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September, 2004

George Segal, "1964-6," 1964, pastel.
The retrospective exhibition celebrates the achievement of a prominent artist over the course of a career, but how often do you see a director-spective? That what 1973 to 2004, The Glenn Years tackles in honoring the miraculous 31-year career of Constance W. Glenn, sort of the John Wooden of University Art Museums. As director of the University Art Museum at CSU Long Beach during that time she trained numerous successful museum curators and directors, developed a distinguished university collection, produced memorable on campus programs and symposia, and, most publicly, staged a critically well received exhibition program year after year. An exhibition intended to reprise such a history is necessarily biting off more than it can chew, but this is a celebratory gathering of selected work from the likes of Lucas Samaras: Photo-Transformations,
The Great American Pop Art Store, Tom Wesselmann: The Early Years and gobs more that conveys the sheer scope of Ms. Glenn’s achievement. A 1977 show of George Segal: Pastels is recreated in the midst of all this (CSU Long Beach, Long Beach).

To single out women artists in a show dedicated exclusively to them may be a bit archaic these days, but during the period focused on in A Woman’s Touch, between 1910 and 1950, women enjoyed minimal acceptance or recognition for their professional achievements. This small exhibition evidences that, in spite of that lack, female artists of a century ago more than held their own against male peers. They were able to move, for the most part, beyond Impressionism and stereotypical plein-air painting, putting their stamp on portraiture, still lifes, generic scene painting, abstraction and, in the rare case of Jessie Arms Botke, art deco. Botke’s brilliantly hued, gilt-enhanced depictions of birds and flora against Chinoiserie-inspired backgrounds are alone worth the trip.

Jesse Arms Botke, "Macaw and Coctoos".
Some painters, like Elsie Palmer Payne ,were married to fellow artists who still are better known than they. Married to plein-air painter Edgar Payne, Elsie stuck to watercolor painting in order not to compete with her husband, but after separating from him she painted in oil and in such riotous hues as to give the phrase “gay divorcee” new meaning. Marion Wachtel’s work also shows that her talent compares favorably to that of husband Elmer. A peerless colorist, her watercolor paintings lack none of the flair and drama of his plein-air oils. Even though this show is stylistically diverse, a mastery of compositional elements remains consistent. With minor exceptions it offers a number of quality works that might have once been overlooked or otherwise anonymously lumped into the vast store of Impressionist and plein-air painting (Irvine Museum, Orange County).

Charles Christopher Hill,
"Lines," 2004, a/c, 6 x 5".
When Charles Christopher Hill works out an exhibition title he sure means it. Sprials, Dots and Lines are just than, and done on eensy little canvas of around 6 inches. The formal simplicity gains visual richness with Hill’s trademark layering, here using paint of various hues separated by applications of acrylic and commercial floor varnish. Simple as these little geometric arrangements are, Hill constantly draws on a variety of art historical sources to feed the engagement. The idea is not that you should be able to see the hidden references, but that life emanates from objects whose size and elementary artlessness should be dull and boring (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica).

Vigorous figurative elements intertwine and twist aggressively through abstract space in Acton Chin’s current series, Forever Existence. Power and vitality are conveyed, but so is vulnerability and mortality. The series was directly stimulated by 9/11, and stands as an expression of personal horror and resistence. The history of this Chinese native (Chin emigrated to the U.S. during the 1980s) has been to mix a surrealist sensibility with a fascination for mixed cultural symbols. The current more formally unified work may be the result of an emotional shock that hit millions very hard.

Acton Chin, "Forever Existence I," 2004,
mixed media on canvas, 52 x 92".
But the ironic payoff is that this may have freed Chin to imbue deeply felt personal principles more directly into his painting (Absolute Art Gallery, Pasadena).

Robert Stewart

David Stuart Ullman

Ask the gallery directors to pull some of Robert Stewart’s oils out of the stacks to see how the Los Angeles artist's move from painting to photography allowed him to achieve the precision, depth of field and theatrical lighting effects that spark his latest structured urban compositions. Stewart emphasizes photography's ability to document and dramatize, recording the precise number of minutes after sunset that he clicked his shutter while concentrating his gaze on L. A. institutions such as The Pantry or Musso and Frank Grill. There is a Hopper-like stillness to the work that shades towards film noire in Hamilton Way, with its stunning view downhill towards distant patterns of architecture and vegetation.

Just across the gallery, David Stuart Ullman utilizes Photoshop techniques to jam bits and pieces of his photographic imagery into mementos of people and places as remote in geography and tone as New Orleans and Buffalo. There are a sufficient number and variety of images on display to allow the viewer to trace the formal choices made by Ullman while juxtaposing pictorial slices of art and life into lively memorials (Orlando Gallery, Valley).

Marlene Capell, "Portal 1",
2004, oil on canvas, 20 x 20".
The kind of abstract painting that Marlene Capell makes, personally expressive gestural painting applied to a geometricallly arranged compositional environment, is something of a throwback. But the felt conviction of these Portals gets them past feeling dated. Capell riffs off of ancient archeological sites, driving her brushwork close to the border of formal embellishment in order to push through a metaphorical time gate that provides a means of connection to something transcendent. Capell’s persistence after around 15 years of portal painting shows through in her refined ability to balance the slashing personality of her painting with the clarity of her structures (FIG, Santa Monica).

The sculptured dreams of Cecilia Z. Miguez have consistently intrigued by virtue of their delicate and meticulous brand of magical creatures and figures that are more than human. Her use of found objects may derive from the assemblage tradition, but feels driven more by the European reliquary tradition of the spiritually charged object bound to an elegant and precious vehicle of presentation (Louis Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

Cecilia Z. Miguez, "The White Horse," 2004,
bronze and wood, 36 x 30 1/2 x 15 1/2".

Installation view of "100
Artists See Satan".
100 Artists See Satan is a direct counterpart to 100 Artists See God at the Laguna Art Museum. Ironically, it manages to upstage its catalyst. In a contest of virtue versus vice, one or the other might not exactly prevail but, here as in the world at large, vice is a lot more compelling. Curator Mike McGee selected artists who present a variety of ideas of what constitutes Satan in many mediums and styles. The pleasant surprise is that there is no hokum here, but quality work warranting serious study. The range includes intricate assemblages incorporating visuals and text, black and white photographs, graphite drawings, paintings, video (one featuring interview clips with Mel Gibson), and a popular kinetic sculpture of a devil who (quite literally) dances at the drop of a dime.
There is material suitable for serious discourse, a generous dash of humor and, with few exceptions, technically virtuous (to borrow a word) works of art (CSUF Grand Central Art Center, Orange County).

A small exhibit selected from Cesar Menéndez’s multifaceted body of work titled Cazador de Fantasias (Hunter of Fantasies) is comprised of complex, emotionally intense narratives that display technical acumen throughout. Menéndez is a skilled and vigorous draftsman, and his palette intriguingly vacillates between nearly impenetrable darkness, bright luminosity and a blend of soft, seemingly otherworldly pastel hues. He uses a palette knife to add and subtract layers of paint, achieving three-dimensional effects that lure you almost physically into the compositions. Much of his narrative focuses on the transient nature of relationships, symbolized here by harbors and trains.

Cesar Menéndez, "Canción al silencio
(Song to Silence)," 1990, o/c, 68 x 78".
For example, Time (from the series The Train) shows a train going around on a circular track while a groom tries to hang on to his bride, who is about to be blown away on a current of air. Fish appear in several paintings, as do dogs, horses and centaurs, as portents of change, inner conflict, even death. Consequently, it is tempting to classify Menéndez as a Surrealist, but Magic Realist is actually a better fit. San Antionio’s Devout (La Beata De San Antonio) tempts one to compare Menéndez to Francis Bacon. The saint’s convulsed features, a singular eye alight with spiritual passion, and strong hands clutching a cross combine to bring to mind Bacon’s tormented clerics. But by unleashing his own inner torments, Menéndez captures his audience (Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach).