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May, 2003

Leon Golub, "Point the Bone!" 2002,
oil stick and ink on Bristol, 10" x 8".
Leon Golub has been making politically charged art for many years. Especially now, his art resonates with a clear purpose and message. These new drawings and paintings depict man in anguish, in torment, and in constant struggle with himself and the world around him. The intimately scaled drawings reflect Golub’s skill as a draftsman as well as a chronicler of the human condition. While the drawings do not necessarily depict violence, they imply the potential for violence and conflict. This is Golub’s first exhibition in Los Angeles since 1995 and particularly given such infrequency this evocative work is a must see (Griffin Contemporary Art, Venice).

William Wegman’s photographs never fail to please. For years he has been making humorous pictures of his Weimaraners, who have become the perfect models. He dresses them up, pairs them together and remarkably is able to make them sit still for the photograph. In these new 20 x 24 inch polaroids he uses the dogs to create landscapes and still lifes. The multi-panel images, witty as always, make you smile and warm your heart. Wegman uses dogs for his models, but only as a universal signifier for the human condition (Grant Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills).

William Wegman, "River's Edge" (left panel
of tryptich), 2000, color Polaroid, 24 x 20".

Tuan Phan, "Stupa," 2002,
mixed media, 18" x 4" x 3".
Tuan Phan makes gorgeous small and under life size vessels that, like Peter Shelton's suggestive sculpture, suggest the shells of fragmented bodies and body parts. Phan calls them vessels, and they are not cast from plastic but from ceramic, which underscores this conception of body as container. Indeed, the repetition and dislocation of body parts from vessel to vessel turns a torso, a leg, a pelvis into more of a primordial holder of life than a literal reference to the body itself. Mostly wall bound, often encased and layered with media (they are called ceramic collages), the works are more evocative visual analogues for life force than they are figurative works in any traditional sense; therein lies their attraction (Koplin Del Rios Gallery, West Hollywood).

Salomon Huerta's new paintings are of houses. Better known for his paintings of the backs of heads as well as full standing figures, these works are a departure from that in more ways than the subject. The images are bright and flat. Each house is centered symmetrically and surrounded by tall tress painted in contrasting colors. Although the forms are similar, the colors of the elements as well as the size and proportions of the canvas change with each painting. In some, clusters of trees surround the three-part house; in others only two carefully placed tress frame the door. Color becomes the focus of the work, as the triangular and the rectangular vie for perceptual attention at the threshold of saturation; one large red in particular creates so many afterimages that it could be winking at this sly transformation from the realistic to the imaginary. What appears consistent with his past works is that Huerta seems to delight in visually cataloging similarities and differences within a related subject (Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica).

Salomon Huerta, "Untitled House (0306),"
2003, oil on canvas on panel, 83 x 73".

Bernhard Fuchs, "Johannes,
Helfenberg," 2001, c-print, 16 x 12".
The photographic sojourns into the world of rural agriculture which the team of Simone Nieweg and Bernhard Fuchs collect images from are something akin to what gleaners go looking for in the fields after a harvest. The seemingly flat quality of the landscapes (Nieweg) and the workers (Fuchs) beg the issue of documentation versus art as you spend some time looking at them. Their compelling nature is more moral than aesthetic in that the beauty they possess is related to their ability to convey an unadulterated truth. They may be plain and unkempt, but that doesn't negate their power as images, just the opposite (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

Sergio Martinez Teran, "Self Portrait on Cardboard",
mixed media on gessoed cardboard, 7 x 8 1/2".

Rigo Maldonado, "and now," 2003,
mixed media video installation.

The inevitable clash of cultures between New York and Los Angeles was the apparent premise of this cleverly titled Apples and Oranges group show. By focusing on three Chicano artists each from both coasts, though, any presupposed differences are lost in a din of simpatico concerns. Frank Parga's large drawings render tiny instances of epic behavior, while Sergio Martinez Teran paints cast-off cardboard in an equally accomplished manner. These East Coast representatives are balanced out by the bright constructions of left-coasters like Alex Donis [also featured in a solo show of new paintings at frumkin/duval (Santa Monica) this month--Ed.], whose narrative poetry serve as a sly formal element to pop-style celebrations of identity. Another standout was L.A.'s Sandra de la Loza, whose innovative CD-rom beautifully (yes) portrays the gruesomest of incidences. As diverse as the formal approaches were, the consistency of the content was rare for a group show in our current age of nepotistically strategic curation. Rigo Maldonado and Jose Enrique Krapp round out this exciting show, one in which quality has been allowed to shine above (or at least along with) geography (Tropico de Nopal Gallery, Echo Park).

Joel Morrison is a young Los Angeles-based sculptor whose three large taped and painted lumpy forms mounted uncomfortably on incongruously conceived pedestals invade the space they occupy. They are immediately fun to look at, and at moments can be hilarious to contemplate. It’s like encountering the most traditional kind of civic statuary--as conceived by an alien, or perhaps a garden slug. They manage to convey an inner grace and determination that rescues them from becoming comedic (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Joel Morrison, "Untitled Sketch,"
2001, mixed media sculpture.

Chuck Close, "Emma/Woodcut," 2002,
113 color hand printed woodcut, 43 x 35".
Nobody combines the verisimilitude of the human face with detailed grid-based abstraction like Chuck Close. Each cell of the grid may be regarded as an individually complete painting, but integrates harmoniously and subserviently into the whole of the depicted face as you back away. The prints here are pleasing examples of what Close has long since mastered, and the pleasures of their visual intricacies are only matched by the knowledge of the painstaking effort that has gone into translating the original paintings into print form. Three are new editions that are exhibited with a selection of ten earlier works (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica)

Susan Silton continues to produce compelling photographic and video works. In Twisters and Twisted black and white images of violent tornadoes twirl through the landscape. Silton developed relationships with storm chasers via e-mail, she and transforms their color imagery into intimately sized, dramatic black and white photographs that are ambiguous and erotic. Concurrent with the photographic images is a single channel video work entitled Tornado in a Jar in which Silton recorded numerous people’s facial expressions while attempting to create a tornado in a jar. The video presents pure emotion, as the jar is never seen. When seen together these two bodies of work feed off of and inform each other, adding new content to a force that occurs in nature. Also on view are new paintings and drawing by Adam Ross. Chronopolis continues Ross’ exploration of the fusion of abstract and urban imagery to define a futuristic cityscape. These paintings are seductive and beautiful. Forms float in ambiguous spaces suggestive of high tech communication towers that exist in otherworldly, receding landscapes (Angles Gallery, Santa Monica).

Susan Silton, "Twister 5", 2003, piezo
pigment print, 5 x 6-5/8", edition of 6.

Adam Ross. "Untitled (Chronopolis 2)".
2003. oil and alkyd on canvas, 24 x 24".

Tomoko Takahashi, "Auditorium Piece"
(detail), 2003, installation.
A sense of place infuses Tomoko Takahashi’s Auditorium Piece, although exactly where is ambiguous. The setting is a future or post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, but could be a construction site, an opera house, the municipal dump, or a movie set. Apparently Takahashi sees it as a movie set--referring to the objects of junk she has filled an unused auditorium with as “props.” They are turned into artifacts of a civilization: A flickering neon sign, huge clocks with Roman numerals, a fallen column, glowing TV monitors, gears, car tires, roadway signs, oscillating fans, a piano, a Jacuzzi.
Brought together, they suggest a time continuum spanning from European antiquity through the Industrial Revolution, to the present. This is all viewed from a fenced-off wooden platform at the back of the space, with steps leading down that entice, but are blocked off with construction tape. Rather than a movie set, Auditorium Piece feels like the setting of a live performance: The objects, as performers, are viewed from a distance; you zoom in on them with opera glasses mounted on the platform’s railing (UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

You cannot travel in Mexico without seeing the folk objects called Trees of Life. Wonderful examples of these complex, branched ceramic objects painted and shaped to depict angels, bulls, birds, tigers, cowboys and humans in a symbolic cacophony make up this charming show. The objects have a deeply rooted context that celebrates the living and the passed, and have been one of Mexico's oldest post-colonial crafts traditions. The entire history of these trees of life is sampled, contextualizing the seriousness, ritual significance and skill behind these bright, amazing objects (UCLA Fowler Museum, West Los Angeles).

Artist and date unknown, "Tree of Life with
Mermaid," ceramic, paint, metal, h. 76.3 x 97. cm.

Thomas Ruff, "Plakat IV (Housing Auth-
ority)," 1997, C-Print ( Ed. 6), 96 x 72".
Calling to mind pre-World War II American Social Realism--or for that matter Soviet Socialist Realism--you might think of a representational art that extols the virtues of an idealized Common Man and by extension The Nation. In a thematic group show, Social Strategies: Redefining Social Realism posits that the notion of propaganda and realism itself as seen in contemporary art virtually turns these traditions on their head. It is the critical view of the individual artist that gets expressed here, as often as not in direct defiance of social policy, and readily divesting itself of all pictorial trappings in favor of sparking viewer reflection or spiritual release (UC Santa Barbara, University Art Museum, Santa Barbara).

Jeff Colson's room full of "Incidents" is linked by theme rather than as an installation. The three-ringed circus of collected objects somewhere on the wall are related to drawings and/or other objects somewhere else by a very loose translation process in which forms are shape shifted and details are modified. Humor dominates this slacker celebration of, among other victorious mementos, big tent covers reduced to miniature awnings and a triple tiered winner's block definitively banished to the loser's circle. The characteristic gunmetal blue plates upon which Jannis Kounellis fashions his low relief sculptures occupy almost an entire room. There are dangerous looking glass and metal fragments jutting out of some of them, while others house more poetic fragments of carbon, jute sacks or dried flowers. The repetitive nature of this artist's meditation on mortality and the legacy of Joseph Beuys is offset by the severe beauty of his precise visual orchestration (Ace Contemporary Exhibitions, West Hollywood).

Jeff Colson, "Incidents",
2000-03, installation view.

Mexican-born Graciela Iturbide’s latest exhibition, Pajaros presents black and white photographs of birds. Many of the images are evocative studies of birds in flight. Flocks of birds hover in the sky above trees or telephone poles, depicted as both intimidating as well as fascinating. These works are juxtaposed with the more documentary style images of birds such as roosters and chickens that are both farm animals as well as a food source. Iturbide’s images capture the positive as well as the negative. The grace, the beauty as well as the mysticism of birds; and their invasive and pesky nature (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica).

Brian Cooper's monstrous and rather funny sculptural misunderstandings about the nature of upholstery and architectural interiors have given rise to some odd anti-monuments. In Meltdown the environment which fills the gallery’s white cube goes about its uncontrolled growth with all the gleefulness of a campy science fiction pulp movie like The Goo that Ate New York. Insinuated into everything from the wallpaper on out is a relentless upholstered life force that just has to take over (Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Downtown).