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September, 2001

Winslow Homer and the Critics: Forging a National Art in the 1870s is a very well organized exhibition. With 46 separate paintings and watercolors spread out over five galleries, the exhibit is nothing like a retrospective but rather is an examination of an important period in Homer's career. This was at a time when America's place in the art world was perceived by critics as having fallen behind, so that the issue of what exactly constituted a national art was hotly discussed in the New York art world.

In the 1860s Homer had established himself as a magazine illustrator and a rising young artist. When he returned from a trip to France in late 1866, Homer began to work in a looser, more painterly style. This caused dismay among domestic critics, who approved of the painter's undeniably American subjects--women, children, African-American life, the farm, and the wilderness--but lambasted works they considered too incomplete for public viewing.

Winslow Homer, “Eagle Head,
Manchester, Massachusetts
(High Tide)," o/c, 1870.

Throughout the exhibition, critics’ remarks are juxtaposed with individual works discussed so that gallery patrons can judge for themselves the error or accuracy of the critical temper of the times. Some of Homer's most famous works, such as Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) and The Country School are a real pleasure to see up close. In a kind of stylistic dance with the critics, Homer found that comfortably American subjects allowed him greater freedom of form and, conversely, that more conventional techniques allowed him a freer choice of content (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, West Hollywood).

Walker Evans (1903-1975) was one of the most influential photographers working in the United States. His black and white images taken of migrant farm workers, produced under the aegis of a Farm Security Administration (FSA) program, have become widely recognized. Evans documented the Depression as well as the changing American landscape. His pictures, popularized in Fortune, Life and other general circulation magazines, as well as in James Agee’s book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, were studied by other photographers and his influence became legendary. In Walker Evans and Company: Works from the Museum of Modern Art curator Peter Galassi presents images by Evans alongside selections by those influenced by his work: Diane Arbus, William Eggleston, Robert Frank, Cindy Sherman, Thomas Struth and Edward Weston. In conjunction with the MOMA show are assembled the museum’s own Evans holdings. The American Tradition and Walker Evans: Photographs from the Getty Collection situates his work on a vast horizon. While some of the thematic leaps are difficult to follow, there is more than enough work that is beautiful or significant, often both, to do Evans’ legacy justice (Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).

Beauty and the Beast Within would be an apt title for Connie Imboden’s gelatin silver prints at MOPA. Her human forms--sometimes exquisitely beautiful, at times alarmingly grotesque, and often a surreal blend of both--have a dreamlike quality. Using mirrors and water to reflect, truncate, distort and deceive, Imboden’s images of the body suggest a transcendence of it into the hidden depths of the psyche. In her work from the late eighties and early nineties, the distortions are subtler and the body remains intact as a form. The elongation of the floating torso in Dead Silences (Hand) suggests an ethereal elegance that, unlike the human body, is timeless. Other images, such as the Baconesque reflections in the mirror (from 1991), foreshadow the dark vision that dominates her recent work. By the late nineties, the forms lose their humanness. Seamless juxtapositions of knees, heels, eyes and prickly hair appear as grisly hallucinations in which hideous humanoid mutations have replaced human beings (Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego).

Connie Imboden, “Visceral
Thoughts #1154,” gelatin
silver print, 1987.

Jorge Pardo, installation
at the MAK Center, 2001.
Photo: Joshua White.
In Between: Art and Architecture is a group exhibition in which the artists, selected by Curator LouAnne Greenwald, were asked to respond to the spaces, concepts, and histories of the Schindler House. The exhibition seeks to blur the boundaries between art, architecture, design and performance. Working in a variety of mediums ranging from photography to film to sound the presenting artists acknowledge the influence of not only Schindler the architect, but of his experimental spirit, both of which serve as a source for their pursuits. The artists include Sam Durant, Julia Fish, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Sharon Lockhart, Stephen Prina, Adrian Schiess, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Christopher Williams. In addition to the exhibit inside the house, numerous billboards with artwork by Lockhart and Gonzalez-Torres are presented throughout the city. Three artists were also invited to create site specific works that explores the area around the house. Steve Roden, Jorge Pardo and Inigo Manglano-Ovalle investigate sound, lighting, and the environment around the architecture (MAK Center, West Hollywood).

Snapshot: New Art from Los Angeles consists of 25 young artists currently working in Los Angeles. The curators of the exhibition chose to present a, well, snapshot of Los Angeles’ art by selecting a diverse crosssection of work. Many of the artists in the exhibition are recent graduates from one of L.A.’s many college and university programs, while others have already enjoyed significant exposure both here and abroad. This show offers no grand thesis; it is rather an informed peek into the present with all its pleasures and inherent lacks. Particularly poignant were the three-dimensional forays by Steve Roden, with a seemingly unending sound track of minute wonders wound around trees in the Museum’s courtyard; Christie Frields’ arching set of fabricated rainbows modeled after haiku; and Robert Stone’s table-sized architectural tableau depicting an ominous hotel/mortuary.

Jesse Bransford is a new York-based artist whose site specific work graces the Museum’s large downstairs front lobby wall. Based on images of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House coupled with images of UFOs and other

Aiko Hachisuka, "Rolling Sketch,"
found object, fabric and metal wire,
2001, from “Snapshot: New Art from
Los Angeles,” is on view at the UCLA
Hammer Museum. Photo: Joshua White.
science fiction icons, Bransford has created an arresting wall painting. The image depicts a journey and as viewers move up and down the strairs they travel through the work. The strong lines and bold graphics take you from the earth to the sky and beyond. The work combines figurative and abstract elements, overlapping them across the vast lobby wall. The entire work cannot be viewed in a single glance. It rewards being interpreted and digested section by section as your eyes move from top to bottom of the piece (UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Tara Donovan, "Toothpicks," wood
toothpicks, 4'6" x 4' x 4', 2000.
Tara Donovan's sculptural play takes up its forms from the process underlying its making in a quiet, understated way: a four foot square pile of toothpicks held together by friction reveals the vitality of that minimal trope quite wonderfully; large coils from a hypertrophic adding machine lay discreetly next to and over one another achieving the status of an abstract landscape; many hours worth of accumulated drops of white glue are spread out over the floor of an entire room, thus turning the entire space into a very large white on gray canvas.

Joel Morrison's sculptures consist in various kinds and quantities of industrial detritus sutured together with multi-colored swatches of duct tape. Bursting at the seams and ready to tumble open at any time, his synthetic "grotesques" are held in check even as they struggle powerfully to emerge (Ace Contemporary Exhibitions, West Hollywood).

Liga Pang’s exquisite installation is made entirely of natural materials. Pang has painstakingly tied together numerous small pieces of bamboo, creating an elaborate labyrinth of intertwining branches. The work, extending 24 by 66 feet, is an undulating sculpture. Drawing on traditional Japanese aesthetics as her inspiration, Pang was interested in creating both an environmental as well as abstract work that evoked both a sense of place and a sense of culture. The finished work is inviting and seductive. Best known as a painter in these parts, this work represents an aesthetically reborn artist, who allowed the influence of her studies in Japan to fundamentally change the direction of her work. The large sculpture situated in the center of the museum holds the space and invites viewers in for close examination. The work is beautiful and thoroughly engaging.

Liga Pang, "Bamboo Installation"
(detail), bamboo, 2001.

Also on view is a site specific work by Dutch artist Lara Schnitger. Schnitger creates a web out of nylon pantyhose that stretches across the gallery. One moves with the piece as its climbs up the wall and across the space. Although the work by these two diverse artists has little to do with each other, their simultaneous presentation is complementary (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Oreste Selvatico is a self-taught artist from Naples, Italy. In this, his first exhibition in Los Angeles, curated by Rosanna Albertini, he presents work under the title All the Oceans of the World. These intricate works are conceptual and diaristic, as well as environmental. Selvatico often makes sculptures out of found objects. These ephemeral mixed media pieces refer to knowledge and learning. In one sculpture he has attached a stack of varnished books to a pair of mens dress shoes. In another, a book placed on a music stand has been burned. The finished work consists both of the burned artifact and the documentation of its destruction. Wires, diagrams, library card catalogues as well as test tubes and various beakers are integrated into the sculptures. Selvatico’s work is closest in spirit to Arte Povera. Like the Arte Povera artists, Selvatico is interested in disintegration and preservation not only of objects but of thoughts and ideas (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).