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November, 2003

As the Walt Disney Concert Hall opens, a spectacular exhibit illuminates the creative evolution of the controversial architect who has come to be, over time venerated and vilified for building designs that have quite literally been on the cutting edge. Frank Gehry’s incorporating of plebian materials such as chain link fencing and corrugated steel has earned him kudos and derision, but this exhibit of 12 built, never built. and projects-in-progress displays the mark of an undisputed genius. Based on architectural models that are a far cry from the overly prettified stuff one usually sees, the show is engaging and accessible even to those who regard the design and fabrication of buildings as one of the last mysteries of the planet.

Frank Gehry, "Astor Place Hotel" model,
2001, mixed media, Gehry Partners, LLP.
Photo: Whit Preston
Gehry’s sketches, computer-aided drawings, videos and photographs augment the models. Looking at Gehry’s signature swooping rooflines, discarded candy wrapper facades and finely crafted site plan models (eat your heart out Louise Nevelson), audiences get a true feel for the creative and practical process of architecture (Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown. Two photography exhibitions opening this month also focus on the new Hall as subject: Grant Mudford [Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica], and former City Attorney Gil Garcetti [G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, West Hollywood]).

Eadweard Muybridge, "Animal
Locomotion, Plate 344" (detail).
Eadweard Muybridge’s famous stroboscopic images of human and animal locomotion made in the late 19th century have been long regarded as the immediate predecessors of moving pictures. Some of the finest of these experiments are on view from archival negatives, including simultaneous shots of battling men and galloping horses. Truly exquisite, if out of character, is Dancing Fancy, in which sequential body moment echoes the sequential flow of drapery. Also unusual but fine are shots like Tisayac, which the artist made of Yosemite's snow-capped peaks (Michael Dawson Gallery, Hollywood).

The prolific Bill Barminski is a skilled painter and a witty linguist who takes icons from popular culture and makes them into something else. In Is this Important? he calls himself and his process into question by creating a comic-strip-like commentary on the paintings and how they can be viewed and interpreted. Usually when an artist steps back and critiques the role of an artist it fails, but Barminski does not take himself that seriously in this particular endeavor. The dialogue between a father and son looking at the paintings on the wall is hilarious. In addition to the cartoon commentary, Barminski’s numerous new paintings assume a variety of styles. While classic Barminski iconography is present--eg., two-mouthed figures-- there are also abstract works as well as language paintings that use corporate logos as their point of departure.

Bill Barminski, “Face",
2003, oil on canvas.
In a typical Barminski show there is a book as well as well as a video or interactive project. This time he has created a limited edition artist’s book and a new interactive DVD. The work functions as well on the screen as in the gallery, and is creatively specific to each medium. This exhibition excels at both (Robert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica).

Dale Chiuly, "Macchia Grouping,"
1981, blown glass,
4 x 6 x 4" / 8 x 11 x 7" / 6 x 7 x 6".
Photo: Teresa N. Rishel
Gallery-artist arrangements can have a direct bearing on the specific work you encounter when visiting exhibitions. And unusually illustrative instance took place when L.A. Louver Gallery recently announced that they will handle Dale Chihuly's large public peices--such as instllations like Chihuly Over Venice (sculptural objects spanning the Venice, Italy canals), whereas Frank Lloyd Gallery will now handle discrete objects. To commemorate this switch, Lloyd is featuring Chihuly works dating all the way back to the 1970s that have been drawn from the artist's own collection. It is easy to see why these were held back by Chihuly. Some of his most magnificent vessel and "basket" shapes blown, glazed and designed to achieve the fluid, irregular translucence of sea life are on view. Anyone who loves glass as medium cannot afford to miss this remarkable work (Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).

Arc of an Idea: Chasing the Invisible, A 35-Year Survey of works by Eugenia Butler traces the career of the Los Angeles-based conceptual artist know for her language based works during the 1960s and 1970s. She now uses those earlier strategies to make more object oriented work. Dealing with perception as a set of ideas as well as a physical attribute, her art embodies the study of this as a scientific phenomenon. As her works combine scientific as well as aesthetic concerns, it is often obtuse and not always that visually charged. Given its limitations, language art was an important component of aesthetic conceptualism a generation ago, and this exhibition clarifies Butler’s contribution to that movement, while also juxtaposing it with the more visual and gestural work she is making now (Otis College of Art, Ben Maltz Gallery, West Side).

Eugenia Butler
"Structural Lens", 2001.

Marina Moevs, "Moon,"
2003, o/c, 78 x 48"

Marina Moevs' spare yet romantic paintings depict the barely inhabited but carefully tended fields that lie beyond urban America. Time is abbreviated. You feel the boom of an approaching storm. The House Next Door begins to rise into a swath of mist, and what was a mysterious fuzz in the distance now begins to swallow everything. These landscapes question the place of human beings in the world. Because the edges of trees, houses and clouds are equally softened, every object has a quality of belonging (Koplin Del Rio Gallery, West Hollywood).

Combining the topicality of the present moment with the stylistic tradition of India, twins Amrit and Rabindra Singh have gained traction in the international art world for a not very surprising aesthetic hybrid that is executed with outstanding commitment and skill. Natives of the UK from an Indian Sikh family, they apply their experience and familiarity with popular Western culture to Indian stylistic tradition in ways that immediately call the art of Masami Teraoka to mind. This is well conceived and solidly grounded work, with their knowledge of Hindu mythology serving as a means to, for example, consider our modern cult of sports celebrity (Riverside Museum and UC Riverside, Riverside).

The Singh Twins, "Nyrmla's
Wedding II," 1985/6
Poster colour, gouache and
gold dust on mount board.

"King Songstsen Gambo",
Tibet, ca. 13th century.
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, built about 500 years ago by the 5th Dali Lama, is a stunning mountain stronghold from which an equally stunning array of Buddhist devotional objects, decorative artifacts and fine art has been drawn for this exhibit. The approximately 200 objects and photographs on display generally load up the visual opulence and, in many cases, are cultural touchstones. Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World thrives on our feeling for the exotic and purports to illuminate the culture of a country with a benign and sympapthetic profile (Bowers Museum, Orange County).

Think of foreign officials entering the U.S. State Department, into a setting flavored by American art and decorative objects dating from before and shortly after the birth of the Republic. These objects convey an atmosphere not of imperial grandiosity but of the roots of democracy, with an additional patina of history and tradition. In Becoming a Nation: Americana from the U.S. Department of State a selection of these early works are detached from their normal setting to invite our judgment on their own merits; and make no mistake, these are elite and sophisticated objects of their day (Fresno Metropolitan Museum, Fresno).

"Pair of Empire Mantel Vases," France,
possibly Paris, ca. 1810-1830.

Marc Burckhardt, "Iggy Pop".
Typical of shows that play with the boundaries of art making, The Greatest Album Covers The Never Were presents not only this marginally fine art format--album designs--but cleverly selects those designs that did not make the cut. They did not make to cover because in them the artist pushed the creative envelope in a way that challenged wide range popular appeal. For example, a bleeding, be-thorned Jesus illustrated to look as if he is carved from wood spouts the words "Jesus loves Iggy and the Stooges." It is this very weirdness and edge that makes this stuff perfect fodder for our consideration in a gallery, reiterating again the Post Modern idea that high and low are one.
Also included are rare album covers by artists who do not do this sort of thing: Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Robert Frank, Ruscha and others. This is fun, and worth the visit for the art that might have been (Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica).

Dennis Hopper’s new photographs are of beautiful women in beautiful clothes in beautiful places. Entitled Haute Couture, these images are about luxury and the ability to travel to exotic places with an entourage to make beautiful images. The scenery does compete with the subjects, who often are scantily clad. Is the focus of the photograph the woman? Or the setting? While both are of course fantastic, how Hopper frames and crops and presents the images makes them more than meets the eye. Hopper has been making photographs for many years and while these color images are certainly geared to the Hollywood crowd, they still have aesthetic qualities that make him a serious photographer. In the back room are Peter Alexander’s studies for his Disney Hall mural project. These very retinal paintings are abstract interpretations of light and water (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).

Dennis Hopper, "Untitled
(Tropical Attraction, Paris)," 2002,
chromogenic print, ed. 3, 40 x 26".

Dinh Q. Le, "Untitled (Tom Cruise & Willam
Dafoe,Born on the 4th of July/Highway 1)," 2000,
photograph - c-print and linen tape, 40" x 60".
Dinh Q. Le’s newest photographic works weave together historic images from Vietnam and Hollywood’s portrayal of the Vietnam War. These rich photographs fuse fact and fiction, calling into question how wars are interpreted over time and through the media’s lens. Portraits and images of Vietnamese soldiers are juxtaposed with actors playing roles in films about the war. Le’s process is to make two large-scale photographic images that he then cuts apart and weaves together. This process references the weaving of traditional grass mats that, as a child, Le watched his aunt create. Born in Vietnam, Le still spends half his time there and continues to draw on the relationship between his native culture and contemporary media in his works (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica)

Parrot Talk: A Retrospective of Works by Kim MacConnell is a dynamic and colorful exhibition curated by Michael Duncan. It traces MacConnell’s career as one of the key figures in the Pattern and Decoration movement beginning in the ‘70s. P & D was a reaction to both minimalism and abstract expressionism. It allowed artists to delight in surface embellishment and bright color, and the post-Pop adherents did not shy away from the influence of design, furniture, as well as decorative arts. MacConnell’s works here are cheerful and vibrant. They often break the compositional boundaries of the rectangle, and make free and playful use of collage, fabric as well as photographic elements.

Kim MacConnell, "Funiture Installation,"
1978-2003, mixed media, dimensions vary.
Over the years his aesthetic preference has swung from minimal to maximal and back. While there is no explicit trajectory in this retrospective exhibition that clearly summarizes what the artist has achieved to date, the case is made that MacConnell personifies P & D’s capacity to allow art to party without turning flaccid (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Julia Margaret Cameron came to photography during the Victorian period, a time when few women were creating, and even fewer artists of any gender were exploring the fine art potential of the camera with Cameron's craft and sensitivity. Evocative, romantic portraits of her era's free thinking literati--Tennyson, Carlyle--and her moody portraits of friends and family posed in pseudo classical moods are simply lovely. This is the last leg of a major traveling show whose works were NOT drawn entirely from the museum’s own impressive cache of Cameron works, but from other major European and American collections (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).

Karou Mansour’s works are exquisitely crafted, delicate works of gray-black plant shapes interacting with tiny, brightly colored geometric shapes, delicate crisp lines and minute, collage material. A spirit of investigation and experimentation comes to fruition in these intriguing works. Direct photocopies of leaves, seed pods or baby grape clusters etc. find their way from the outer edges onto a pale yellow background that is subtly modulated, sometimes with a crackle glaze, sometimes with slightly darker ochre floating rectangles. Layered under rice paper and acrylic gel medium, they seem to be embedded in a mysterious three dimensional translucent layer. The works are hung in series of fours, tens and pairs of two that read like a frieze around the gallery (San Diego Mesa College Art Gallery, San Diego).

Karou Mansour, "IRO #226," 23" x 23",
mixed media on wooden panel.