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June, 2004

Julie Heffernan, "Stone Woman,"
2004, oil on canvas, 66 x 60".
The artist’s self-portrait and High Renaissance stylization make Julie Heffernan’s paintings both archaic and striking in their appearance. Various floating elements produce a powerful note of magic and, more importantly, signal that these are not mere polished baubles, but considered collisions and fusions of pre-modern religious and moral symbolism with contemporary notions of psychology and personal identity (Paul Kopeikin Gallery, West Hollywood).

To Hell in a Handbasket: Recent Catastrophes and Moral Dilemmas are the latest paintings on panel by self-taught artist Joseph Bertiers, done in that tight, naive style that combines folk art and mass media we've come to expect. Bertiers has never left his Kenyan village, and his sources remain precisely the same, TV and pulp magazines. An undeniable, defusing charm describes everything that preoccupies the artist, from serious to mundane: war, terrorism, natural disaster and, of course, celebrity scandal (Track 16, Santa Monica).

Joseph Bertiers, "Sad Moment for Saddam," 2004.

Maria Tomasula, "The Music of
Chance," 2004, oil on panel, 48 x 36".
In her still life paintings, Chicago based Maria Tomasula references her Mexican Catholic roots but with the same strange intensity and penchant for the macabre you find in magic realist literature by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: bleeding hearts, disembodied hands, dripping tears, halos of butterflies, birds and serpents suggest good and evil, the exhilaration of faith and a strange intense zeal that is more about humanity than religion. As with Latin writer Marquez, the line between devotion/redemption and pure hallucination seems sometimes thin, but you are always kept interested by the unassailable technique with which these surreal still lives are executed. It is the super reality of the subject matter and the incandescent precision of the technique tha makes the work more than rehash (Forum Gallery, West Hollywood).

This is a must see show for any person interested in the foundations of Modernist ideas that extended avant garde aesthetics and geometric abstraction into the production of functional objects. Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) and Jean Prouvé (1901-1984) made their debuts in this arena in Paris during the 1920s. Though these names do not possess the lustre of Walter Gropius or Le Corbusier (Perriand worked with him), they were pivotal figures in avant garde design. Both played a key role in advancing ideas that germinated in Russia in the early years following the Bolshevic revolution, and at the Bauhaus in the 1920s: namely, humble materials like bent wood and corrugated metal incorporated into remarkably clean geometric designs for utopian products that would, in theory, elevate all who envisioned, produced and used them.

Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte
Perriand, Bookcase Equip-
ment de la Maison, 1946-49.
Perriand, a furniture and interior designer, is best known for sleek forms created with innovative materials such as copper and steel, and Prouvé collaborated on cutting edge chairs, room dividers, lamps, bookshelves and other beautifully designed objects (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).

Peter Shire, "Birkenbag," 2002, earthenware/glazes/stainless
steel, 30 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 5 3/4".
A sculpture park installation by Peter Shire makes the most of the basic geometric elements that have long served as his post-Constructivist foundation. The presence of these playfully eclectic totems provides a dialogue with high fantasy in the midst of a business park environment. In this setting, his robot-like stainless steel figures, balanced precariously atop ladders and chairs, beg to be read as a wry comment on the current economic scene. Meanwhile, in a gallery setting Shire’s signature teapots appear in their current incarnation. Functionality collides dramatically with the playful illogic--so much so that you will often wonder just what you are looking at (The Art Art Project, Valley, and Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).

Reginald Pollack may have painted with an overload of romantic bombast, but, boy, he could paint. A field of impastoed pigment often served as an activity center to let loose his imagination, with a seemingly endless stream of celestial dramas floating and in constant flux. The visual ideas can be uneven, but when it is on the mark, the work is highly charged with a very distinctive touch capable of catalyzing the viewer’s musings (East L.A. College, East Los Angeles).

Reginald Pollack, "Brave New
World," oil on panel, 24 x 32".

"Rainer Variations," 2002, video still with
Yvonne Rainer (l.) and Richard Move (r.).
Yvonne Rainer is well know as a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater in 1962. Trained as a modern dancer, she was active in Minimalist happenings. Her collaborations with visual artists included Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Morris. She segued from dance to film in the 1970's, making numerous works that explored the relationships between men and women from a feminist perspective. Her films, including Film About a Woman Who (1974), The Man Who Envied Women (1985) and Privilege (1990) are seminal works of avant garde filmmaking. The exhibition Yvonne Rainer, Radical Juxtapositions, 1961-2002 explores the relationships between her works in dance and film in a presentation of notes, documentation and excerpts from her forty year career.
While the exhibition at first glance may appear to be didactic and historical, as the majority of the materials in the show document past endeavors, its is in fact a view of the artist though process (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Hollywood).

Norwegian painter Per Fronth is both a professional painter and a highly regarded photojournalist. The two orientations--precise observation of humanity; deeper symbolic questions about who we are and where we are headed--are apparent in this body of work. His paintings--some quite large, others so intimate you need to move up close to get the impact--often incorporate the look of photography with the very expressive, introspective musings we expect from a Nordic perspective.

Per Fronth, "Evolution of Melancholy," 2003,
phototransfer with oil on canvas, 88 x 136".
Linking man to animal, commenting obliquely on Darwin and the human conditon in Evolution of Melancholy, Fronth depicts a row of entwined naked, hairless men who hunch and rise like that prototypical picture in all 1950s primers showing evolution from primate to man. The raw red tinge of the hairless, elongated bodies against a strong blue ground (which look a little like Cibachrome hues) is representative of the melancholic, existentialist chord struck throughout (Keller & Greene Contemporary Fine Art, West Hollywood).

Steven Albert, "Rameses,"
2004, oil on canvas, 20 x 24".
Steven Albert calls his show Egyptian Still Lifes, and the titles reference the kind of sites that are easy to imagine, but in fact these intimate canvases communicate the subject via the surfaces of stone, shafts of light, textures and edges moving in and out of shadow without depicting actual sites. It is clear that Albert has been inspired by monuments such as the tomb of Rameses, but what he records is abstract expression at its best, since we are given a feel for scale, permanence, spirituality, the silence of the desert, and the stoppage of time mainly through the formal elements of plane, surface and line. The source of these abstractions are, quite simply, still life objects--paper bags, cardboard boxes-- arranged, framed and zeroed in on in such a way as to find the grand and timeless in the utterly banal (Koplin Del Rio Gallery, West Hollywood).

Dorothea Lange came into prominence as a photographer working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in the 1930's. Her images of migrant workers and poor families showed a sensitivity and compassion that was able to communicate the need for reform. Lange worked as a photojournalist for Life Magazine in the 1950s, going on assignment in the United States and abroad. This exhibition presents images ranging from those Lange made while working as a FSA photographer to the later explorations of landscape subjects. Both confirm her stature of on of the key American photographers (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica).

Dorothea Lange, "Untitled (Woman sitting
on stool at counter), Richmond CA," ca.
1950's, silver galtin print, 8 3/4 x 3 3/4".

"Where We Live: Outside and In" installation
view: Rebecca Niederlander, floor sculpture;
Blue McRight-, small oil paintings; Bill
Radawec, small sculpture; Elizabeth
Pulsinelli-, ramed drawings; Jared Pankin,
big wall sculpture with palm trees.
Where We Live: Outside and In is an insightful group show curated by Kristina Newhouse. The exhibition traces the relationship between fact and fiction in the built and the natural landscape. The works juxtapose fragments of the real, as in Jared Pankin sculptures that combine trees, rocks and wood in fantastical arrangements, with Blue McRight's small surreal oils on paper, where special attention is paid to tasks like watering the grass or to items like a single lawn chair. Bill Radawec's small constructions present groups of people in architectural spaces, while Eli Pulsinelli draws well known examples of residential architecture into which she incorporates patterns and decorative motifs. Rebecca Niederlander's floor sculpture also plays with the real and the imagined in the form of rocks covered with moss created from bits of colored papers. The works here play off of each other and together create a complex picture of the world (Overtones, West Los Angeles).

The “ties that bind” have been a component of art production at least as far back as the Prehistoric era in Japan when Jomon (cord marked) earthenware gained strength from rope-like coils that resemble Shinto shimenawa, plaits designating the sacred. Much more recently Eva Hesse tossed a loop of rope out on the gallery floor from a slender rectangular frame in Hang Up. New York artist Arlene Shechet retains the sense of beauty of raw materials exhibited in the Jomon style and the ritual purity of Shinto while moving beyond Hesse’s frame to tie directly into the architectural space her work inhabits in Out of the Blue.

Arlene Shechet, "Out of the Blue" (detail of
installation), 2004, cast crystal, variable sizes.
She casts strands of pale blue crystal and “threads” them inside the gallery, creating the illusion of stitching walls together. Think Zen, Alice in Wonderland, embracing the void. In addition, Shechet also presents a series of works on paper and stacked glass sculptures based on the floor plans and structures of Buddhist temples. These graceful pieces work tangentially to the installation (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, "Study after Giovanni
Battista Tiepolo: Immaculate Conception (from the
Aracoeli)," 1760-61, black chalk on paper, 17 3/4 x 13".
Courtesy The Norton Simon Foundation.
If Jean-Honoré Fragonard were not such a darn good painter, we might get a tad annoyed by the insipid Rococo paintings he turned out at the height of 18th century aristocratic decadence, like the famous Swing. He studied in Italy and at age 28 was recruited by an Abbe to copy masterworks from churches and other sources. Two things are apparent from works on view here: first, he is a divine draftsman; second, his sensual, suggestive imagination cannot be repressed in works like the Oedipal seduction called Venus Conquered by Love (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena).

Julia Margaret Cameron’s aspirations to’“ennoble Photography and to accrue for it the character and uses of High Art. . .” seem to be in line with Photographers of Genius’ mission to elevate this show to a loftier realm than the ground floor galleries that house it. Cameron’s portrait is among those hung high enough to signify hagiolatry along the introductory timeline, with abridged bios of the thirty-eight designated geniuses. Ranging from Hippolyte Bayard through Diane Arbus, all are deemed to have “advanced the art of photography and, in the process, changed the course of art.” How this was accomplished is explained and illustrated with carefully culled, often iconic photographic specimens from the Getty’s unarguably deep collection. Organized into seven segments, opening with a salute to the invention of photography, the exhibition concludes with the work of modern geniuses able to’“reconcile strongly opposing ideas about form and emotion.” Although only a three or four works by each designee are on display for this show, a wealth of related events and publications encourage viewers to reach beyond this “Best of Friends” sampling. Or you could just buy the”“genius” tee shirt (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).