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June, 2002

Making it easy for all of us to “Just do it,” Democracy When? Activist Strategizing in Los Angeles has initiated a cultural exchange. Guest curated by Tone O. Nielson, Democracy When? brings together artists, community organizations, academics and the concerned public to examine various approaches to activism today, while merging the exhibition site and community forum with the production site. There is compelling work in the gallery, much of it clearly recognizable as art, including Lida Abdullah’s photographs of dark eyed women with active tongues, Mario Ybarra Jr.’s light jet prints that Go Tell It with a bullhorn, and Michael Baers’ ping pong table with clearly designated opposing Middle Eastern sides and a lineup of flag backed paddles representing numerous interested parties. Linda Pollack provides a stack of reprints of the U.S. Constitution and directs participants to café discussions in an installation entitled My Daily Constitution. There’s a spot to drop off books that will be donated to prisoners. There are calendars of events, a comprehensive catalog and lists of websites for activists, as well as videos and photographs of projects that could use some support. For more information, access the website at (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Hollywood).

Mario Ybarra, Jr., "Go Tell It. . .
No. 2," 2001, lightjet print, 40 x 60".

Peter Wegner’s paintings explore the intersection of language and color. Concerned with how language describes color, Wegner looks at, for example, the numerous commercial names for the color green. Often combined or presented side by side, Wegner’s color studies illustrate that things are never what they seem and are always more complex and evocative when seen in relation to each other. In addition to the elegant large paintings a new series of smaller scaled works on paper are also presented. Using fragments from books, maps and printed imagery, Wegner creates subtle juxtapositions through the careful combination of these disparate elements. Wegner’s work is richly layered and rewarding to those who choose to investigate how it resonates beyond its formal design (Griffin Contemporary, Venice).

Shot from below, Charles Bidwell’s large black and white photographs depict the various icons and styles of advertising signs. In these works sky and sign fight to dominate the space of the frame. The photographs range from a lone Gulf gas station sign to a cowboy on horseback, to the omnipresent NORMS. Some of the signs are highly stylized, some are made of neon, while others are pure text. Each sign is a work of art in its own right, and also a signifier. Bidwell’s work, while formal in appearance, does make references to Pop Art and modern street photography. Yet, ultimately, he is interested in what lies beyond the literal reading of the sign (Jan Kesner Gallery, West Hollywood).

Charles Bidwell, "San Jose," 2001, selenium-
toned gelatin silver photograph, edition of 10.

Angela Bulloch’s latest sculptures are carefully constructed boxes that present an ever changing sequence of colors. The colors represent every pixel depicted during the broadcast of a TV news program. Each unit is unique and, upon close examination, quite different in the sequence and pattern of color depicted. Presented in two rows in the center of the gallery, these geometric yet highly technical sculptures pulsate in concert with each other. At first glance their complexity might not be apparent, but after watching the subtle change of colors one wonders what system was used to reduce the original imagery to this display of pulsating pixels (1301 PE, West Hollywood).

Angela Bulloch, "TV Series: Global Weather / female 3a:2u,"
2002, DMX module, demi-black box module, legs (waxed birchwood, printed aluminum panel, white glass, diffusion foil, assorted black cables, RGB-lighting system, DMX-controller, metal legs), 49 1/4 x 19 1/2 x 19 1/2".

Put yourself in the photographer’s place as you envision the complex choices Catherine Opie made while orchestrating this remarkable group of large color photographs that make up her stark panoramic study of Icehouses. The artist manages to distance the viewer from strings of flat colored fishing sheds, hanging them like boxcars on a train or letters in an endless line of poetry, midway between a glaringly white sky and the icy ground. The simple white frames that surround the works (photographed when Opie was on a one-year residency at the Walker Art Center) reinforce a reading of the fourteen pieces as one panoramic view. However, a careful inspection of the images reveals that they were shot at several different locations and skillfully woven together to create this flowing cultural portrait. Reading from left to right, the first C print introduces a shed painted in barn red, recalling the structure in Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow. The next few images tie sweeps of barren trees, every minute branch legible, with the on-shore permanent residences and occasional rereational vehicle that link the unseen fishermen to the icehouses. These features counteract the distancing factors of Opie’s sparse compositions, initiating a search for information that is frustrated in the Fargo-like whiteout that takes over several frames farther along in this haunting series (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).

Catherine Opie, "Untitled #6 (Icehouses)," 2001,
C-print, ed of 5, 2 artist proofs, 50 x 40".

Andre de Dienes, "Norma
Jean," ca. 1945, photograph.

Marilyn Monroe made an intense if tragic career out of "depending on the kindness of strangers." The images here are of Monroe when she'd just left home on her journey to become a star. She met the photographer Andre de Dienes, who was doing a compendium book of the American scene, and traveling by car from town to town. He hired her as a model to go with him and the pair became lovers. The images produced during that jaunt form the core of this show. Here you will see Monroe with a freshness and candor that is rare for this overtapped, overhyped and sadly exploited icon. There are truly stunning profiles of a flaxen-haired ingenue, pre-nose bobbing, unmade up with only the sun glistening on her softly closed eyes. No body parts exposed, no breathy birthday wishes in see-through gowns, just many images that capture 19-year-old Norma Jean Dougherty as a sort of wondrous, open and innocent woman-child, admittedly stunning to the eye, innately sensual but so far from the salacious symbol she would become. To complete the arc, this show will be followed by Douglas Kirkland's photos of a one night shoot with a much older and now very famous and marketed Marilyn posing on satin sheets in full make-up and coif regalia for one night while Kirkland's shutter clicked away. The two sides of Monroe--fragile child and sexual being--make what became of her all the more poignant (Stephen Cohen Gallery, West Hollywood).

Kelly Nipper’s large scale photographs continue her investigations into human relations in time and space. A photograph of CalArts’ Modular Theatre sets the stage. Although this image depicts an empty theatre, the possibility of various configurations is evident. It’s the potential and possibilities that interest Nipper. Her conceptual-based practice demands that viewers look beyond what is in the image to find meaning.

Kelly Nipper, "timing exercise 6:37," 2001-2, 2 framed
chromogenic prints, edition of 4, 37 1/2 x 47 1/2" each.
For example in the series of photographs entitled Timing Exercises she asked her subjects to do an actor’s exercise in which they estimate that the passing of ten minutes of time by pressing a button which stopped a digital clock when they felt that time had elapsed. The resulting series of images are presented as a line that alternates between subject and clock. Each figure appears to be in a dream state, while the numbers on the digital clock announce a seemingly random number. Only when the motivation behind the project is learned do the images become significant (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

Brooklyn artist Marilla Palmer created a stir on the East Coast recently with her exhibition at Pierogi's in Williamsburg. In this more extensive showing of her art, with its diaphanous fabrics---moire, chiffon, and nylon--and steel structures, Palmer translates color field in painting to sculpture. She manipulates painted holographic vinyl and see-through fabric around a sculpted steel armature with profound sensitivity. Layers of light-weight fabrics may be saturated with different colored inks. Iridescent fabrics are inserted into others. The final work undulates, shimmers, and glows with mystery and sensuality. Palmer's translucent, ephemeral art makes light and shadows real and solid (CSU San Bernardino, Inland Empire).