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December, 2003

Martha Alf, "New Glass City,"
2002, photograph, 19 3/4 x 23 3/4".
Martha Alf occupies a position as one of our pre-eminent realists. That's a limiting label because her isolated pears and other fruit have functioned as powerful symbols of beauty, decay and senescence, dealing with these complex ideas in ways more subtle and contemporary than the vanitas arrangements of the Dutch tradition. Alf has now turned her active eye to photographing the treasures around her that once formed part of her painted content. You will see lime green bowls, beautiful glass curios, now conveyed via lush color photos. These are visually stunning, but the resonance of creative cycles and the eternity of art is somewhat lost through this medium (Newspace Gallery, Hollywood).

The Photograph and the American Dream, 1840-1940 is organized by former gallerist Steven White around six themes ranging from immigration and American identities, to new frontiers and city scenes. Contrasts abound. A dark vernacular image of boys bent over by the tedious burden of work in the coal industry is the antithesis of the vertical lift of a chorus of skyscrapers and sailing masts captured by Bernice Abbot. The soft focus, re-photographed head of Abraham Lincoln gazes reassuringly under the theme, “All men are Created Equal,” contradicting images that appear elsewhere, such as the Brown Brothers Identifying Triangle Shirt Fire Victims, or a formal portrait of Samuel Morse, the self-made man who sought to keep Catholics, Jews and other “undesirables” out of America. Chinese immigrants who labored on the railroad never appear inside the frame of A. J. Russell’s Golden Spike Ceremony with Flag and Camera. Equally telling is the absence of the buffalo and Indians who will be run down by the mounted frontiersmen witnessing the historical event. Enjoy the exhibition for the aesthetic beauty of stunning images such as Margaret Bourke-White’s dramatically lit Stringing the Grand Piano, or seek out moments that bring the past into the present like Caravan and Barbecue in Topanga in1924. Along with the incongruous blond babe posed at a forge in Blacksmith, it reminds us that cars and attractive women have long been photographed in ways intended to excite viewers to buy into the American Dream (Skirball Cultural Center, West Los Angeles).

Bernice Abbot, "Theoline, Pier II, East River,
Manhattan, New York," 1936, silver print.

Brown Brothers, "Identifying Triangle
Shirt Fire Victims," 1914, silver print.

When Swiss artist Christoph Büchel produces an environment he loads up a space, and cuts no corners in the detailing. The absent occupant of the space seems to be thoroughly conceived is this very contemporary form of realism. Here military weaponry is scattered about in a warren of rooms, just waiting for you to discover the stuff as though hunting for Easter eggs. Oh neat, I found a bomb! (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Hollywood).

Christoph Büchel, "Untitled," 2003, installation view.
Photo: Christoph Büchel.

Melding a Boschian sensibility with modern technology, Scott Greene, in Past Presence, creates canvases both skillfully and with great beauty. Among the most eye-appealing is Can You ___ Me Now? consisting of a jungle of satellite dishes, layered, glazed, and evolving in front of a Garden of Paradise. Massive dishes emerge from an ancient and ornate Italian villa, with sheep marching by paralleling the rotund off-white dishes that are bursting out of the canvas. The wonder of Greene's paintings comes from his eloquence, precision and ability to pit together credible incongruities--bucolic nature and contemporary communication devices.

Scott Greene, "Zero Babel,"
2003, o/c, 54 x 28".
The work is rich with humor, zany combinations, odd references and, above all, a cacophony of imagery realized from an almost obsessive repetitiveness. Zero Babel is a space-age tower of dishes growing skyward like a huge bouquet, intertwined with green leaf and stem-like antennae. Largely circular imagery--balloon, bubble-like objects, such as the dish--endows each canvas with a visual rhythm that leaves you breathless.

John Brosio, "Silence,"
2003, o/c, 36 x 40".
John Brosio’s latest body of work, titled Reapers, turns out to be eerily timely. These paintings of tranquil, somewhat down-at-the-heels suburban houses about to be consumed by tornadoes possess the frightening beauty inherent in natural disasters. One becomes transfixed, a voyeur of sorts. Brosio keeps his palette dark, subtly layering paint onto canvas until objects and elements become luminous, almost three-dimensional. Only the light hues of a house or surrounding trees interrupt the ominous gloom, further underscoring the vulnerability of what man mistakenly deems solid and stable. Looking at Brosio’s work is a bit like listening to ghost stories in the dark: scary and yet compelling (Greenwood Chebithes Gallery, Orange County).

Career advice to Dustin Hofmann, in the 1967 film, The Graduate, is here updated in ways the screenwriter never would have imagined in Just One Word: Plastics. The show celebrates the unique nature of the plastic medium (what can it do that other mediums cannot do?), and art made from this brightly colored, taffy-pull type substance--the plasticity that gave the material its name. Ken Kelly's and Gina Han's canvases deal with the pouring ability of acrylic (plastic) paint. Commonly artists use acrylic as if it is oil, and one is often hard pressed to discern which is which. These artists leave no doubts. Kelly's art looks like melted red sugar splattered from candy apples, while Han pours pancake batter-like shapes, rather than use a brush, meticulously layering one color over another. Alex Blau creates wall sculpture that looks like three-dimensional candy wrappers and artificial coloring. Her work is constructed by melting together, piece by piece, a surface that is hard, shiny and dazzling in color. Davis and Davis render photographs of plastic figurines which, when captured on film, seem even more kitsch then ever. RT Pece, whose abstract images exhude a cartoon sensibility, may be the strongest works here. Using vivid colors and bright outlining, his work expresses a candy playfulness (Square Blue Gallery, Orange County).

Gina Han, "Pink/Purple I,"
2003, a/c, 48 x 46".

David Ryan, "NV 814MKR," 2003,
acrylic on wood and steel, 30 x 37".

Wu Wei, "Under Water
Series #8," 2001, o/c, 71 x 63".
The five artists included in the exhibition POP-VISION: Five Contemporary Pop Artists from China are Zhao Lixian, Liu Jian, Wang Yigang, Wang Guangyi, and Wu Wei. All five are currently living in China, and all make politically motivated and graphically charged works. The exhibition, guest curated by Mingfei Gao, focuses on three major trends in contemporary Chinese art: Political Pop, Cynical Realism and New Realism. The works here weave Chinese history as well as contemporary issues into dynamic commentaries on the present climate in China as well as more universally. The five constitute a diverse group and display substantial talent. Of note is Zhao Lixan’s portrait of a parent and child who gaze vacantly out at you. Wang Guanhyi’s graphic collages tellingly juxtapose the technological and the military (Cal Poly Pomona, Kellogg Gallery, Pomona).

Paintings of interiors by Bob Knox make an initial impression that is quite dry and expressionless. Figures are absent, though evidence of their recent presence appears in clearly visible but understated fashion—a casually placed coffee cup, a fire burning in the fireplace. Played off of these lucid and personal spaces are exterior nighttime urban scenes that assume a much broader point of view and delight in the fuzzy glare of artificial light (CSU Long Beach, University Art Museum, Long Beach).

Bob Knox, "Blue Poles", 2001, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 132".

Marina Forstmann Day, "Picnic,"
2002, mixed media, 24 x 27 1/2".
For over a decade Marina Forstmann Day has been honing assemblage/collage type work that, though it is a highly personal narrative, in the end is able to resonate with all of us. Her early collages and altered found maps addressed her childhood (and ours), and her journey from wife-to-mother-to-therapist-to-artist. By extension this work provokes reflection on our own journeys. Utilizing found objects and collected graphic materials mixed with increasingly skilled passages of hand applied paint, her work is intimate and crisp.
Tiny found visual images of plumed birds, Victorian women in classical garb are centrally placed and explode out of the center of a surface that's been stained, torn, and otherwise worked to look as if it is opening up a vortex of discovery--like a budding flower. There is a refinement to the person and her art such that elegance and restraint, a desire for symbol but a respect for process, rein in any sophomoric messiness this genre must battle against. Day is winning the battle (Don O’Melveny Gallery, West Hollywood).

Gregory Kucera’s video and photographically-based works, titled Tessellation Anxiety (a reference to the cubes present) display keen wit and conceptual complexity. The centerpiece here is a four monitor video installation in which the four sides of an intersection in downtown Los Angeles are presented simultaneously. Pedestrians pass by and cars move through the intersection. All at once, as if from nowhere, a figure floats though the space.

Gregory Kucera, "Eyeballer #5," 2003, ultra-
chrome print face-mounted on Plexiglas, 44 x 90".
All four images rotate 180 degrees, and we view the same scenario upside down. Kucera is interested in information overload and the small details that make each scene or setting different. He pairs his video work with a cube-shaped sculpture that physically presents all four sides of the intersection as well as a photographic work that reduces the colors in the video to an abstract linear composition. These works are presented in relation to a second videotape of a woman sitting in a chair in the corner of a room. The setting changes as if someone was clicking on a remote, and we see in turn various backgrounds go floating by. Kucera has paired this tape with a series of wall works in which the dot pattern of a halftone image of the scene depicted in the video is drilled into a piece of white plexiglass so as to make a three dimensional photograph (Angles Gallery, Santa Monica).

Enrique Martinez Celaya,
installation view.
The inaugural exhibition at this gallery’s spacious new digs presents large scale paintings and sculptures by Enrique Martinez Celaya. Entitled All the field is ours, this exhibition explores the theme of the individual in the environment. Celaya’s palette is always subtle, and his figures are silhouettes or ghost-like bodies who move in ambiguous spaces. Mythic in proportion, these evocative works take you on a spiritual journey (Griffin Contemporary, Santa Monica).

Among a trio of artists presented, Jason Salavon's conceptual riff takes a set of the most popular MTV videos and generalizes the color schemes from each frame to create starkly bland poster works. This keeps him within the historical methods of conceptual art without conceding anything to its procedural rigor. Likewise, Lew Baldwin's web "rips" strip the architecture of a number of major corporate websites down to a few superimposed frames and colors, creating an altogether new kind of designer logic. Meanwhile in the back room, Brody Conlon's illuminated light box sits on the floor with a group of rigid, stuffed domestic animals that stare eerily at one another down in the funky light (Bank, Downtown).

Jason Salavon, "Express Yourself" from "MTV's
10 Greatest Music Videos of All Time," 2003,
digital C-print mounted on plexiglas, 27 x 38".

"Love and Joy About Letters", works by Mirella
Bentivoglio and Ben Shahn , installation view.
The work of Mirella Bentivoglio has long been of interest in Europe and Japan for her pioneering work in "poesia visiva" (visual poetry.) In her paradoxical use of letter forms to evoke simultaneous literal meaning and figured meaning, often there is a strong sense of humor and a delightful mastery of the power of the negative space surrounding the letters themselves. Historian Frances Pohl has conjugated Bentivoglio's more experimental work with examples from the graphic output of figurative painter Ben Shahn in which letters (including some invented forms as well) and writing are a central protagonist.
Between Bentivoglio's tantalizing objects and images and Shahn's powerful graphic images, there is much to be joyful about (Pomona College Museum of Art, Pomona)

Architects Giuseppe Lignano and Ada Tolla, professionally known as LOT-EK, have piggybacked the economy of modular housing onto the mobility of shipping containers to create a new model for fully functional portable living spaces. The prototype is parked outside the exhibition hall, accommodating visitors who walk through, peer into closets, pop open drawers and picture themselves at home in this efficient Mobile Dwelling Unit. The MDU ships in its standard 8’ wide, 9’6’ high, 40’ long container.

Lot-ek, "Mobile Dwelling Unit," 2002, computer
generated image of proposed project.
However, sub-volumes holding bathing, cooking and sleeping sections push out like the legs of a turtle, expanding the living area when the unit is delivered and tied down. A narrated, virtual Broadway Boogie-Woogie of primary colored containers animates gigantic split screens positioned inside the gallery, while blueprint drawings and text panels hug the walls and document the details. Of particular note are the computer assisted drawings depicting the implementation and transportation of container aggregations (UC Santa Barbara, University Art Museum, Santa Barbara).

Risk Castinado, "Eden," 2000, developing chemicals on light-sensitive paper, 21 x 40".

Risk Castinado’s powerful and sensuous easel-sized “paintings,” titled The Inside of My Brain, spin illusions. They are paintings in quotes because the medium is photo chemical on light-sensitive paper. They are also hand-made, with no intervening camera or computer. The vocabulary of small organic and linear forms bear an abstract resemblence to vegetation or internal organs, and also conveys a feeling of deep space. The rhythm of metamorphosis, of transitional movement from one sequence of shapes to another, gives free play to your imagination (Brand Library Art Galleries, Glendale).

Charles Garabedian, "Eurymedon, Chyses, Nephalion & Philolaus," 1992-94, acrylic on paper, 39 1/2 x 83".

Certainly recognized internationally if not on the tip of everyone's tongue in his home town, Charles Garabedian turns 80 and gets a thorough survey of large scale paintings, contextualized alongisde a rarer and very fine and comprehensive look at works on paper and cardboard. They commingle Greek myths, loose abstraction, Pop inspired figuration, personal memory and intuitive process all run rampant. The venue helps the viewer see the serious arc of conception and effort in works that can seem whimsical and effortlessly lush. Born in Detroit, raised in East L.A., a World War II veteran, Garabedian's non-art life experience and vast reading pour into colorful Surrealist-based abstract and representational works rife with literary, religious and mythological allusions. Culver City after the Flood (1979) shows a caricaturish sea monster rising from the waters to engulf a quaint L.A. structure, while works on cardboard like Adam and Eve strike a more universal tone (CSU Los Angeles, Luckman Gallery, East Los Angeles).

Lari Pittman’s distinct painting style fuses linear, graphic and cartoon-like elements. These colorful paintings are densely packed with visual as well as textual information, and it takes both close and distant viewing to fully survey them. The six new paintings here are his most complex to date. The large scale works are enigmatic and perplexing. Once one finds an entry point, however, Pittman’s design skills lead your eye through a journey of shapes and figures that intertwine and mingle throughout each composition. Hidden within the larger forms, room interiors, furniture and seascapes are smaller vignettes that explore sexual and cultural sub-themes. Pittman is a masterful painter whose purposely flat works vibrate with formal and expressive intensity (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).