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“Transformation Mask”

Gaining a complete sense of cultural identity from one element of a culture’s production is too much to ask. But the tasilmanic masks of the First Nations of the Northwest Coast, a territory extending north from what is now the state of Washington to southeastern Alaska, offer unusual complexity. First and foremost we are treated to a wonderful range of vivid, expressive, and inventive visual objects in Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast.

Because this survey goes back as far as about 200 years and proceeds to contemporary masks, an important part of the story here is how this loose confederation of Native American nations have retained their sense of continuity during a period dominated first by the colonialization of the industrial age, and more recently by the modernization of the information age. These masks, for the First Nations, tell the important stories of their culture in much the way the relief sculpture to be found on the Gothic cathedrals of Europe related Biblical stories to the largely illiterate populace. What completes masks such as these, of course, is that they are worn by a performer as part of ceremonies and rituals. Who these performers would be is not a casual or simple matter; we can only rely on informed imagination to gain a true sense of what is presented here. Howevber, given the exceptional range of this exhibition, it will at least be possible to aesthetically appreciate how well the mortal world is interpreted and related to the spiritual world (Southwest Museum at LACMA West, West Hollywood).

Other Paintings is a group exhibition curated by Julie Joyce (Director of CSU Los Angeles’ Luckman Gallery) that brings together the work of lesser known abstract painters. Los Angeles is lately known for a certain style of contemporay abstract work, specifically that made by a group of women including Monique Prieto, Laura Owens and Ingrid Calame. Joyce takes the works of these artists as her point of departure and clearly articulates that there are "Other Paintings" that should be taken seriously. Among the artists here whose work convinces are Philip Argent, Gajin Fujita, David Goltein, Cameron Martin, Yunhee Min, Sally Ross, Lisa Ruyter, Pet Sournthone, Brad Spence, Tam Van Tran, Amy Wheeler, and Yek (Huntington Beach Art Center, Orange County).

Kim Frohsin, "Monica's Shoes #1,"
oil on panel, 13 3/4 x 11", 1999.

Kim Frohsin's art is a deliberate extension of the early Bay Area Figurative painters, most noticeably, the work of Wayne Thiebaud. Using Thiebaud's most popular '60s work as a starting point, Frohsin takes a hard look at ordinary objects and finds beauty in their contour, color, and general uniqueness of form. A monotype of backs of shoes line up in Galetti Bros. Window treats the black and red shoes as Minimalist sculpture; or in Puzzle Piece Still Life, she sensitively arranges a pencil, a tube of paint and a lone puzzle piece. Two of Frohsin's most delightful works, and very much a la Thiebaud, are two small confectioned paintings--Phoebe #1 and #2 Candies. The backgrounds are vivid pink, each candy is bedecked in tempting colored wrappers, and the effect makes one feel like--well--a kid in a candy shop (Campbell Thiebaud Gallery, Orange County).

The magnetism of Steve Galloway's drawings and paintings is that he combines unlikely objects in such a magical way that believable, yet totally impossible, worlds result. With masterful realistic drawing and painting skill, Galloway's illusive scenarios update the medieval fantasies of Bosch and Brueghel. His active imagination and deft hand fill the gallery with an assortment of images painted on board as well as on canvas (he presents one painting on a metal snow shovel). A red covered bed floats in the sky; hedges are shaped like people; we look through windows, but are they windows or paintings?; a shark battles a table lamp; a spider reads an astronomical chart; and a man sleeps comfortably in a bed relative to the size of a thimble that protects him. Galloway's art feeds the imagination and gnaws at thoughts. Your rationale mind, confronted with the totally enigmatic, wrestles with making sense of each impossible situation, trying to explain each improbable existential vignette. But because Galloway's art is not about illusions of the world we know, but illusions of a world that we can never be, try as you might, the pictures win (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).

Erico Martinez Celaya, "Unbroken Poetry (Herman
Melville), oi/tar/fabric on linen, 96 x 96", 1999.

Enrico Martinez Celaya is a versatile artist who paints, draws, sculpts, photographs and writes poetry. Works on view here are large and sombre. When looking at Martinez Celaya's work one is seduced not only by the obvious passion with which he paints but also by the honesty of his subject matter. The works are poetic and political simultaneously, as they movingly explore the realm of human suffering (Griffin Contemporary Exhibitions, Venice).

Beverly Semmes is an installation artist who also works with video and photography. Fabric and clothing have been the subject of her work for the last few years. In this exhibition she fills the gallery floor with a white-fluffy-taffata-like material. This is allowed to lie gracefully on the floor, creating waves and ripples. In the center of the white field is a day-glow yellow cross made of the same fabric. Viewers cannot walk on the fabric, thus are forced to view it from the perimeter. In a separate gallery Semmes contextualizes the installation piece with photographs of bodies wrapped in colorful fabrics, as well as four small video monitors that display a work entitled Sitting, Flapping, Walking, Swimming. In it a female figure adorned with bright colors waves long lengths of fabric through a forest as well as in the water. The works are seductive, evocative, enigmatic and a pleasure to look at for an extended period of time (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

Richard Pousette-Dart, "Golden Door" (detail)
1988-89, acrylic on linen, 72 x 72"

Despite the similar structure running through ten large impasto paintings by the late Richard Pousette-Dart, each evokes a very different response. Some, with their layers of encryptic-like symbols, appear to contain a hidden message. White Nebulae (1982-3) and Pulsating Aura (1986-92) are both composed of circular forms made of multi-colored dots. Resemblances end here, at the superficial. In the former, target-like concentric circles appear to vibrate against each other, producing an energy like that associated with physical activity. The latter’s horizontally-oriented oval, reminiscent of an egg or a still pool of water, elicits a sense of serenity. Without a doubt, this exhibition argues convincingly that Pousette-Dart was a master of nuance (Tasende Gallery, La Jolla).

Alan Shaffer, "Eric, Peggy and Elizabeth Orr,"
type R supergloss print, 1984.

In Developing the Scene Lou Jacobs Jr., Basil Langton and Alan Shaffer help us visualize three successive creative eras of local art history via these documentary photographs of the artists who shape it. Covering subjects dating back to the 1930’s and to the current day not only permits us to ogle the people behind so much of the art we know , they help explain the creative climate for which they share responsibility (Tobey C. Moss Gallery, West Hollywood).

The unique immigration experience of American Latinos, as personified by selected Latino artists, is the subject of El Norte. The ceramics of Michael and Magdalena Frimkess provide a jolting combination of traditional South American form and iconography with lowbrow images from American popular culture.It’s pretty hysterical to see Pluto (the Disney dog) occupying the same space as a pictograph salamander, but it also lends some sense to the feeling of having your feet in two cultures--or times--at once. Alma Lopez’ use of photos, graphics and text are essentially digital collages that are basically visual takes on immigration related historical/political issues. Frank Romero’s paintings and painted wood are both formally and politically charged. Work by G.A.S. is the vision of a ten-artist Salvadoran collective, and exiled Cuban Jorge Garcia Ramos’ rubbed and mottled surfaces create a sense of emotional and temporal distance from the cityscapes he depicts (Joslyn Fine Arts Gallery, South Bay).

Frank Romero, "Feliz Union,"
oil on wood, 98 x 98 x 98".