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May, 2002

Central European Avant-Gardes: Exchange and Transformation,1910-1930 is an historical exhibition that presents work little seen in the U.S. from Eastern Europe. Photographs, abstract painting, as well as text-based work like books and leaflets from the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the former Yugoslavia have been gathered together for this illuminating show, which serves to define the currents of the early modern European avant-garde beyond the School of Paris and German Expressionism. The clarity of intent demonstrated throughout the exhibition (both artistic and curatorial) as well as the willful but styled imposition of geometry at the center of a utopian world view is too intense and significant to miss. And if this isn't reason enough, the spectacular video reconstruction of early experimental film works and the numerous and marvelous architectonic sculptures and maquettes on view just beg to be seen. The accompanying documentation is dosed in just the right amount (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, West Hollywood).

Sándor Bortnyik (1893-1976),
"The New Adam," 1924, o/c.
Photo: Tibor Mester

Robert Overby was a prolific Los Angeles-based artist who died in 1993. Since then his work has been exhibited widely, including a retrospective exhibition at the UCLA Hammer Museum less than two years ago. This exhibition features a series called The Pigment Paintings made between 1977 and 1978. In these works Overby used raw pigment to explore issues related to color and materiality. The resulting pieces are stunning evocations of glowing and delicate surfaces. The gallery comes alive as these gems of solid color enliven the white walls (Grant Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills).

Robert Overby, "Yellow Rough,"
1978, oil and pigment on canvas, 12 x 12".

Terri Phillips fashions sculptures and wall works from scraps of paper, aluminum foil and even makes a sculpture from pork rinds. The work is small and intimate. It occupies corners of the room and spreads out along the floor. Gathered together for the Museum of Josephine, at first glance the work conveys a kinship with scatter and process art. But it’s too highly personal and formal for that. One video work depicts the artist as a human tumbleweed, rolling across a desolate landscape in a white frilly dress. Using a variety of media Phillips creates evocative works that not only hold together as an installation, but are individually wonderful objects (Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Downtown).

Terri Phillips, performance/video, 2002.

Carmine Iannaccone, "Chunk,"
2001, walnut, MDF, acrylic.

Osvaldo Trujillo, "Untitled (heart)," 2001,
digital archival print on watercolor paper.

Carmine Iannaccone and Osvaldo Trujillo both present male-oriented work that respectively deals with the conquest of nature and a parody of the body. Iannaccone’s four works, together titled Potential Rock, offers a powerful impression of the romantic obsession of explorer George Mallory. Mallory’s recently discovered body was frozen into the ice of Mount Everest in his doomed 1924 quest for the summit. Using simple sheets of painted pressed wood, chunks of carved walnut, douglas fir planks, and painted blue rectangles of shiny aluminum sheeting, he evokes a feeling of isolation and huge space.

Trujillo’s work is laconically titled Blueprints. These fantastic and copiously detailed blue line diagrams represent the operations of male thought and the regulatory power of the body’s unconscious systems. Actually these motherboards of a human machine, depicting its speech, consciousness and its heart-lung mechanics, are pretty funny (Post Gallery, Downtown).

George Nama,
"Frontpiece" from the
"Devils' Pageant" suite of etchings.
The second installment of Images of Women II tracks art history's favorite terrain--the female form--via more than reputable works by seemingly every major art historical mainstay. As if that were not enough, there is a collaborative effort that links bronze abstract sculptures running about a foot in size by George Nama with a suite of prints of these same shapes set alongside textual poetry by renowned pianist Alfred Brendel. Nama responds to the poems (some terrific, others forced) on the loose theme of demons and devils. His visual response is framed as a sumptuous book of evocative abstract shapes that seem to poke and tease, play and probe in the same devilish, even naughty fashion suggested in the prose. On the same page with the ten abstract shapes are the textual lines of each of ten poems, printed gorgeously; the silk-covered book is nothing less than sumptuous. Nama wrestles the drawn forms into rough hewn bronze sculptures that bring the feel of the printed image and resonance of the word into three dimensions. The whole affair is called Devil's Pageant, and along with the Images of Women, this constitutes one of the season’s most stunning exhibitions (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

Barbara Hashimoto’s mixed media exhibition juxtaposes objects, photographs and ceramic works that create a complex and interesting installation. This body of work explores the relationship between east and west; high and low culture; and between looking and reading. Numerous old manual typewriters are presented on a stage below, typed on ceramics, drawings and paintings. The typewriters are presented both as sculptural objects and as documentation of Hashimoto’s process. Tones of red dominate the show, which also includes photo documentation of a recent installation in Japan (Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica).

Barbara Hashimoto, "Cross Words Standing,"
2002, ceramic, paper, linen, dye, 8” x 9” x 9”.

Enjeong Noh’s still life and figurative works clearly demonstrate outstanding skill as a draftsman and painter. Noh’s passionate paintings depict intimate scenes and are hauntingly honest in what they reveal about human relationships. Muted tones depict interior spaces where a man and woman lie in an undisclosed spaces. In Wet soaked clothing reveals the details of their bodies. Still lifes are handled with the same clarity and detail. Her style is closer to that of the Old Masters than to any contemporary abstraction, yet her subject matter and attitudes are most definitely reflective of this time and climate (Hunsaker/Schlesinger, Santa Monica).

Enjeong Noh, "Wet," 2001-02, o/c, 32 x 48".

Bob Pece’s comically inspired hard edge paintings and hand made animation shorts look so innocent. You want to take them at clown-face value. But as Andy Warhol’s soup cans and movie stars proved, superficial imagery can be revealing. In Pece’s case all the bright color and silly pseudo-history makes a case for art as a dated, labor intense, really frustrating business enterprise.

Bob Pece, "Reacts to Unknown Force," 2001, a/c, 12 x 30".

But one that’s fun, dumb, and entertaining. His most recent video looks archaic, sounds like a projector hooked up to a steam engine, and projects flickering black and white animated sketches from the colorful paintings in the next room at a huge scale on a gallery wall. They don’t do much but giggle, wiggle, or parade past you. But the way the short undoes the mystery of animation suggests all art presentation is just an advertising game for another brand of soft soap (CSU Fullerton, Orange County).

Xavier Cázares Cortéz, "(The Size of) an Unfamiliar
Object Becomes Obvious When You See It in the
Vicinity of a Familiar One" (detail), 2002, mixed media.

Patrick "Pato" Hebert, "totumbao" (detail),
2002, mixed media installation.

Tierra Incognita features the mixed-media and site specific installations of Edgar Arceneaux, Xavier Cazares Cortez, Christina Fernandez, Pat Gomez, Patrick "Peto" Hebert and Sandy Rodriquez. The curator prompted the group of young artists to do work around the theme of "memory in its relationship to. . .homeland, and the role of geography in the formation of one's cultural identity." Standouts include mystical, beautifully crafted pieces by Cortez and Herbert, who both seamlessly and successfully blend text and unusual materials to create haunting rooms. Herbert's work deals with dire political situations in his homeland of Panama, and one feels that connection with his poetic ash, gourd and body bag installation. Though some of the work is unresolved, for the most part these artists exert a unique vision (Plaza de la Raza, East Los Angeles).

José Clemente Orozco in the United States, 1927-1934 consists of 120 paintings, drawings and prints, including studies for three important mural projects: Prometheus (Pomona College), the murals at the New School for Social Research (New York), and The Epic of American Civilization (Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, whose Hood Museum organized the exhibition). The significance of Orozco’s aesthetic vision for American art is evident in these three major works, as well as in his studio and easel paintings. His strengths are particularly evident in works such as The Dead, ( 1931) and 14th Street, Manhattan (1928-1929), which reveal a painter whose grasp reached far beyond the nationalist and social realist framework within which he is too often critically limited (San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego).

José Clemente Orozco, "The Epic of American Civilization:
Modern Migration of the Spirit (#21)", 1932-34, fresco.
Dartmough College, Hanover, New Hampshire
©Licensed by the Orozco Family through VAGA, New York, NY.

Wolfgang Laib’s materials now feel comfortably familiar--marble, milk, pollen, beeswax, rice, wood. So do his forms--cones, rectangles, house and ship shapes. Still, he achieves a quiet originality in his sculptural installations. The pollen pieces, Pollen from Dandelion (1990) and Pollen from Hazelnut (1992), are simple: soft, rectangular fields of bright yellowish powder that he sifts onto the floor. And they’re mesmerizing. The aesthetic here is akin to an Eastern raked stone garden. The uniformity, consistency and the understated sense of balance and harmony seduce you into a serene contemplation that leads to a heightened awareness of your surroundings. Equally compelling are the large beeswax pieces, such as Nowhere/Everywhere (1998), a towering, sweet smelling, stair-stepped sculpture. It’s such a simple form, yet allows for endless pondering of possibilities (San Diego MoCA, La Jolla).

Wolfgang Laib, "The Rice Meals," 1983, 33 brass plates with rice, one with hazelnut pollen, length variable.

Odd Photos is an exhibition of quirky black and white photographs by a master of the decisive moment, Henry Wessel. This California photographer has been documenting the urban and suburban landscape of California for more than 35 years, taking witty images that often depict incongruous juxtapositions. This exhibition spans his long career, presenting images that never really fit into Wessel’s other series. Seeing an exhibition such as this reconfirms the power of photography and the refreshing vision of someone who skillfully allows chance to dictate what the camera records (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

Consistent with his history, Julian Schnabel evokes both great admiration and dismissive scorn with his series of Big Girl Paintings. Several writers registered their exceptionally incompatible responses, so rather than offering one overall take, here’s the mixture of love and loathing:

• In 1987 while visiting a thrift shop, Schnabel happened upon a painted portrait of a classic young girl. Using this painting as the basis of his new work, Schnabel has created 13 large scale portraits of young, uniformed schoolgirls. Each work has a lucious surface built up from paint and wax. What is striking about these images is not the depiction of the subject but the fact that each of the girls has had her eyes painted over by a sweep of color across her face. It is impossible not to read the removal of the eyes as a violent act. The subjects appear oblivious to the intrusion and the erasure of their sight calling attention to their delicate features and naïve smiles. . .

• Schnabel’s most commercial paintings in his career are abysmally thin. With the incorporation of thrift-store painting motifs turning up in a lot of new work by emerging artists, it is of interest to see a blue-chipper pick it up.

Julian Schnabel, "Untitled (Girl with no
eyes)," 2001, oil and wax on canvas
in artist's frame, 108 x 102".

Sadly, Schnabel reiterates the mundane aspects of the thrift store style, repainting an anonymous amateur painting. His usual bombast is here reduced to the size game. Fifteen feet of American portraiture delivered straight, no chaser, save for a weirdly misogynistic paint streak across the eyes of the woman seated for her portrait. In interviews, Schnabel has called this his device to make these works formally call attention to the fact that these are paintings. A ludicrous excuse for such a juvenile act by an obviously tired, if not woefully uninterested, artist. . . .

• The head and shoulders of this classic young subject, complete with blond page boy, becomes the stage on which Schnabel practices the art of painting. The exaggerated amateurism of these clunky portraits, realized in a “straight from the tube” palette of mostly complimentary yellows and blues, is emphasized by slight variations in the proportions of outlined parts and oversized faces. A jagged white on a deep blue, collar-like element calls attention to itself, getting lost between two- and three-dimensionality as it broadens into shoulders, expanding as needed to reach the sides of effectively contrived frames. A swath of paint that appears to be pulled with a spatula from left to right obscures the subjects’ eyes. On the one painting in which this band is less than six inches thick, the top of the head rides lower on its painted blue background, as if cut and pasted to eliminate the eye area entirely, negating any attempt to read the Big Girl’s gaze. . . .(Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).