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March, 2004

Joel Meyerowitz, "September 25,
2001, The Twin Towers,"
2001, color photograph.
If a single photographer emerged as the conveyor of the aftermath of the World Trade Center atrocity it is Joel Meyerowitz. By his own account the restricted access to the site galvanized his desire to create “an archive for the City of New York, which would describe the impact of the devastation. . .” The Museum of the City of New York named Meyerowitz the official archivist, and this selection of 28 from among the thousands of images he recorded deal with the scale of destruction and the uncompromisingly unselfish response on the part of the emergency workers who labored around the clock to clear the site. While aesthetically restrained, no technical pyrotechnics would have served the highly emotional nature of the subject. Thankfully, Meyerowitz chose to allow his eye to wander and thus found various levels on which to tell a story that we all take quite personally (Fresno Art Museum, Fresno).

John Klima's Toyworld utilizes the familiar technologies of games like Gameboy LCD screens and miniaturized worlds, but his manipulations skew them into the social and the political spheres of human interactions. These adult "toys" explore themes ranging from the bandwidth of verbal contact between the sexes (in Conversation Engine four characters have a dynamically generated conversation as the train travels back and forth between stations) to the amount of superimposition media has forged between war games and real wars. In The Great Game an electric horse rocks back and forth in front of a LCD screen displaying 3D terrain maps gleaned from recent military operations in Afghanistan. Compelling in their content and formally quite absorbing, Klima's work conveys that the future is looming darkly (Bank, Downtown).

John Klima, “The Great Game,”
3D interface of conflict in Afganistan, collected
data from the Department of Defense.

Mark Bradford, "Los Moscos," (detail)
2003, 120 x 192", paper on canvas.
Mark Bradford and Glenn Kaino share an uninspired look at playing it safe as their emerging careers reach a critical stage. The attendant hoopla for this exhibit included a poster pullout in the L.A. Weekly, so regardless of quality, this show was a must see. Kaino gives us a pair of machines that spit neon green rubber balls at a very slow pace. After much waiting, the ball is hurled faster than can be seen onto a plexi wall causing either blue or yelow sand to drip from pre-drilled holes. The result: a noisey work that amounts to a variation on the hour glass. If this was in reference to an art star waiting for their big moment, at least Kaino could call this a self-portrait.
Bradford's work has, up to this point, been humorous without ever seeming contrived, but he turns suddenly conservative here, making large collages that look pretty and slick. He juxtaposes the cellophane papers used for hairdying with torn posters and signage fron the city. These darkly colored works radiate from numerous center points. They could be safely exhibited at any mall in America. After seeing his excellent video of playing basketball in a hoop skirt at Cal State L.A.'s FADE exhibition, it was shocking to see such a sudden regression. Perhaps Cal Arts is using this space to preach an art world version of compassionate conservatism (Gallery at REDCAT, Downtown).

The Last Picture Show: Artists Using Photography 1960-1982, curated by the Douglas Fogle from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, juxtaposes works by artists who use the photograph to document their activities and ideas. The premise here is that these works were not created by photographers per se, but by artists using photography. Its an old debate and one that infuriates many artists who use photography today. That said, the exhibition presents works of numerous conceptual, performance, and land artists, with works dating from the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, a period of search to to find viable alternatives to both photography and painting.

Bruce Nauman, "Bound to Fail,"
1966-67/1970, from a portfolio of 11
color photographs, 19 3/4 x 23 1/2".
The works chosen for the exhibiton range from the truly extraordinary, including images by European artists that are infrequently seen here, to less than stellar examples from familiar names such as William Wegman, Vito Acconci and John Baldessari. The show would better communicate its premise if more works were shown by fewer artists, but, if flawed, nonetheless traces an important trajectory in art (UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Robert Mapplethorpe, "Ken Moody and
Robert Sherman," 1984, gelatin silver print.
To inaugurate his new space, Marc Selwyn invited Los Angeles based photographer Catherine Opie to curate an exhibition of the work of the late Robert Mapplethorpe. Mapple-thorpe who died of AIDS in 1989, made striking and evocative mages that explored sexual taboos as well as the expressive power of carefully controlled shape and form. Opie's interest in Mapplethorpe stems from his ability to straddle different worlds. Her choice of images "reflects his exploration of sensuality, the body, still life, landscape and the intimacy between subject and photographer." The show presents familiar as well as seldom seen images.
The mix is the result of how one artist looks at the work of another, which happily gets us away from the basis of his historical standing in favor of still powerful aesthetic pungency (Marc Selwyn Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

It is sad that Kevin Boyle’s career is surveyed posthumously, but this guy deserves to be seen and given his due. Works in performance, conceptual photography and painting over a 25-year period included here display great imaginative freedom, strong technical control, and an exceptionally pragmatic mentality driving it all. Boyle may have “got” much of contemporary theory, but this work flows from a potently self-driven inner core (UCR/California Museum of Photography, Riverside).

Kevin Jon Boyle, "Untitled,"
Cibachrome Print, , ca. 1984.

Toshio Shibata, "Kawasakidaishi
Interchange, Shuto Expressway,"
1983, gelatin silver print, 16 x 20".
Toshibata Shibata is a well known Japanese landscape photographer. The works were made between 1983 and 1986, when he photographed 53 gas stations at night, in both the United States and Japan. The name of the series, taken from Hiroshige Ando’s 53 Stations of Tokaido, is a new interpretation of the 1830’s work. Shibata’s photographs also document a journey, yet his road is populated by anonymous gas stations and neon lit hotels. Shibata is a skilled photographer with a exacting eye for detail. His black and white images resonate at any scale, and these modestly scaled works confirm his place as one of Japan’s most thoughtful photographers (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

The five artists selected for this California Modernism exhibition represent a varied but embracing response to the artistic revolution that swept out of Europe following the disaster of the Great War. Mabel Alvarez, Edward Biberman, Boris Deutsch, Francis de Erdely, and Sueo Serisawa all came to maturity in Southern California during the period between the World Wars. Representative paintings by each serve primarily to gauge the measure they took of the new aesthetic (Spencer Jon Helfen, Beverly Hills).

Edward Biberman, "The Conversation,"
ca. 1940, oil on canvas, 24 x 12".

Erté (Romain de Tirtoff), "Zaza Costume
Sketch," 1920, gouache on paper, 12 x 9 3/8".

© Erté Estate / 2003 Sevenarts Limited,
London. All rights reserved.
Photo © 2003 Museum Associates/LACMA
It's camp, its over the top, but it is art at its most moderne. Erté/Opera and Ballet Russes features absolutely amazing costumes from turn of the century theater fashion in that pivotal 1910 decade when artists were defining modernity as a romping inter-media experiment. You may know about Picasso's celebrated involvement with dance (his marriage to ballerina Olga Khokhlova was his ticket into high society) and set design, and this show makes clear that indeed the design of costuming was a major proving ground for art isms diverse as the Fauves and the Cubists. Ballet Russes costumes run from the romantic-sappy to the shockingly avant garde and are designed by mainstays from Matisse to Sonia Delaunay. And if all that is not diva enough for you, there is a collection of costumes by Erté for musical revues that make the Baroque look tame; tremendous craft, great fun, and a painless early history of modernism (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, West Hollywood).

There has been a great push to investigate non-western art and craft, but nearly no push to include less PC indigenous voices. Canadian artist Jessie Oonark makes compelling contemporary art--faces, geometric compositions--using the flat mask patterns and longstanding marking traditions of the Inuit people. A self-taught artist who learned from Inuit, Oonark has spent the last fifteen years producing the brilliantly colored, ethnographically fascinating prints that comprise this traveling show (UCLA/Fowler Museum, West Los Angeles).

Jessie Oonark, “Power of Thought”, 1976,
Silkscreen on paper, 26 1/4 x 30 1/4”.
Courtesy of Arctic Inuit Art.

Janet MacKaig, "Halcyon," 2001, mixed media.
The constant harvesting of images is a routine part of her extensive travels, and when she gets back home Janet MacKaig works up collages through free association coupled with the visual residue from exotic locales she has been to. In them animals stand in for human protagonists, at least from the neck up, in settings that appear to be quite casual and pleasant. The images brush so close to becoming kitschy that the chuckles they evince may end up feeling like a guilty pleasure (Mt. San Antonio College Art Gallery, Pomona).

The sprawling L.A.: Light, Motion and Dreams hopes to give us a new perspective on our own zany city. As the title suggests, the show focuses on those things that make Los Angeles unique. The Motion section gives us a chronicle of the L.A. River and how it impacted the urban spread/car culture that is both our trademark and our frustration. The Dreams section traces, what else, entertainment and the lives that are made and broken against its lure. And finally, the Light section celebrates that strange, never quite a season weather that can take us from rain to summer, making us carefree and never quite sure where we are simultaneously. The Museum accomplishes this through an impressive, historically sound yet humorous array of about 300 objects, photos, artworks, films, video, ambient sounds and music.

Visitors immersed in a montage of audio and video, enabling multiple reflections on the city of Los Angeles and its dreams for the future.
Photo by Bernard Fougères, courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
The installation design itself is a work of art. A lot to plow through, but this will be fun (California Museum of Natural History, South Los Angeles).

Finally an endeavor that admits that art is not that Kantian hallowed ground, but taste making and business. Using documents, archival materials, photos, press clippings, personal letters that it would take mere mortals like ourselves a lifetime to compile, The Business of Art provides a peek at the complex machinations that create that ephemeral machine we call "art value." The documents span 400 years, and oddly enough make it clear that the more things change the more they stay the same: Whether the early 1600s or the late twentieth century, the rich and the educated have had an innate sense that collecting beautiful objects could be both enjoyable, prestigious and, yes, profitable. A historical eye opener that will change the way you see museum collections and exhibitions (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).