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February, 2003

Carrie Ungerman
, "Leisure
Landscape," 2002, letraset
transfer on paper, 11'4" x 8'.
In her first local solo exhibition Los Angeles-based Carrie Ungerman fills the gallery with geometric imagery. A true formalist who possesses a distinctive design and compositional sensibility, Ungerman has created an installation of framed drawings as well as a large scale site specific wall work. Ungerman works with Letra-set /press type applying the prefabricated letters, lines, and shapes to the wall or the page to create a dynamic pattern. The works all have a compositional integrity and a witty charm. The drawings are intelligent and fun, and the installation plays with both scale and materials in new and innovative ways (Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Downtown).

Skin offers a variety of visual solutions that trace the external, epidermal limits of this mortal coil, mostly with the aid of semi-transparent or translucent supports. The predominately "female" forms and images explored echo the authors’ gender, although each individual artist stakes out a different path to the threshold of the body’s intrusion into space. Most satisfying were the metaphorical bodies/orbs of Laurel Paley, caught between an eerie half life as stressed vessels and burgeoning internal organs. Also included here are Terry Lenihan, Elena Philips, Mollie Murphy, and Kristen Xavier (I-5 Gallery, Downtown).

Laurel Paley, "Float," acrylic and
carbon toner on panel, 28 x 18".

Yoshua Okon, "Jedbangers 1998," 2002,
3 min. DVD projection scrim, and
speakers, dimensions variable.
A survey of six, emerging, Latin American artists, Big Sur puts their individual production on display and, indirectly, examines the relationship of work in this particular part of the world to the art world mainstream. Installation, photography and video are the genres most in evidence, likewise the bent towards the conceptual. Most notable are the video works by José Restrepo, a baroque barrage of imagery culled from multiple TV sources that disassemble religion and politics; and Yoshua Okon, a looped video installation in which silent "headbangers" move soundlessly and hypnotically to and fro in their trancelike state (The Project, Downtown).

Allison Saar continues to appropriate found objects and all manner of detritus unified in the form of children constructed with her skilled hand. It still works. Saar's favorite themes--what it means to exist as "the other," what it means to be a woman and what it means to be human--are also convincingly realized (Jan Baum Gallery, West Hollywood).

Allison Saar,"Blue Bird", 2002,
wood/copper/chair, 64 x 74 x 36"

Steven Wilkes, “Corridor #9, Ellis
Island”, 1998, color photograph.
A 1998/99 series of color photographs of Ellis Island by Stephen Wilkes preceded and indeed helped secure funding for restoration work on the south side of the former central point of arrival of new Americans. Rather than comprising a visual essay on immigration, Wilkes is persistently drawn to the visual complexity of dilapidation made lovely--at times stunningly so--by the cascading color of reflected natural light. That light lends a juiced up painterliness to images of essentially vacant rooms and corridors. The volume of surface detail--peeling paint, window gratings and the like--adds up to images that compellingly hold the eye (Apex Fine Art, West Hollywood).

On Wanting to Grow Horns: The Little Theater of Tom Knechtel is a mid-career survey of Knechtel's work from 1976 to 2001. Numerous drawings and paintings highlight his magnificent 25-year career. The artist plays on a fusion of Kabuki theatre and Indian folk art. Drawn from the observable, as well as from mythical and imagined realities, these images are about transformative experiences. They do more than report the artist’s experience, possessing sufficient force to alter viewer perceptions of the world. Knechtel is a master draftsman, and his renditions of animals, people and fantastic places are absorbingly jam-packed with things to marvel over. Consisting of both early and recent works, the show traces both recurring themes and Knechtel’s technical development (Otis College, West Side).

Tom Knechtel, "A Middle-age
Scheherezade," 1997, oil
on linen, 60 1/4 x 48".

Joan Jonas was born in 1936, and has been showing her performance-based video works and installations since the mid 1960’s. Her complex, multi-layered works often combine storytelling, drawing and projected video. Lines in the Sand: Helen in Egypt was first presented at Documenta XI last summer. This work is based on HD (Hilda Doolittle’s) epic poem Helen in Egypt (1951-55) which reworks the myth of Helen of Troy. For her version, Jonas incorporates dance, movement, video, and timed audio effects that have a way of seeming spontaneous and perfectly orchestrated at once.

Two rooms are linked in the open ended, non-sequitor way that marks her practice. A video monitor shows a handsome supine young couple dressed in normal garb in bed acting out a yarn that sounds like an old mythic tale of intrigue between the sexes: a queen and a king plotting to see who will take the most and best animals to the afterlife. The theme of afterlife is picked up in small, scratchy drawings lined in a row in the darkened room made by Jonas (a consummate draftsperson) of the pyramids and the Sphinx, but done with such a primeval directness that you feel like she was in some repetitive trance when she did them. Projected on walls in the gallery are images of the kitsch Head of Khafre that adorns the Vegas strip. In yet another visual field, Jonas is seen on the video screen crafting the repetitive images of pyramids with a piece of chalk on a long stick as if to ape the earlier surveyors who might have measured out those two million two ton blocks.

You see the artist in this kind of ritual dance, using her body to repeatedly chalk out the simple yet perfect images. And the tapping of the chalk is timed to drive and augment the sounds from all the other monitors and visual fields. You feel like there is content here about cycles of creation, about the fact that they produce tangible product and in some sense go on and on for no reason than that they must. When Jonas walks on the beach as a shadow scoring the sand with a stick, you feel the shaman/creator's loss of and link to nature. There is so much going on, better give yourself an hour to sit through the entire matrix of meaning and another week or two to let it sink in (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

Michael Roberts' work sits somewhere between Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism. That sounds like a contradiction in terms but there is no better way to describe the dense, impastoed gestural swirls and mounds built up from what looks like monochromatic, blanched stucco or molten concrete. They run very large to medium sized and consist of multiple panels rather than a single canvas; the verticals of the supports add this great counterpoint rhythm to all the surface froth. They are handsome, spare and easy to love as the best five star hotel lobby art. But let's not hate them because they are beautiful. These Extreme Paintings are so very well made--every crevice, every rise and fall, every shadow cast by this calcareous surface has been astutely conceived (Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica).

Michael Roberts, "Panel White #4," 2002, acrylic
with marble dust on canvas on panel, 24 x 46 1/2".

Max Cole, "Untitled," 1997, acrylic
on handmade paper, 7" x 6".
Lines, curated by Judi Russell, is an elegant show that features work by six artists whose works incorporate lines as the central formal element. Works by Max Cole, Mieke Gelley, Carol Kaufman, Lies Kraal, Penelope Krebs, Agnes Martin tend towards a subtle representation of linear elements. Each artist uses line in their own unique way--as a compositional device, as a sculptural object, as part of a grid, as a texture. This show presents the unexpected. All of the works are beautifully executed and when seen together help to redefine the meaning of the word ‘line’ (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).

Susan Venable, "Sol Saga," 2002, steel/copper wire/oil/encaustic construction, 36 x 108".

Susan Venable continues to work with large scale steel, copper wire, oil and encaustic wall constructions in her recent Saga Series. Sol Saga reveals how the artist creates a unique triptych with brilliant crimson panels flanking a copper wire construction. The multi-colored wires cascade out of the steel grid, forming a prickly counterpoint to the glowing oil and encaustic panels. By combining the two-dimensional surfaces of the painted panels with the dimensional wire, she creates an illusion of dynamic surface movement. She uses materials that relate to natural phenomena, including copper and wax, which give her constructions a depth and luminosity. Other constructions have a monumental presence as the panels float on the wall, for her intertwined copper wires dissolve in complex and shimmering patterns (BGH Gallery, Santa Monica).

Hans-Christian Schink, "Bei Meerane,"
1998, c-print, 72 X 84 3/4", edition of 5.
Hans-Christian Schink's Auto-bahn Project is comprised of large scale color photographs taken of the soon to be completed freeway connector strips linking and updating the East German infrastructure to the West German roadway standards. Aside from the historical value of this study in terms of engineering and social evolution, the images are eerie and romantic. Towering bridges span the misty landscapes, and details from huge chunks of metal structural work mimic high modernist sculptures. The lack of cars or machinery and people contributes to the uncanny feeling with which they are imbued (Ace Contemporary, West Hollywood).

Daniel Zeller's tight, obsessive drawings of minute, particulate matter and undulating waves, which aggregate and dissipate over the candid white surface of the paper support, are pleasing both to the tactile and visual senses. Bright dots of transparent colored ink alternate with more austere black on white forms. With his mark making oscillating between the patterns traditionally associated with a psychedelic vision and the ciphers utilized in plotting out topographical maps, Zeller ventures into well charted art historical territory. Nonetheless, the verve and energy his work conveys makes the re-visitation worthwhile (Daniel Weinberg Gallery, West Hollywood).

Daniel Zeller, "Lung Meter,"
2002, ink on paper, 14 x 11".
Photo: Eugene Ogami.

Lewis Hine, "Textile Mill, Rhode Island,"
1909, vintage gelatin silver photograph.
Lewis Hine (1874-1940) is well known for his black and white documentary photographs. This show features photographs Hine took in the early 20th century on the subject of child labor in America. These vintage works are a rare treat. Hine photographed children alone or in groups; in the mills, factories and mines. While Hine’s social documentary works revealed the horrific conditions and injustices of child labor, they also captured the expressions and personalities of the children. We see a twinkle in an eye as well as the sarcastic smile of someone too old and experienced for their age. Hine’s photographs are at once beautiful and tragic (Jan Kesner Gallery, West Hollywood).

If only to see what contemporary art is doing outside the major centers, go and check out St. Petersburg: Eclectic Russian Contemporary Art. This sampling of a cross section of art production--and it’s very different from most of what’s going in here--emanating out of the newly capitalist Russia will have you come away thinking that these artists are serious and in touch. It is clear they have studied the same art history we have, and contemporary techniques are just as apparent. Competent abstractions by Vladimir Borodin share space with perhaps less resolved images of pubescent girls playing musical instruments in the buff by Dimitry Palarouche. The Dutch-inspired still lifes by Sergey Kychko are crisp and appealing (Santa Monica College, Barrett Gallery, Santa Monica).

Janice Deloof, "Tea and Tears," acrylic
mixed media on wood, 8 x 12 x 5".
In a mixture of theatrical installations, crafted furniture and domestic objects, and storyboards, Janice Deloof tackles the heart wrenching issue of tension beneath the surface of family life. Beckoning viewers to become players in the drama, the actors--handmade miniatures, brightly painted overturned chairs, shattered lamps, photos of loved ones tossed on the floor, skewed tables with half-eaten food, and assorted décor in obvious or subtle disarray--convey an edgy message that demands attention. This silent theater offers provocative clues concerning the breaking point, when clandestine undercurrents erupt. DeLoof titles the show Mise en Scènes, French for “setting the scene,” transforming a written or actual event to the stage, another way of saying that she brings the hidden agendas of family members to the surface. With familiar inanimate objects as her palette, DeLoof freezes a compelling moment in the daily life of an archetypical family (Saddleback College Art Gallery, Orange County).

Doug and Mike Starn, "Attracted to Light #1," 1999-2000, sulphur-toned gelatin silver print on mulberry paper.

Forty artists working in film-based mediums have responded to the timely theme of PhotoGENEsis: Opus II. Works are as individualistic and diverse as the changing images of viewers that are reflected in Justen Ladda’s chromogenic print with frame, Ape and Mirror. The documentation of early x-ray photos by Rosalind Franklin sets the scene for stunning microscopic views of subjects such as crystals and human embryos. Photos by artists who are scientifically literate give way to more metaphoric and poetic works such as Zang Huan’s Family Tree, in which the artist gradually blackens his face as he inscribes it with names of generations of family history, progressively obliterating his own identity. Tomoko Sewada suggests the ability of science to alter the species, creating a myriad of persona in Photo ID. Helen Donis-Keller culls a wall of artistic styles out of a SAM’s Club card. Carrie Mae Weems’ installation of seventeen floating panels, music and dialogue entitled The Jefferson Suite, and Mike and Doug Starn’s haunting photo Attracted to Light stand out among other compelling works that address issues of the genetic age (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara).