, images of couples surrounded by abstract gestures, as well as references to others among his paintings. His style has loosened up over the years, but the images are still upside down (PaceWildenstein Gallery, Beverly Hills).

Connie Zehr, "Coincidents" (detail),
sand, on-site installation.

George Geyer and Tom McMillin, "Climatic
Extremes" (detail),copper coil, iced
heater/condenser, on-site installation.

Northridge, site of Southern California Environments, is no stranger to nature’s force, and therefore an apt site for installation works using di- verse materials to investigate the region’s unique environment and climatic extremes through process, pattern and form. Among this group of five artists, Connie Zehr adeptly arranges black and natural shades and gradations of desert sand into cone-like shapes on a base of older, finer sand. This references mysteries of creation, erosion, time and scale. Zehr’s floor piece contrasts effectively with Karen Frimkess Wolff’s glistening vertical rain of bellworks, while Michael Brewster’s fittingly titled Psst plays with audible patterns via four sounders. Frosty coils form an inverted cone over the dark, mirrored surface of a chilly pool in George Geyer and Tom McMillin’s collaborative installation, Climatic Extremes. One approaches the pool through a silvery corridor aglow with heat lamps. This work considers the relationship between snow-capped mountains, the source of the water on which Los Angeles depends, and the Southland’s indigenous desert environment (CSU Northridge Art Gallery, Valley).

Alison Saar, "Topsy Turvey," mixed media, 1998.


The group of Alison Saar's newly created monumental works are truly moving. Blending the simplicity of a figurative format with the emotional strength that has always been the strong undercurrent of this artist's work has led to some poignant and unforgettable embodiments of her vision. Traveling Light, the cast bronze bell hanging at the entryway that takes the form of an inverted man, is somber and majestic. The sound of its' bronze clapper echoes the melancholy that it induces in a viewer. The topsy turvey doll from which Saar fashions Topsy Turvey doesn't change back and forth from a white doll to a black doll. Rather, it stands forlornly on the ceiling in a darkened room; it's overturned dress revealing delicately patterned white legs, while hiding its' ebony face behind cupped hands. Unflinching in its' honesty and direct in its' physical, sculptural appeal, this work reaches inside you with intensity and depth (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Cheryl Ekstrom, "B/W Geisha (Single Standing)," mixed media, 56.5 x 17.5 x 12", 1998.


Eight elegant geishas stand as if frozen in a Noh play. The almost life-size figures are both calm and intense, and very much alive. But random bits of gauze peek out and hang from their bodies, reminding that they are mannequins whose structures and gestures tell a profound narrative. Cheryl Ekstrom’s Japanese ladies symbolize the breakdown of traditions in contemporary society. Her geishas are a metaphor for how what is accepted as immutable in a culture can dissipate from abuse, be disassembled, even shattered, and, eventually, may be rebuilt into a new format or discarded entirely. Ekstrom chose the geisha to represent cultural upheaval prevalent in modern life. Each figure depicts a different aspect of cultural destruction and reformation. Some bear scars that have been smashed with a mallet and pieced back together. Others reach out as they go through their transformation with disjointed and contorted gestures. Yet other figures are in a state of rebirth, as a new cultural standard becomes accepted. The geishas are carefully draped in gauze over a welded armature, molded with a mixture of plaster and acrylic, and then painted. Those the artist deliberately shattered are reconstructed with resin. The results are compelling. Their haunting universal presence demands to be noticed (Peter Blake Gallery, Orange County).

Open and Closed: Artists' Contemporary Books as Sculpture, curated by Kate Johnson, is a beautifully installed exhibition of bookworks by sixteen artists, mostly from California but combined with contemporaries from Texas, Minnesota and Colorado. Emphasis is on 3-dimensional work made of paper, cloth and other mixed media differing in intent, but always with a sculptural agenda. Many familiar names of artists appear with the group, such as Drucker, Ekstrom, Glass, Jackman, Siff, but there are some new ones as well. The exhibition, however, needed editing to allow the bookworks more space to assert themselves (Fullerton College Art Gallery, Orange County).

Susan Hornbeak-Ortiz, "Aurora," antique tool
bin/hose/text/water pump/water, 80" h x 40" dia., 1998.

Susan Hornbeak-Ortiz again presents a profound investigation into the human condition by way of her signature transformations of industrial, high-tech, and discarded materials. Thirst symbolizes the female psyche’s longings and frustrations told poignantly, and with a fresh vision, through the artist’s own poetry and video, the magic of water pumps, lights, and a variety of sounds and gadgetry in four outstanding works. Aurora, for example, known mythologically as the Goddess of Dawn, is an antique tool sorter from a factory in Aurora, Illinois. The hulking circular paraphernalia of the past still has labels telling where specific tools are placed. Hornbeak-Ortiz adds phrases from her poem so that intermixed with the likes of 1/2" nut one reads “plunge softly into the domestic void.” The artist places Aurora on wheels and, with a pump and oversize industrial strength hoses, creates a water fountain gently dripping from the top to the bottom sorter. One wonders whether the thirst is now satisfied or are they just “rivers of laundry” (Huntington Beach Art Center, Orange County).

Yes, the multi-talented mistress of dysfunction Karen Finley has relocated to the multi-faceted milieu of attention deficit disorder, and announces “hey, you guys, I’m here!” with a series of drawings based on Winnie the Pooh--deconstructing (or, if you would, dissing) every character in the series according to our fin de siécle hangups (Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica).

Attention SPAM consists of an eclectic mix of works (painting, videos, photos, graphic design and music) representing curator/artist Paul Zelevansky's tangible and objectified meditation on the sense of duration and composition posed by contemporary culture to the viewer today. Discombobulating at first, a wonderfully surprising set of chaotic and/or random tangents depart from the works at hand as the thesis the curator undertook sets itself off in the viewer's imagination. From the controlled (by her id, I suppose) aural flux contained in the tape of DJ Polywog's This is the Shit to the sustained (by his will, I suppose) visual mapping of every square inch of the surrounding environment contained in the digital files of Robbert Flick; there is much to be had for the projective imagination. Correlation and connections within and among the works seem to pile up and then just disappear. The viewer who is looking for meaning or closure will be really disconcerted, and therein lies the strength of Zelevanksy's insight (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

Ruth Weisberg, "Separating the Waters III & IV", monotype, each 19 3/4 x 27 3/4", 1998.


Ruth Weisberg’s Natural Histories includes new work created after her visits to the Natural History Museum of Vienna together with large scale drawings from the series which will be a monumental drawing cycle based on Dante's Inferno. In Vienna, she culled images from the scenes of the various animals in the reflecting glass cases and then rearranges them in a dream-like distorted hall of mirrors. The animals she depicts preen and prowl and stare out at the viewer as if they are one of them. The groups of wolves and gorillas arranged together by the artist appear as if they would be as much at home on a local street corner or clubhouse in the cases. Their sudden humanity is disconcerting. The lovers from the Dante cycle are far beyond human. They twist and twirl into figures of light and watery shadow. Ciphers of history and transfixed in a dimension both metaphorical and ethereal, they exist in eternal, frozen movement (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood).