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November, 2001

Scottish artist Douglas Gordon first gained international attention in 1993 for 24 Hour Psycho, a video installation in which he slowed down the famous Hitchcock movie to screen frame-by-frame over a day’s time. This forced viewers to remember key parts of the plot while heightening the tensions within. In this survey there’s a lot of playfulness on the surface. The artist monkeys with famous films and makes references to film history and genres--especially Film Noir. But Gordon is also a versatile artist who uses his facility with various media (video, photography, painting, text and sound) to consistently dig deeper for meaning. His talent for critical observation coupled with a wonderful gallows humor shine through in the simplest of pieces. On a large-screen video display, a monster-sized housefly lies on its back, as it alternately thrashes about and lies still. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) this scene is made more ridiculous by nearby photographs showing a baby’s toes being sucked by a giant mouth (Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Geffen Contemporary, Downtown).

Douglas Gordon, “A Divided Self I
and II,” video installation, 1996.

Carlos Estevez, "El Inexplic-
able Mundo del Deseo"
29.5 x 41.33", 1999.
Five Cuban artists born after the revolution shape the reality of life under Castro into compelling works laced with metaphorical references to scarcity, surveillance and separation. In Cuba: Five Odysseys the youngest, Raúl Cordero, presents fragments of films and videos in works that play on presence, absence and various degrees of separation, provoking us to attempt to construct a reality from incomplete information. Juxtaposing woodblock prints and ink drawing over maps, Ibrahim Miranda symbolically distorts and reforms Cuba. Carlos Estévez interlaces humans with animals in elegant skeletal/mechanical inventions. Fernando Rodríguez employs humor in his remarkable critiques of life fraught with hardships. Belkis Ayón, whose striking collographs treating the myth and history of a secret society are hauntingly reminiscent of Leon Golub’s work, seems to dramatize the deepening claustrophobia and depression that ended in her suicide (CSU Northridge Art Gallery, Valley).

Welded steel girders and Mark di Suvero have gone together like Tom and Jerry for about forty years now. We usually see his multi-story sculpture out of doors, poised threateningly but benignly against the sky like H.G. Welles’ silenced Martian invaders. One work, Declaration, has been on view at Venice Beach for the last two years, and this is indeed connected to the present exhibition. Inside the gallery his capacity for snakey, even sinuous line and, yes, whimsical incident becomes much clearer. In the centerpiece work Bodacious, a very Stella-like polished steel kinda figure poses heroically on a floating halo. Both are connected to the pegasus-like main body of the piece by no more than a cable bolted to the rest by a latch that hilariously calls to mind a small bird keeping it all aloft in its beak. Smaller work ironically and happily seems to allow this tough-guy artist to take us in unexpected directions (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).

Mark di Suvero, "Bodacious,"
steel sculpture, 2001.

Sharon Ellis, "Garden Abstract",
alkyd on cnavas, 40 x 34", 2001.
The writhing, charged, multi-layered trees, skies and flowers that Sharon Ellis just seems to revel in hardsell the virtues of opening up your eyes as the best way to trip the color fantastic. A tree in her hands becomes so much more. The blood red trunk and branches is a cardiovascular system that activates globular red fruit, bright necklaces of stars, and acid-tripping interplays of leaf crown and night sky in Garden Abstract. Night Regent takes Agnes Pelton into the present, taking the earlier artist’s spiritualized nature into even richer evocations of magic and personae in our strange world (and getting stranger). It’s not necessarily a place where we’d want to take up residence, but the visit is unforgettable (Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica).

This selection of the classic hard edge abstraction of Karl Benjamin remind us what a killer colorist this guy is. It’s absolutely crucial to turning witty but otherwise austere paintings into a celebration rather than an overly pious lecture. One group of these up to 20-year-old works thrust honeycomb grids right out at your face against cool backgrounds that brace their own patterning. Rather than going for the limited drama of a spacial backdrop, Benjamin goes for a potent visual counterrhythm. Negative and positive space flip flop to alternating currents of visual effect and illusion in other distinctively different works. Paintings don’t age much more gracefully than this (Cuttress Gallery, Pomona).

Karl Benjamin, "#12," o/c, 1982.

Erice Wesley, “Kicking Ass,”
mixed media, 72 x 96 x 48”, 2000.
Freestyle is an ambitious group exhibition curated by Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum in Harlem, where it was first presented. The exhibition presents the work of a number of younger African American artists working in the United States. Golden, who previously curated the notorious Black Male exhibition shown here at the UCLA/Hammer Museum, is interested in illuminating what issues motivate artists of color in the present generation. To describe the works in this exhibition she has coined the phrase "post-black," allowing the works to speak for themselves rather than offer any specific social or political interpretation. The artists exhibited work in a variety of media ranging from traditional painting and photography to newer mediums like the world wide web. While this work sets off no bombshells when regarded individually, taken together the works interact with and inform each other to make for a compelling and thought provoking experience (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Vessels and teapots in the hands of Ralph Bacerra look like they might injure your hands if you try to pick them up, what with all the wild and unpredictable corners poking out hither and yon. These things sure give your eyes a healing stroke though, as long as you like a lot of action. Geometric shapes and patterns run riot, as do visual associations and spacial ambiguities. The base of a teapot might take on a richly mossy texture. Stretches of mottling give way to detailed incident. Pot bodies and vessel lids can undulate and sprout their own wacky architecture. It all strikes us as nothing more (or less) than extremely high level fun. No need to feel guilty about this stuff (Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).

Ralph Bacerra, "Untitled" teapot,
earthenware, 20 x 13 x 8", 2001.

Los Carpinteros, "Transportable City,"
2000, installation view, 7th Havana
Biennial, Cuba, winter 2000-2001,
Photo: Alexandre Arrechea
Along the Miracle Mile, on a strip of grass just beyond the museum’s green gates, a city has sprouted. Los CarpinterosTransportable City consists of custom-designed camping tents that suggest architectural icons: A lighthouse, a factory, a church, a jail and a domed capitol. Together, they make for an adult-sized playground that beckons museum-goers and local office workers to explore. The canvas shapes, with their screened windows, stand out starkly against the museum’s manicured turf. They are beautiful in their simplicity. The three artists that make up this Cuban art collective have created work that hauntingly alludes to the effects of both natural and manmade disasters. Their structures, like real buildings, are impermanent, and the artists’ apparitions are, by nature, familiar and universal. To these artists, a mobile community of dwellings can serve to “relieve nostalgia,” or perhaps remind us of what we’ve lost (LACMA West, West Hollywood).

The Axiomatic Arcade features installations by ten artists. The works examine ideas surrounding the human condition from a mixture of perspectives. Notable among these are Mariana Botey's video installation entitled The Cruzob that investigates the history of the oracular crosses in the Mayan territories of Mexico. E.V. Day's graphical presentation of a drive-by shooting, as well as Femi Dawkins’ stunning installation Abstract of the Evidence, which reproduces the placement of bodies in a slave ship alongside a threatening chandelier of spears, also stand out. Other artists include Eduardo Abaroa, Robert Billings, Tony Do, Amitis Motevalli, Burt Payne 3, Douglas Perez and C. Ian White (Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica).

Femi Dawkins, “Abstract of the
Evidence,” installation, 2001, is among
a group included in “The Axiomatic
Arcade” at Track 16 Gallery.

Fred Lonidier is a San Diego-based artist whose career has been actively involved with the combination of art with politics. He looks critically at the North America Free Trade Agreement in this installation, N.A.F.T.A. (Not a Fair Trade for All), Getting the Correct Picture, relying on images and texts that recontextualize issues relating to globalization with respect to the area around the U.S.-Mexican border (Side Street Projects, Downtown).

Fred Lonidier, "N.A.F.T.A. (Not a Fair Trade for All). . ." (detail), installation, 2001.

Ed Moses' new works on paper are dark images whose deliberate brushstokes and contrasting colors hit your eyes immediately and hard. These modest sized works are meditative yet forceful. Wide areas of colors are juxtaposed with more subtle gestures and textures. The abstract compositions begin to spark visual energy as they seemingly break away from the confines of the rectangle (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica).

The urban photographs by Lewis Baltz are stunning color images of cities at night. The diptychs and triptychs seem to separate sections of their urban settings that are in fact part of the same scene. The images present birdseye views as well as more straightforward angles. Buildings appear to be illuminated by passing cars as well as by interior lights. As always, Baltz examines his subject with a discerning eye, alerting us to consider the details surrounding the scene (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

Four works by four artists work so well together it seems like they were made to be exhibited this way. All the works touch on the landscape or, more specifically, the celestial landscape. Dave Muller’s wall-sized drawing Spatial is a multi-panel depiction of the planets in the sky. This work takes on new meaning when seen in relation to Jennifer Bornstein’s short film in which a fictional flying saucer flies through the room. Florian Maier-Aichen’s aerial photograph of Los Angeles seems like an impossible view, especially since it is obscured by a cloud. Mark Grotjahn’s abstract paintings also relate to the landscape. A tight and well conceived of show of gallery artists (Blum & Poe Gallery, Santa Monica).

Fabian Marcaccio and Grey Lynn, "The
Predator," mixed media installation, 2001.
The collaborative art work The Predator by New York-based painter Fabian Marcaccio and L.A.-based theoretical architect Greg Lynn is a sprawling, translucent, vacuformed, plastic, silk screen and paint sculptural entity. It is certainly a failure as a work of art, both in its specific visual impact and spatial occupation it set out to achieve. Yet it is nonetheless something you should go see for yourself. The territory it tried to stake out was vaster than the sum of the hybridized mutant parts turned out to be able to handle. Witness the unusually bland DJ Spooky music mix accompanying the installation. But the bar has been raised here, and even if The Predator is unsuccessful, the attempt will certainly excite those looking to divine a coming rich vein of visual art and art installation (UC Irvine, Beall Art Center, Orange County).