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July/August, 2001

Sarah Perry, "Pull of the Moon,"
bones/glue/bone putty, 1990-2000, is
included in the C.O.L.A. exhibition
at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Amy Wheeler, "Untitled (Costume National
Series #2)," acrylic/sprayt paint on canvas, 2000,
is included in the Snapshot exhibition at UCLA
Hammer Museum Photo: Joshua White.

While the L.A. International casts much of this Summer’s attention well beyond city boundaries, at least four exhibitions are efforts to assess the local talent pool. Two galleries (L.A. Louver, Venice; and Newspace, Hollywood) try their curatorial hand at presenting their takes on hot newcomers. The annual City of Los Angeles (C.O.L.A.) individual artist grant recipients’ show features ten artists--Laura Aguilar, Sandow Birk, Tom Knechtel, Robert Nakamura, John Outterbridge, Sarah Perry, Susan Rankaitas, Jennifer Steinkamp, Bruce Yonemoto and Liz Young--at varying stages of their careers presenting mixed results, with some stunning individual works offset by work that doesn’t take off without benefit of sufficient context (Skirball Cultural Center, West Los Angeles).

The fourth, Snapshot, is an exciting exhibition presenting the work of 25 L.A. artists. They work in a variety of media; digital photography, video, sculpture, painting and installation. The curatorial team looked at the work of many recent art school graduates as well as a few more established artists whose work has been shown in commercial galleries. While not all of the work is extraordinary, many of the artists in the show are beginning to push the boundaries of the mediums in which they work, looking to create something new. The “snapshot” that emerges is of a Los Angeles where artists are more interested in an exploration of abstraction and the formal principles of artmaking than in making work that has a social or political consciousness.

Emma Kay, installation view in the
Vault Gallery, UCLA Hammer Museum.
Emma Kay is a British artist whose work is about memory and how one can transform those memories into art. Her text-based artworks use literature as their point of departure. For one project she typed out what she remembered of all of Shakespeare’s plays. Each play becomes a single photographic document that summarizes what she reacalls of the subject and dialogue. Other memory works include a large scale drawing of a map of the world as well as an encapsulation of the Bible. Kay’s texts becomes fictions. They refer to the original works, but filtered through a personal voice. The visual aspects of the works are subdued--black typed text on a white ground giving center stage to the words (both at UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Though Guillermo Trujillo has traveled extensively, studied in Europe, and his aesthetics are strictly contemporary, his distinctive style is informed by love of his native country combined with the mythology of its indigenous people. In short, the mind-boggling imagery of this Panamanian painter merges his Central American heritage with modern technical skills.

Surrounded by the 30 primordial landscapes that make up The Eternal Dance of the Nuchos, visitors may find themselves speechless. These powerful paintings depict some ancient ritual, Shamanistic trance, or creation myth that relates to the nucho, an all-powerful ceremonial baton carved in the shape of an animal or bird that controlled every aspect of life for Panama's ancient tribal people.

Using the nucho as a metaphor for spiritual transformation (or life force), Trujillo paints the wide gamut of living forms (plants, animals, fish, fowl, humans, even the supernatural) in the elongated shape of the sacred baton. All of them grow out of the soil and are nurtured by the sun; all are stylized like ancient Egyptian tomb paintings; and some float off like spirits into the sky. While some of them are brightly colored and full of life like the rain-forest, others are pale as ghosts and as fragile as wisps of clouds. With names such as Nucho of the Nine Powers, Rites to Exorcise El Nina, and The Ghosts of Sarigua, you are transported into another time, another place, another world (Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach).

Guillermo Trujillo, “En el
valle de los milagros,” o/c.

Alison Foshee, "Untitled,"
pushpins on cork, 24 x 18", 2001.
For once Alison Foshee doesn’t force you to get your nose up to her work just to tell what’s going on. What she does accomplish is only the latest series of exceptionally focused and disciplined reinventions of the stuff you toss into your desk drawer. In go the staples. In goes the glue. Now, in go the push pins. Out comes art, and it is stunning. The sort-of but never-quite bouquets as images are fluid, unabashedly decorative eye candy, and entirely mind bending. Foshee might want to think more about the space or ground on which these objects take shape--the action all takes place within strictly adhered to borders, and it would be delightful to get to see the visual energy spill beyond the control of her givens. But, hey, these things take time (DiRT, West Hollywood).

Geometric abstraction best describes the paintings of Albert Contreras. In these colorful works he layers thick shapes of paint, creating designs and patterns that rise off the paintings’ surface. The works play off one another where similar designs are presented in different color combinations. As long as Contreras has been painting, this exhibition argues that he is not as well known as he deserves to be (Daniel Weinberg Gallery, West Hollywood).

Albert Contreras, "Untitled,"
acrylic on canvas, 24 x 20", 2001.

James Welling, "O & W Bridge on Conrails
Ex-Erie Graham Line, Campbell Hall, NY," from
the Railroads series, photograph, 18 x 22", 1990.
James Welling: Photographs 1974-1999 presents the diverse works of this enigmatic photographer. A methodical photographer, obsessive technician, and conceptual thinker, Welling’s images range both in form and format. He uses a large format camera to photograph architecture or train yards, creating beautiful modernist images. Yet he has also made photographs of tin foil that appear to be depictions of the landscape. Welling is interested in how light defines space. All of the images in this exhibition work together to inform this in depth and as an ongoing obsession as well as investigation (The Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown).

Wendy Furman’s installation entitled Ponytales looks at girls’ obsession with horses. Furman has collected, by frequenting fleamarkets and yard sales, over 500 plastic horses of varying sizes and colors. They are arranged as a group on the gallery floor, pointing towards the door as though rushing forward in a stampeed. All this action takes place aginst a candy colored wall painting of wide stripes of brown yellow and pink. One is tempted to speculate on the tales of those Furman encountered while assimilating this collection. The installation addresses ideas of innate versus learned behavior of the sexes. It also sparks you to revisit your own past and think about what was once cherished (Artplace, Venice).

Wendy Furman, "Ponytales,"
mixed media installation, 2001.

Mark Ruwedel photographs the natural landscape. His detailed black and white images depict pathways between mountains as well as trails that recede into the distance. Entitled Sites and Passages this work transports us to the desert and mountain landscapes that clearly fascinate the artist. Each image has a carefully lettered caption describing the location. Ruwedel’s project is reminiscent of the walks of Richard Long and Hamish Fulton, who also found more than just beauty in the passage through the natural landscape (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

Mark Ruwedel, "Las Vegas and Tonopah #12,"
gelatin silver print, 8 x 10", 1997.

Contemporary Projects 5: Legitimate Theater is a complex and challenging show. Works by Cameron Jamie, Chloe Piene and Katy Grannan were brought together because of each artist’s interest in documenting and exploring ideas relating to performance by others as art. Jamie’s work uses wrestling as its point of departure. Fascinated by the subculture of wrestling, Jamie’s photographs and film bring to life the performative aspects of the sport. Chloe Piene became a pen pal of a convicted prisoner, and uses her correspondance with him as the subject of her drawings, writings and videos. Katy Grannan placed ads in local papers soliciting people willing to pose for her in their homes. Her subjects dress up or down for the camera, becoming the glamours stars of their dreams (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, West Hollywood).

Katy Grannan, "Untitled (From Pough-
keepsie Journal)," 1998, c print, 1998.