Return to Articles


Jerome Witkin further establishes his credentials as one of our finest contemporary painters with his current exhibition, Witness. When Witkin last showed here five years ago he demonstrated a gift for heartbreaking narrative and a supreme mastery of paint. This new show is monumental in scale, with outsize works such as The Butcher's Helper measuring 9 x 23 feet. More importantly, Witkin also takes pictorial drama to new heights. His paintings of the Holocaust are unprecedented in their power to move. A work such as The German Girl encapsulates the engulfment of humanity, the moral dimensions of this tragedy, in a perhaps unprecedented manner. More personal works such as the self-portrait Little Painter are bravura demonstrations of what paint can do in the hands of a master (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

Jerome Witkin, "Painter", oil on canvas,
44 1/2 x 55 1/2 inches, 1997-98.

Evenly placed in the same position of each wall are new rectangular wall sculptures by John McCracken. Each piece appears to be a horizontal line, jutting out about six inches from the wall. The surface of each piece is perfect, a glowing/shimmering band of dark blue or deep green. As one’s eye follows the line made by connecting the sculptures together, the band of color merges together, creating one long, but interrupted work. The line even continues to the outside gallery, where a highly polished stainless steel sculpture is presented.

In the downstairs gallery new work by Peter Shelton is juxtaposed with older work by Jonathan Borofsky. Here both artists concern themselves with the body and the possible distortions of the human form. In Borofsky's Walking Man a man appears to move across a metal pipe suspended across a corner of the gallery. Shelton's elongated leg and torso sculptures also ask the viewer to look up. These works play off each other and engage on multiple levels (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).

Eastman Johnson, "The Cranberry Harvest, Island of Nantucket," o/c, 1880.

It’s easy to assume that rapid and constant change is more definitive of contemporary life than life in previous times. Eastman Johnson reminds us otherwise. His sensitively rendered images offer a glimpse into the complex issues that faced America in the last half of the 19th century. From studies of the Ojibwa to his depictions of African-Americans and the Civil War, and from domestic scenes to portraits of aging Nantucket sea captains, Johnson humanizes the issues of slavery, war, the Native American population, industrialization and progress. Among the 100 drawings and paintings in this retrospective are Johnson’s strongest, including the notable The Cranberry Harvest, Island of Nantucket [1880] (San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego).

After opening with a few small drawings from the late forties, personalized with diaristic jottings, this show serves up the the usual list of suspects, including screened images of Campbell’s Soup in cans and boxes. However, if the only Andy Warhols you've seen recently are reproductions, you're likely to fall in love all over again when you come face to face with Liz's drop dead flat pancake makeup skin tones, or the jazzed up allure of a green on black Marilyn. The mainly monochromatic prints from the Flash, Nov. 22, 1963 series are best viewed as a moving target using the changing play of light to highlight shapes that shift like video replays from the Kennedy trauma. A unique screenprint self portrait on colored graphic art paper featuring a yellow mustard profile hanging over a dark blood red shadow edged with blue looks deceptively simple. The artist has shaped himself into an icon that's as easy to read as a brand logo while suggesting the trace of a more three dimensional presence lurking in the shadows (Ikon Limited, Santa Monica).

The long tradition of food as a fetish, or really a festival, is explored in an amazing exhibition, The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals. Featured are artistic designs for aristocratic banquets, street festivals, table sculptures, towering Baroque centerpieces and ephemeral architecture, some created out of sugar paste, fruits, pastries, roasted pigs, ice, and precious metals. Assembled by curator of rare books Marcia Reed over a period of almost 10 years, the 70 cookbooks, popular prints, scrolls and menus, table plans show the parallels between architecture and food planning. The highlight of this exhibition is a stunning sugar centerpiece of the Palace of Circe, recreated by English botanist and culinary artist Ivan Day. Foodies will be enlightened to see that their major interest is rooted in the great courts of Europe, and today’s street festivals such as the Festa di San Gennaro in New York City (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).

Richard Prince, "Upstate," installation view, 2000.
Photo: Joshua White.

Richard Prince's photographs and sculptures ask us to reexamine what we take for granted. His work often represents what we see everyday, but do not pay much attention to. In the sparse setting here he presents a number of color photographs depicting suburban landscapes, as well as a number of cast tire sculptures that function as planters. The photographs and sculptures work together to reinforce the idea of leisure and the myth of suburban bliss (Mak Center, West Hollywood).

Yoshitomo Nara's sculptures and drawings always evoke a smile. His cartoon-like depictions of both animal and human forms exaggerate the facial features--eyes, nose and mouth. He places his figures in both real and imagined situations, using any kind of paper available to him. Nara has an expressive hand and a keen imagination. There is nothing but pleasure to be evoked from looking at his works. The drawings and sculptures that make up Lullaby Supermarket energize the museum space (Santa Monica Museum, Santa Monica).

Yoshitomo Nara, "Sheep from Your Dream",
18 x 20 x 11", 1997.

One should definitely make a special trip to view Tim Hawkinson's current show. Pentecost is a room-sized sculpture in which twelve life-sized figures (based on the artist’s body) are suspended from the branches of a hand made tree. Impeccably crafted, each of the figures taps on a branch of the tree creating a cacophony of sounds. At first glance the sculpture is silent, but once a sensor is triggered it begins to play. Hawkinson is a master at fusing low-tech with high concept, time after time creating masterpieces that appeal to more than one of the senses (Ace Contemporary Exhibitions, West Hollywood).

Astrid Preston, "Blue Landscape,"
o/c, 32 x 24", 1999, is the Venice
Art Walk's featured poster image.

John Altoon, "Untitled," Hyperion
Series,o/c, 56 x 60", 1964.
The annual Venice Art Walk benefit weekend in support of the Venice Familiy Clinic heads this month’s crop of special events. The Sunday afternoon (noon-5pm) open studios feature many of L.A.’s top artists, the silent auction held in the halls of Westminster Elementary School, and the gourmet Food Faire. The three days leading up offer a bevey of docent tours, concerts in private residences, and the weekend wraps up with the Celebration Party at the DC3 Restaurant. The basic Art Walk-only ticket price is $50 (more for the other events--please inquire). Register at the school entrance, 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice. For further information and advance ticket purchase call (310) 392-9255.

Opposite the Venice festivities, Christie’s in Beverly Hills hosts a weekend exhibit of works from the John Altoon estate to benefit Junior Achievement of Armenia. Altoon, himself an Armenian-American, was among the key local artists of the 1950s and ‘60s affiliated with the Ferus Gallery. Junior Achievement International bills itself as the world’s largest Economics education program; the Armenia affiliate reaches over 20,000 students in that country. An evening benefit reception takes place on May 20th (tickets begin at $75 per person), and the exhibit will be open to the public from Saturday the 20th through Monday, May 22nd. For further information call (323) 257-2002.

The first weekend of the month, May 6th and 7th from 11am-6p-m, is highlighted by The Brewery Complex’s Spring open studios. This is the largest studio facility in the city, and a wonderful way to get a sense of the working artists’ environment and the breadth of work being produced in L.A. today. It’s also nicely priced--both admission and parking are free. Call (213) 694-2911 for further information.