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July/August, 2003

Andy Goldsworthy, “Three Cairns,” 2002,
Iowa limestone, site specific (20
tons approximate weight), 96 x 78”.
Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann.
Andy Goldsworthy's primary aesthetic activity, going out in the countryside where he finds and fashions art from the physical fragments he culls on location, has sustained interest for the last two decades, steadily accumulating power and authority. The photographs that document his works invented out of the ephemeral elements provided by the natural environment are mute testimony to his artistic credo of beauty and grace. It is hard to decide whether the thin wood screen dividing one room, the variously melted rocks by the seafront window, the oak branch cairn filling another room, or the thorn pin and fern drawing on the ceiling is the most delightful. It is well worth dwelling on everything there is to see (MoCA San Diego, La Jolla).

For the last fifteen years, Patrick Nickell has been mixing two odd bedfellows: impeccable, clean process that is brought to bear on all manner of seemingly inconsequential discarded waste materials such as cardboard, plastic, tin cans, string, and plywood. In Built for Speed he transforms these materials into constructions that refer to nothing in particular but become compelling for their obsessive attention to detail. In celebrating the post-minimal aesthetic where the precise geometry of minimalism is allowed to sag, twist and turn, they convey a feeling of having been a hoot to make. There is something redemptive and insistent about wresting order, even beauty from junk (CSU Los Angeles, Luckman Art Gallery, East Los Angeles)

Patrick Nickell, "Untitled," 1997,
cardboard/newspaper/ string/
masking tape/paint, 50 x 46 x 18".

Lorser Feitelson, "Untitled, Magical Space
Forms," 1948, oil on board, 37 x 47".
This survey of the development of Lorser Feitelson's hard edge painting aethetic begins with the surrealist influenced Magic Forms of the mid-Forties and concludes about twenty years later with the abstractions that he is best known for. The elegance of these paintings, with their strong graphic imprint, is quite wonderful, even couched in the reductivist vernacular of that genre. The strength of his pictorial ability is such that even given a severely restrained palette, the push and pull of the forms is still present and is very much an animating force (Louis Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

This suite of late collage lithographs by Niki de Saint Phalle captures the exuberance of her flamboyant signature style of figures and landscapes. Playful, childlike figures cavort and fly through impossible terrains. Printed in a bright gamut of colors and with insets of reflective multi-hued material, they collectively represent a very good overview of St. Phalle's themes and motifs. Ranging from single figures to larger groups of elements, the map that these prints provide traces the breadth of Saint Phalle's poetic vocabulary (Herbert Palmer Gallery, West Hollywood).

Niki de Saint Phalle, "L'Ange Protecteur II,"
1998, lithograph, Versailles Ed. 6/8, 24 x 17".

Dan Burkholder, "Bench on Coast,"
pigment over platinum print, 6 x 9".
A fusion of digital and traditional photography has always been central to the work of Dan Burkholder. The manipulated negatives, which are finalized as platinum prints, never reference back to themselves as technical achievement, but move out to the subject matter. The dreamlike, surreal qualities pursued in the images are particularly moving in the landscapes hand in the multiple views of canoes on bodies of water (White Room Gallery, West Hollywood).

What does it mean for a woman to have, in Virginia Woolf’s words, "a room of one’s own?" And, if that were the case, what might come of it? Woolf provides an apt description for the responses of three women: "a creation owning a certain looking-glass likeness to life, though of course with simplifications and distortions innumerable." In The Women’s Room three artists offer their own takes. In Nilly Gill’s psychologically charged paintings, glass mirrors reflect objects both literally and symbolically. Although painted from installations constructed in her studio, they are best understood as rooms within the mind. Viewers can walk into rooms created by the other two artists. Patricia Patterson’s kitchen--with both props and paintings--captures the essence of the heart of a home in the Irish Aran Islands--or anywhere for that matter: the kitchen routine, the casual conversations, preparing food, sharing a meal. Anna O’Cain’s front porch appears to have materialized out of one of her photographic panels. The text from her mother’s letters etched onto these panels is clearly readable, but it is the familiar environment of the porch that entices you to sit, hold and read the actual pages of her mother’s manuscript. It all captures the rhythms of daily life (William D. Cannon Art Gallery, San Diego County).

The enormous scaled prints by Richard Misrach collectively titled On the Beach is one stunning exhibition. The unique printing process permits Misrach--a veteran at print manipulation--to achieve this remarkable tension between abstraction and acuity, between connotation and denotation. Scenes shot from above at a dead parallel plane to the surface of the image oscillate as colored expanses into which are suspended these tiny, yet acute figures of an isolated swimmer floating alone, or dozens of sun bathers.

Richard Misrach, "On the Beach #857-02,"
2002, chromogenic color print
49.5 x 96.6", edition of 5.

Taken in what would appear to be enviable travels to isolated beaches, the four- by over ten-foot prints present, for example, expanses of subtle teal that appears to shimmer from left to right as wind ridges the ocean. Floating on their backs so that their bodies are oddly parallel to our aerial viewing angle are single, supine bathers--perhaps actually there, perhaps digitally inserted, either way remarkably effective. These color fields, with all that their transcendent and optical allusions offer us besides beauty, convey a complex little narrative that you might read as the (threatened) bounty of nature revealed and preserved by the artist's eye and aided by state of the art technology. In another print, the mottled expanse is sand and the colored variation is comprised of so many splayed sun bathers. This is work that words do not justly evoke; it's one of the most visually and technically satisfying shows of the season (Grant Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills).

William Fisk, "Untitled
#30", o/c, 82 x 66" .
The advent of the photograph began what is known as the crisis of realism--artists having to ask themselves what is the purpose, beyond lulling us with technical skill, of representational painting. It better have some compelling rhetoric tucked in with all the virtuosity or into the suggested narrative in order to command our attention. Canadian William Fisk is nothing if not a masterful painter and draftsman. You stand in front of his paintings and watch with wonder as simple bands of monochromatic paint take life as bending, shiny metal gears, camera lenses, and the blades of nostalgic ‘50s room fans. It is all just flat, matte pigment that takes shape and dimension somewhere in our perceptual apparatus and its intense need to order and recognize. With a very limited palette of grays, whites, taupes, and nuanced blacks, Fisk paints one vintage gadget after another in huge scale isolated on a blanched ground.
Glistening old movie cameras. An absolutely sumptuous microscope that, for its size and isolation, assumes an unexpectedly totemic, anthropomorphic sci fi quality that, in a deadpan way, both celebrates and sanctions science. A stunning dial (as opposed to touch tone) pay phone with the receiver off the hook and all the innocent signage about 10 cent calls summons up nostalgia for the past and will put you in mind of the inexorable progress of technology. Fisk is astute: all these gadgets have an immediate appeal to folks in the film and tech arenas, and these are certainly "what's not to love," easy-to-digest beauties. Does the endeavor fully circumvent the crisis of realism and go beyond seducing us with technique? The jury is still out (Forum Gallery, West Hollywood).

The fresh appearance of Wendell Gladstone's paintings is definitely due to the inclusion of large sculptural narratives tethered to them. What starts out on the wall as simple acrylic abstraction is soon background decor for large cartoonish 3-D constructions. The artist's narrative of being attacked by wild dogs stretches out over four large works in the main gallery, but a larger formal quandry is being presented. In an age when Laura Owens gets away with monkey business at the museum level, is the role of the emerging artist akin to an emerging consumer corporation? Gladstone seems too focused on establishing brand name recognition and market share to be breaking aesthetic boundaries or engaging in compelling self-definition. Of course, it helps young thirty-somethings to have handsomely presented shows such as Gladstone's, slick and obvious as their ultimate motive may be (Roberts & Tilton Gallery, West Hollywood).

Wendell Gladstone, "Boys With Dogs,"
2002, enamel on plastic with textiles
and acrylic on canvas, 70" x 82" x 51"

Peter Wegner, installation view
of his current show at Griffin.
Peter Wegner continues his studies of language and form in works that draw from minimal and conceptual art practices well as from concrete po-etry. These precise color studies take their point of departure from the names of various paint colors. Wegner plays with the color names and the various tones in pieces that are visually composed of 67 shades of blue or 73 tones of red. Following a strict format that is reminiscent of the color chips one takes from paint stores, Wegner’s paintings become three dimensional collages in which elements of color and language are juxtaposed. The simple primary colors of red, blue and yellow become so much more in Wegner’s systematic study of these elements (Griffin Contemporary, Venice).

Christian Marclay makes artworks about sound. He is well known for his collages that juxtapose numerous album covers to create both visual and conceptual puns. A diverse artist as well as musician, Marclay explores "the space between what we hear and what we see." In this, his first museum survey, his video, sculpture and photographic works are consistently witty, if not always richly so. Video Quartet is an installation work that juxtaposes musical fragments from movies to create an aural as well as cinematic symphony across four screens. It person-nifies Marclay’s humorous and intelligent core. What might at first be seen as an obvious one liner resonates with irony and wit long after being viewed (UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Christian Marclay

Allan Sekula, "Dripping black
trapezoid (Lendo, 12/22/02),"
2002-03, Cibachrome, ed. of 5, 41 x 29".
Allan Sekula makes enigmatic documentary photographs that reference events that have had a political or environmental impact on the world. In his latest body of work Black Tide/Marea Negra he documents the impact of the devastating oil spill that occurred off the coast of Spain in November, 2002. The images depict the effected area as well as the workers who were responsible for the clean-up. Accompanying the photographs is a text Fragments for an Opera that imagines the restaging of the events 30 years in the future. This narrative articulates the imagined political consequences of the disaster (Christopher Grimes, Santa Monica).

The genre of fine art documentary photography is a crowded field. The difficulty in assessing quality in this category is akin to choosing one reality television show over another--the networks have done most of the work just culling from a seemingly endless supply of potentials. Since local galleries can be relied upon to guarantee the pleasant presentation of even the grittiest of recorded experiences, viewers get to safely sample the edges of society without getting their loafers scuffed. To qualify this genre as serious, many photographers, such as Christina Fernandez, focus on the absolutely mundane, seeking a meditative poetry which recomposes the painfully ordinary for the affluent set.

Christina Fernandez,
"Lavanderia #1," 2002, c-print.
The facades of East L.A. laundromats (pardon me, lavanderias), in all their scratched glass and drywalled authenticity, are the subject of Fernandez' current series of properly framed and hung photographs. Without a trace of irony or commentary, these heady affirmations of theory long for a sincerity that never quite convinces (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).