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October, 2001

Closed for rennovation for the last seven years, the Watts Towers has now reopened. One of the most renowned works of folk art in the world, this fanciful ship of one hundred-foot tall fantasy spires was the product of an Italian immigrant laborer, Simon Rodia, who built up the Towers steadily for thirty-three years.

The City of Los Angeles is the steward of this unique local landmark, and maintains the Watts Towers Art Center (currently featuring Alex Donis’ exhibition--see Betty Brown’s article elsewhere in this issue) and a group of public murals at the site in South Los Angeles. This is only the latest, but hopefully the most professional, restoration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided nearly $2 million following the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The city’s Cultural Affairs Department has also secured a state grant to assist in the Towers’ ongoing conservation needs. Meantime, go see ‘em (Watts Towers Art Center, South Los Angeles).

Watts Towers.
Photo: Bruce Gordon

Sol Lewitt, "Wall Drawing #996,"
acrylic, 16'10" x 36', 2001.
Photo: Brian Forrest.
Courtesy Margo Leavin Gallery.
Simultaneous exhibitions by Sol Lewitt are something to get excited about. Sculptures, wall paintings, and a concrete block installation are presented in this survey of new work. One can’t help but be overwhelmed by the colorful wall painting in the main space of the Leavin Gallery. The strong lines and opposing colors of geometric shapes are captivating. LeWitt’s works on paper suprisingly move in less geometric directions. Curved lines in more organic and natural earth-tone colors are layered in graceful gestures. At Regen Projects one cannot enter the space. A dense concrete block structure blocks the entrance, creating a narrow passageway to view the work. LeWitt has been exploring the boundaries between minimalism and conceptualism since the 1960s. These concurrent exhibitions show that he is still going strong with some of his most complex and visually dynamic works (Margo Leavin Gallery and Regen Projects, West Hollywood).

Hilary Brace‘s awe-inspiring drawings of cloud formations resemble photographs shot from an airplane. Up close, the smallest works--Polaroid-sized charcoal drawings on Mylar--adapt the smoothness and tonality of black and white photographic prints. Viewed from several feet away, larger (three- by six-foot) drawings on watercolor paper also border on photo-realism. But while the guise of another medium is a quirky aspect, it is the contemporary perspective of looking at clouds from above that makes Brace’s images so powerful. Rivers of open sky divide puffy clouds into land formations. Tufts of towering cumulus rise in the foreground. Stratocumulus clouds swirl around dark mountain peaks. The light is soft but dramatic. Because of their objective, quasi-photographic quality, the drawings resist the label “romantic.” Nevertheless, they invite contemplation (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).

Hilary Brace, “Untitled,” pastel
on paper, 35 x 55”, 2001.

Susan Norrie, "Thermostat" (detail),
mixed media installation, 2001.

Ani O'Neill, "Doodles" (detail),
mixed media installation, 2001.

Susan Norrie's complex installation Thermostat poses the question of global ecological balance at the center of the viewer's attention. Comprising edited film loops, a text painting, a large curtain of synthetic fox fur and a scale model of a weather station, Norrie obliquely beckons the viewer to look at the perceivable changes in our natural environment as clues to the destiny of the planet. Engrossing, visually and conceptually, Thermostat sends shivers up your spine. Across the walls of the basement space, Ani O'Neill's Doodles are "drawings" that consist of groups of crocheted wool chains wound around colored pins and draped across the walls. The lines of fiber are color coded to trace the artist's journey from her native New Zealand to Los Angeles, and the flow of the lines gracefully counterpoints the rough industrial space. In O'Neill's collaborative strategies, where she documents with others exchanges and voyages, fiber art finds a definition beyond its craft based category (Lord Mori Gallery, Downtown).

Roberto Parada, "Elizabetty,"
oil on canvas, 14" x 14", 1999.

Mariko Mori, "Subway," Fuji super gloss
print, wood and pewter frame, 1994.

Well conceived and stylishly presented, Recasting the Past: Beneath the Hollywood Tinsel examines the film industry’s huge cultural impact on our society and around the world through the works of more than twenty artists. Paintings and photographs are presented on black and silvergray panels and columns, with video monitors running various feature films along a curtained maze. Happily there are standout works that bolster the show’s thematic framework. Roberto Parada’s Mobsters Crossing the Hudson parodies the iconic Washington Crossing the Delware, replacing rebel soldiers with a group of cinema crooks. Kim Abeles’ Carmen Miranda Smiles consists of nine sequential photographs of the actress dancing. In one she turns to smile in a way that strips away the performance’s facade. Eighteen chromogenic prints depicting Jesus crucified in various religious films are photographed by maverick director John Waters from a TV monitor and formed collectively into a crucifix. Self-portrait photographs by Yasumasa Morimara are of the artist in full drag as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Marlena Deitrich striking classic poses (CSU Fullerton Art Gallery, Orange County).

John Miller, "Edit," acrylic on raw
canvas, 20 5/8 x 21 1/2", 2001.
EDIT is the title of John Miller’s stunning exhibition. What appears to be the identical square painting has been carefully painted 26 times, and is presented in a seamless installation. Each image has the same pattern of lines that Miller has been making since the 1970s. What do we make the of the 26 paintings? Why 26? Are they really identical? Miller is delighted to entertain these questions and more. By limiting what he does, Miller opens up new avenues for exploration. In the back gallery are beautifully executed pencil drawings of a sleeping woman by Salomon Huerta. Different as they are, the two exhibitions manage to complement each other in suprising and satisfying ways (Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica).

In the past sculptor Charles Long created heavy works that appeared to be cartoon-like blobs in vibrant colors. In these new pieces he strips away the material, leaving just the structure. All that is left is the steel armature, and it constitutes an evocative and delightful work. Each work is a graceful tree-like shape made of steel rods and wires that flow from the ground like animated branches. The six sculptures more than occupy the vast gallery space, becoming personified forms that have a magical relationship to one another (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

Charles Long, "Mettle," acrylic enamel
on steel, 74 1/2" x 36" x 36", 2001.

Hany Armanious’ installation is set in a dark, cool room complete with sub-auditory, oddly pitched sounds. The work can only be described as a room sized fairy dwelling or elf grotto. Armanious uses some glossy, waxy organic looking sculpting material that pours and molds into globular shapes that look like half formed organic things we might know--but don't. The gooey matter from which they are made also seems to pour from troughs into buckets, like someone was in the process of creating this secret spot just before we walked up. Besides these shapes there are found and made jars, books, frames, spoons, fairy tale bunnies. But with all this the work makes no emotional or direct reference whatever to children or innocents; on the contrary, this is a very grown up world of wierd whimsy, compulsive but pointless labor, and dead serious play (UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles)

David Ireland is a San Francisco-based artist who makes, sculpture, drawings, paintings, and installations that fuse found objects, architecture and process in unusual ways. Although his works sometimes make reference to other artists (in this case a number of works are an homage to Yves Klein), the pieces are quirky investigations into how discarded materials have a life of their own. Ireland combines household objects--wires, fabric, and various colored liquids to make pieces that explore what happens over time. Time is a major ingredient to Ireland’s work, and often his exhibitions require more than one viewing to get the full effect (Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica).

David Ireland, "Untitled," black and white
photograph with pigment, 16 x 23 1/2", 1999.

Darcy Huebler has been making abstract works for more than ten years. Her compositions have become tighter and the application of paint more seamless. The vertical stripes that run up and down the paintings separate colors that one usually associates with the flavor of the 1950s, oranges, yellows and greens. These color stripes are not straight lines but subtle waves that undulate. The colors, separated by sections of both black and white, never meet, but appear different due to the size, space and placement. The compositions draw you in, but the power of the lines compel your eyes up and down each work (ACME, West Hollywood).

Darcy Huebler, "Endless Drummer,"
acrylic on wood panel, 60 x 48", 2001.

The cultlike fervor which with its champions have tried to distinguish the Synchromism art movement from the more renowned European Synthetic (or Orphic) Cubism may never be resolved, but this smallish retrospective shows that Stanton Macdonald-Wright’s precocious contribution to the Modernist movement rightfully deserves its place in history. The surprising achievement of the early work, done as an expatriate in Paris, gives way to mid-career work, following his settling in Los Angeles after the first World War, that is academically self-conscious and brittle. However, late work recovers much of his previous sensitivity to intertwined light and form, and with greater lyrical freedom. If you favor the esoteric, the Synchromist innovation, correlating music, color and formal ideas, is informatively presented. And if you love the rarefied beauty of abstract color without weighing it down in conceptual underpinnings, there are a number of flat out beautiful works on view (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, West Hollywood).

Stanton Macdonald-Wright, “Liason in
Time (Intimacy),” o/c, 40 x 30”, 1955, is on
view at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

This gallery seems to have a penchant for exhibiting artists who lend a humorous twist to the recent history of pop art imagery. Loren Sandvik's Oops!. . .I Did It Again turns the gallery space itself into a sort of enlarged highball glass. This was done by filling the space with a set of oversized, plastic cast pimento olives, each skewered by a colored plastic cocktail sword. Pinned to the walls and floors of the gallery, this decorative display puts the viewer right in the center of a small, giddy fishbowl (Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Downtown).

Loren Sandvik, "oops!. . ."
hydrocal and resen, 2001.

Reed Danziger is a young San Francisco-based painter who fuses abstract and decorative motifs. These densely layered paintings combine tiny dots, larger circles and flower shapes to build up a textured surface that demands exploration. The large works are attention grabbers that provide you with a lot to look at. The surfaces dance as color and line move across the canvases. Danziger’s use of color is a tasteful mix, predominantly of tones of blue, deep reds, black and white. It is clear that these works were time-consuming endeavors to create, and they deliver (Michael Kohn Gallery, West Hollywood).

Miranda Lichtenstein's work comes in all sizes, but whether it is the billboard-sized photo obscuring the entry to the gallery or one of the smaller format groups of images on the walls, its subject is the nature of truth in representation. Moving from very obvious photographs of embalmed animals in dioramas, to out-of-focus images of what appear to be stuffed birds in flight, even cobbling together rough animal collages from clipped images, Lichtenstein's intent appears to be that of questioning our confidence in the limits of photographic veracity (Goldman Tevis Gallery, Downtown).