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May, 2001

Vacant eyed, unisex mannequins, fabricated by the graphics firm, groovisions, greet viewers to Superflat, artist/curator Takashi Murakami’s exhibition of works by twenty or so young Japanese artists. The influence of “magna,” (cartoon imagery) is prevalent. It lulls enthusiasts into a magical, planar realm, divorced from reality. Flat, animated films and unisex styles combine youth culture cuteness with darkness to emphasize the hollow shelled and the superficial. Illustrator Chiho Aoshima, known for her depictions of not-so innocent schoolgirls, positions a group of nymphs wearing Issey Miyake outfits in a surreal landscape. Katsushige Nakahashi’s spectacular Zero, a soft, full-scale fabrication of a World War II fighter made up of some 15,000 snapshots Scotch taped together begs for multiple readings. The plane is bubble wrapped and suspended in a light well, suggesting a kamikaze crash or the recent state of the Japanese economy. Hiro Suglyama/Enlightenment’s huge digitized photomural of the 70’s pop star Karen Carpenter underscores links with American media and Pop art. Carpenter’s “smile for the camera” grin is completely at odds with her anorexic death at age 32, and a strange comment on the sacrifices she made to become “super flat” (MOCA Gallery at Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood).

Katsushige Nakahashi, "Zero,"
mixed media, 2001.

Laura Lasworth, "Love is as Strong as
Death," oil on panel, 24 x 12, 2000-01.
Laura Lasworth's current exhibition Love's Lyric sets a wonderful standard for poetic sweetness and depth of vision fused together in a series of pictorial works. Long (and one might add favorably) unfashionable in contemporary art, sentiment had been banished from the realm of intelligence and beauty as the weaker axis to develop a poetics on than emotion. No matter; Lasworth's beautiful array of works sets the account straight with poise and insight. Tower of Lilies is typical, with its apparently simple vase of beautifully wrought lilies, reflected first in multiple and contradictory shadows on the wall and then, after scrutiny, bearing an impossible reflected landscape in the vase itself (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).

David Kapp’s new paintings, entitled Painted Streets, Urban Grids, are explorations that successfully translate the frenetic movement within the city to the painted canvas. The thickly painted colorful works present streets, facades, and figures as they move through the chaos of the bustling city. More abstract than representational, these works capture enough details to identify the images as urban, though what specific city they depict is not important. What matters is that they convey the movement and the energy of that environment (Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica).

David Kapp, “Chinatown,”
oil on linen, 50 x 48”, 2001.

Carlee Fernandez turns damaged taxidermy into functional (or not so functional) objects. In her current installation entitled Friends, stuffed animals ranging from a rhinoceros to a small deer have been cut apart and reassembled. The rhino fuses with a step ladder, the smaller animals are transformed by more domestic objects, including an ice cube tray and a woven basket. At once disgusting and fascinating these sculptures bring science fiction to life (Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Downtown).

Carlee Fernandez, "Hugo Parlier", altered
taxidermic animal, 28 x 24 x 74", 2001.

While in the desert, what more sensible conundrum than to take in an exhibition of desert landscape photography? Beginning in the 1920’s Stephen Willard resided in and documented the Coachella and Owens Valleys for more than forty years. Though he was never a part of the developing Southern California art photography movement--his work enjoyed commercial demand more as tourist memorabilia than as an aesthetic collectible--he brought great devotion to his landscape subjects. It is this emotional conviction along with long and repeated encounters that empowers work that is otherwise detached from the innovations brought to the medium by the best of his contemporaries (Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs).

Stephen Willard, "El Mirador Tower, Palm
Springs, CA," photograph, ca. 1928.

Liz Craft is a young Los Angeles-based sculptor who makes multi-media room-sized sculptures and installations. Here in a quasi-rock garden six dwarfs stand in awe of a multi-armed, fox-headed and -tailed being that is loaded with cultural associations. It comes across as a twisted take on the Grimm fairytale/Disney animation Snow White the Seven Dwarfs, sci-fi potboilers, and perhaps a bit of suburban nightmare. This is humorous social commentary that nicely combines elements of banality into a bracing visual encounter (Richard Telles Gallery, West Hollywood).

Liz Craft, "Foxy Lady," fiberglass/steel/
carpet/enamel paint, 6 x 4 x 4', 1999.

At the Skirball Cultural Center’s Ruby Gallery (West Los Angeles) an exhibition called In Search of Home treats the theme of home and family from the point of view of artists with developmental disabilities. This show not only asks us to regard such artists on their own merits, it sheds light on an organization, L.A. Goal, that has offered a range of programs serving people with developmental disabilities for the last decade. Among these is a therapeutic arts program that may be doing more than simply improving participants’ self esteem. Vocational training is the other side of the empowerment equation, so L.A. Goal’s visual art studio not only sought to provide an expressive outlet for aspiring artists, but annual opportunities for them to present their work publicly.

Elaine Hartman, "Found," a/c, 25 x 38".
For the previous ten years Jan Baum Gallery hosted an annual one day exhibition that not only served as a fundraiser, but allowed the artists to see themselves in a professional context. In this first sojourn into a public space for an extended exhibition that is open to the public, the work of forty program participants explores their feelings and responses to notions of family and home. L.A. Goal is located in Culver City at 10836 Washington Blvd.; call (310) 838-5274 for information.

Mark di Suvero supplies the t-shirt
image for this year’s Venice Art Walk,
based on his new 60-foot steel sculpture
“Voxal,” scheduled for completion by
May 11th at the Venice Beach Plaza.
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 (11am-5pm) open studios day features many outstanding local artists, including Enrique Martinez Celaya, Ashley Collins, Robin Mitchell, Masako Takahashi, and many others. The silent auction held in the halls of Westminster Elementary School includes works donated by numerous local artists, and the gourmet Food Faire offers lunch-sized portions of excellent dishes offered by over twenty top local restaurants. A menu of higher priced activities also precede the main event. Docent tours to artist studios and private collections (on Saturday, and including a lunch, tickets are $150), and concerts in distinctive private residences (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday concerts begin at 8pm, tickets are $150) include admission to the Art Walk. The weekend wraps up with the Celebration Party at Shutters on the Beach (tickets are $100).

Featured artist this year is sculptor Mark di Suvero, who will install a massive new piece, Voxal, at the Venice Beach Plaza during the week preceding the Art Walk.

The Venice Family Clinic provides care for thousands of low income and homeless patients--indeed, it is the largest free clinic in the country. Programs extend beyond the strictly medical, for example the Safe Families provide counseling to people who suffer from domestic violence. Well over 500 medical professionals volunteer time to the Clinic on a pro-bono basis.

The basic Art Walk-only ticket price is $50 (it’s included if you are paying for one of the other events). Register at the school entrance, 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice. For further information and advance ticket purchase call (310) 392-9255 (Venice Art Walk, Venice).

The weekend before, the Modernism Show once again lands at the Santa Monica Civic. This annual gathering of dealers specializing in all manner of 20th-Century media really offers something for just about everyone, ranging widely from pioneering Cubist art, to decorative Art Nouveau and Art Deco objects, to architectural design, Pop art, or functional items from the fifties. The Friday night Preview Gala (tickets $50 per person) once again will benefit the Los Angeles Conservancy and its work to preserve important local architecture. Show hours are Saturday, 10am-7pm, and Sunday, 11am-5pm, with admission running $10. For further information call Show organizer Caskey, Lees & Olney at (310) 455-2886 (Modernism Show, Santa Monica).

Walter Niedermayr’s photographs of the mountains are multiple-panel works that create a sense of disorientation. Niedermayr photographs skiers and hikers in the Alps and other mountainous climates. His images load the frame with visual information. The tiny skiers, gates and lifts that move through his compositions pale in comparison to the natural landscape. Although each image fuses the natural with the recreational, they are much more than documents of recreational activities. When looking at Niedermayr’s images it is often difficult to tell which way is up or down. The snow in his images often bleaches out, leaving the figures floating in a hard to define white space (Angles Gallery, Santa Monica).

Anne Seltzer

Kim Kimerling

Mosaic images, composed of many small pieces of a material that are assembled to form an image, are rarely seen in contemporary art, so it is intriguing to find a dozen artists who have staked aesthetic positions with various approaches to it in Piece by Piece. Tile, broken plate, and digital imaging are among the diverse possibilities for mosaic work to be seen. While a portion of what is presented tilts in the direction of functionally commercial objects, there is plenty here to chew on for more than its craft. Artists include Alba Cisneros, Jason and Carlos Cohen, Dessie McKean, Susan Faye, Kim Kimerling, Susan Martin, Doug McGoon, Ava Reed, Terese Romagnato, Anne Seltzer, and Kevin Stewart-Magee (Avatar Gallery, Pomona).

Suzuki Harumobu, "Courtesan Being
Shown a Hanging Scroll by her Attendant,"
color woodblock print, 10 5/8 x 81/2", n.d.
Los Angeles is famous for images of female entertainers who set the standards for fashion with their idealized beauty and trendy clothes. However, the alluring women depicted in The Max Palevsky Collection of Japanese Woodblock Prints were more likely to have been discovered in tea houses than anywhere on Sunset Strip. Portraits of Japanese women from the pleasure quarters of Edo make up an important part of a unique group of ukiyo-e prints that Palevsky began acquiring more than 25 years ago. His decision to limit his holdings to 50 works forced the collector to continuously sell prints in order to acquire works of higher quality. Eleven images of elegant beauties by Suzuki Harunobu, courtesans depicted by Hosoda Eishó and Kitagawa Utamaro, and selections from Katsushika Hokusai's famed series, Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji, are among the highlights of Palevsky’s remarkable collection of late 18th- to early 19th-century prints. Many of these woodblocks are so revered today for their aesthetic beauty that it is easy to forget that they were originally produced by artists hired to interpret popular culture for a mass media market (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, West Hollywood).

Shaping the Great City: Modern Architecture in Central Europe, 1890-1937 is a scholarly exhibition that presents films, plans, drawings, photographs, and examples of posters as well as book design. The exhibition explores ideas relating to the design of modern architecture in numerous cities in central Europe. Laid out like a city, the installation was originally designed by the Vienna-based firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, and experiencing it almost overshadows the contents of the show.

They use large steel frames to organize the different cities represented here. The idea was to create the experience of being in an urban space. The structure can be thought of as being like giant tinker toys, or scaffolding that provides a structure that one cannot only move through but also see through. The look is purposely industrial. Each gallery is meant to be its own city. There are even plazas (with places to sit) incorporated into the exhibition layout. As one walks through the exhibition one can enter into different rooms to view the work about each city. As in a city, one can wander down the main avenues or into smaller alleyways. There are things to look at straight ahead as well as above and below. Included are not only static works, like drawings and architectural renderings, but also animations, documentary footage and explanatory texts that give one a sense of these places at the time.

This exhibition presents ideas for projects both realized and not. Urban plans and proposals expose the social tensions of the era and the ways artists, architects and designers sought to reorganize the structure of the city. Ideas on how to manipulate the flow of pedestrian traffic to allow the walker to experience the city as a series of suprising, unexpected views are explored (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).