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September, 2002

William Morris, woven tapestry wall chintz, is among
many works produced by the various Morris enterprises
that were key to the British Pre-Raphaelite movement.
William Morris, the prolific and innovative leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, wove his romantic attachment to the natural world into an influential career. He focused on the production of beautifully made functional goods just as cheap, ill-designed commodities from the Industrial Revolution were flooding the English market. Recent additions to Henry Huntington’s original gathering of Morris’ books and manuscripts related to Morris and his Kelmscott Press have enhanced an already fine collection. The current exhibition features stained glass panels installed so as to heighten the colors and imagery produced by the Morris workshop. Also on display are hand painted tiles (including a series illustrating the story of Cinderella), finely detailed wallpaper and printed fabrics, carpets, tapestries, and books. Photographs, preliminary drawings and the gallery’s proximity to botanical specimens similar to those which inspired Morris further enrich the pleasure of this exhibition (Huntington Library, Pasadena).

H. C. Westermann was an innovative sculptor who was both an exceptional craftsman and ironic humorist. The more than 100 works on view in this retrospective were created between 1950 and 1981 (the year of his death). Among the many sculptural works are numerous box-like creations with intricate hinges and moveable parts that are complex combinations of found and crated objects. While not overtly political, there are many references to World War II and the Korean War (Westermann served in the Marines ), specifically the haunting Death Ships each coming with its own crate (or coffin). Pieces like Memorial to the Idea of Man retain such a sense of play that they seem ever childlike. Looking back after additional decades of increasingly sophisticated assemblage, some of his pieces seem almost goofy, but taken in historical context, Westermann is a major contributor to the death of the rarefied art object and the beginning of a closer interaction between real life and high art seen in the ‘70s. Many of his works include salvaged wood, buttons, bottle caps, toys and other street detritus--years before it was cool to do this. The accumulated power of seeing this work together cannot be denied. The installation, designed by Westermann’s friend and long-time admirer artist Billy Al Bengston, gives the works room to breath, while also referencing the ship-like nature of so many of the pieces (MOCA, Geffen Contemporary, Downtown).

H.C. Westermann, "Memorial to the Idea of
Man if He Was an Idea,"1958, mixed media.

James Casebere continues to explore the relationship between fantasy and reality in his setup photographs of architectural spaces. Carefully constructed tabletop sized models of such places as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and the Versailles Palace are set up and then augmented for the photograph with the addition of dramatic lighting and water. The finished images are dramatic spaces. Long hallways and stairways lead viewers on a journey through these modeled spaces to a place where fantasy ultimately replaces reality (Grant Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills).

James Casebere, “Green Staircase #1,” 2002, digital
chromogenic print mounted to plexiglas, 60 x 48”.

The Danube Exodus: Rippling Currents of the River is a remarkable interactive multi-media project by Hungarian artist Peter Forgacs and the Labyrinth Project of USC's Annenberg Center for Communication. The work re-creates, via interactive media, the sights and sounds, the emotions and the chaos experienced by Jewish and German refugees fleeing in opposite directions across the same path to avoid the horrors of World War II. The exhibit includes touchscreens, audio tapes, maps, and archival visuals mostly from state-of-the-art conserved and manipulated footage shot over half century ago by the captain of the Danube steamer involved in the exodus. You are actually placed in the center of the journey of Eastern European Jews struggling to get to a ship that would transport them to Palestine. The artist is a filmmaker by trade, but a visual artist at heart; the result is poignant history reanimated via dramatic storytelling and high technology. It is an important exhibit (Getty Research Institute Gallery, West Los Angeles).

There is a lightheartedness, even bent humor that feeds the loosely abstract and pictographic images of Marques de Jadraque. A sewing needle is anthropomorphized with simple feet and arms, and a crowd of the little fellas appear deep in partying mode as they fall like rain against a painterly background that reads as sky. Loosely handled vertical rectangles with a simple white brushstroke take on the architectural look of windows, drawing the eye upward as though you’re standing in a majestic interior space. The causualness of style may seem offhanded at times, but it conveys warmth and favors the shuffling of visual ideas (Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, Orange County).

Marques de Jadraque, “Untitled 2,” 2002, a/c, 48 x 48”.

Out of experiences of personal pain arises a thesis parallel to the canard that art should morally uplift us: art heals. This psychological proposition forms the basis for Art Heals, Art Works, a group of sixteen artists’ work, the most engaging of which establishes visual poignancy without personalizing the tragic themes. Angie Bray’s Teeter extracts real visual poetry from a row of quail eggs mounted on a simple wood slat that is subjected to a light breeze (Fullerton Museum Center, Orange County).

Angie Bray, "Teeter," 2002,
quail eggs/wood slat/air currents.

Auguste Renoir
Inundated with Impressionism as we are, it is easy to dismiss the current Auguste Renoir show out of hand--too common. However, on exhibit here is a top notch selection. Of course, describing them is redundant because you will see one after another of the sun-drenched picnics, outings and Parisian women with parasols lit by stippled sun. One loses track of titles. However predictable, the show does remind us that we cannot write this stuff off, regardless of how much popular culture embraces it. Renoir was the Impressionist who took the color theories of the 1800s totally to heart; this was when science and art began to toy with the idea that color is actually light and light is actually comprised of the spectral hues found in a prism. So Renoir attempted to duplicate the actual nature of seeing and spectral color by painting with and mixing those magenta, turquoise and royal blue tones you see when light passes through a crystal. He called it the "rainbow palette" and it is in full view here. Today it just looks a bit sappy, but it was a revolutionary approach to realism. The show's premise is that this way of dealing with color and looking influenced many American modern artists. The conclusion is weak--modernism did not really hit the U.S. in any lasting way until our connection with Surrealism in the ‘40s--but the Renoirs on view, from a variety of sources, are a treat (San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego).

The artwalk is one of the longest standing features of the local artworld. It continues in various districts where there are sufficient galleries banding together to bring one larger audience together than any single space can attract on its own. Usually it’s a simple routine of timing opening receptions to coincide, as the West Hollywood Galleries do, or a fixed monthly date, such as the first Thursdays conducted in Laguna Beach, San Pedro and Fresno. Especially where restaurants and other shops are open to mix in their own audiences, the scene on normally placid streets can become electric.

The Art Crawl, this year falling on September 19-21 (Thursday-Saturday), is an annual artwalk that encompasses more than twenty galleries, alternative spaces, and exhibit spaces within shops that is as much a calling card for the Silver Lake, Los Feliz, and Echo Park neighborhoods as it is a stretch of three days in which to pack in a lot of viewing. The pleasures in this scene are substantial, but must not be misunderstood. This is alternative tourism within the city of Los Angeles--primarily with neighborhood locals in mind, and secondarily to draw the more adventurous fans from across town. It is art as an attraction for the progressively minded; downhome rather than upscale style is the modus operandi here. Don’t look for Gagosian to open a satellite space in the area anytime soon. The storefront and shop interior galleries appeal precisely for their informality and willingness to give new art a try.

East of Hollywood and west of downtown is one of the oldest and most indigenous sections of Los Angeles. The last decade, the post-L.A. Riot period, has seen a gradual reversal following a lengthy slide that left the area forgotten and neglected by most Angelenos. The fifth annual Art Crawl puts this improvement on display, along with the growth in creative energy. If you’ve been already, we imagine your planning to return for more; and if you haven’t, we recommend that you use this occasion as your opportunity to have your eyes opened.

The Thursday and Friday evening Crawls will run from 7-10pm, with a Saturday daytime stretch added from noon to 7pm. For more information call (213) 250-4686 or (323) 666-7667, or go online to

Sandra Yagi, "Agnus Dei," 2002, o/c, 48 x 60",
is on view at Circle Elephant during Art Crawl 5.

Noah Webb, "Red Hair on Rust Carpet," 2002, C Print,
is on view at Fototeka during Art Crawl 5.

"Prima Facie: New Abstract Painting" includes a group of international artists, many making their Los Angeles debut. Many of the works explore surface and texture. Using layer upon layer of paint, artists like Linda Besemer, Simone Adels and Robert Greene create complex relationships between shape and color. The artists here push the limits and definition of abstraction, while making work that is conceptually savvy and rich in content. While Prima Facie may serve as a summer group show, in all likelihood it is also the first opportunity to see works by artists who will be exhibited during the upcoming season (Angles Gallery, Santa Monica).

Jan Nelson is a young artist from New York whose photographic works combine digital and traditional practices. Entitled Interplaced. the exhibition focuses on serial urban imagery. Images of empty highways and rear view mirrors are presented in relation to one another, allowing viewers to make comparisons between images as well as to ponder the space between. It is what is missing--the space not shown, or as Nelson calls it the interplaces that is the subject of these elusive yet captivating works (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).