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January, 2005

Georgia O'Keeffe, "Waterfall, No. III, Iao
Valley," 1939, oil on canvas, 24 x 20".
Visions of the Sublime is the thematic title of this latest Georgia O’Keeffe survey, and for O’Keeffe fans the description is self evident.  But the real intent is to cast a broader historical context around the artist’s legacy extending beyond the formal innovations which contributed significantly to the growth of early modernism, and her personal and artistic union with Alfred Stieglitz.  The generally modestly sized works emphasize landscape, its grand scale, and quiet, empty spaces.  This austerity balances with lofty spiritual chords that are somewhat warmed and personalized by the accompanying photographs of the artist by Stieglitz and Todd Webb.  The tone of unrelenting gravity that clings to O’Keeffe grows a bit flintier (Fresno Metropolitan Museum, Fresno).

Among the emerging Modernist movement in the L.A. Area immediately before and during the decades immediately following World War II, Richard Haines occupied a prominent spot if not quite a leading role.  Naturalism always was at the foundation of his work, but he routinely engaged in simplification and distortion to push formal and expressive boundaries.  If the work here affirms a serious and authoritative vision, it also displays the limitation of Haines’ generation was that it followed stylistically in the wake of European contemporaries, leaving the development of a decisively American avant garde to the next generation (Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery, Santa Barbara).

Richard Haines, "Father of the Bride,"
1976, oil on canvas, 40 x 34".

Todd Gray, "Monk," 2001, type C print, 39 x 42".
"Immaculate" is the ironic title of this survey exhibition of Los Angeles based artist/photographer Todd Gray.  Gray has been using photography to make political and social commentaries for the last 20 years.  He began as Michael Jackson’s official photographer (1979-1984; he later created an installation about Jackson’s strange physical transformation).  His works from the 1990’s were for the most part large scale black and white silhouettes of Disney characters in sexualized and compromising positions.  For Gray the photograph has never been a precious object.  He has been known to rip apart, draw on, and make sculptural installations using his photographic images.  In his newest works Gray goes a step further, fusing taxidermy animals and mirrors with color photographs.  
These works document and question the transformation of the landscape, specifically in reference to colonial expansion.  Gray’s multi-faceted works are challenging and confrontational.  He uses photography’s realism to question both truth and beauty (Cal State L.A., Luckman Gallery, East Los Angeles).

In an interesting twist on semiotics, Pauline Stella Sanchez investigates a non-linguistic element--color--in its longtime role as a potent signifier.  Since Paul Gauguin and Wilhelm Worringer we have been hearing that the most universal of signs were those that were the most open ended--color and shape.  This seems to be the theme in this installation of sculptures and video, both carefully color coded to suggest, for example, the mood of the sun (Sanchez calls this a surrogate sun) via cartoony yellows that pervade all our visual culture.  In a final conceptual twist (and it is a stretch),  Sanchez makes the visual argument that these more subtle and purely visual "signs" and their evocations are essentially political because they create meaning and experience just as surely as words do.  Heady but still enjoyable (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

Pauline Stella Sanchez, ". . .the annunciation that took place on the other side of the same room where there was the electric chair. . .diamonds. . .electrical language sight gag," 2002, suite of 10 silkscreen prints, each 35 1/2 x 48"; wood box with silver cloth, 6 1/4 x 39 x 49 1/2".

Anton Henning, installation view,
Christopher Grimes Gallery, 2004.
Anton Henning is a German artist whose modest-sized paintings--presented in a line along the far gallery wall--investigate popular and contemporary culture.  The works display a slice of life‚ becoming a time-line of sorts.  While their subject ranges from a pair of modernist chairs, to a still life, to a series of nudes, to a self portrait, they are all painted in the same gestural style.  Henning draws from art history with no apologies for his appropriation.  His colorful works are engaging and often humorous as they attempt to bring the world to painting rather than paint the world (Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica).

What John White is referring to in a new series of paintings titled Artificial Hatch is fish food:  bugs hatching on the surface of water as regarded by finned predators.  The visual stew of washes, circles, and calligraphic marks, squiggles and drips conveys the teeming and chaotic activity of exotic life with a style that pays homage to Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock, and even Raul Dufy.  Try looking at them first as a latter day form of abstract expressionism, then as though you are craning up to see them from the depth below (Sylvia White Gallery, Santa Monica).

John White, "Artificial Hatch L-3," 2004,
acrylic on handmade paper, 11 x 8 1/2".

Daniel Zeller’s intricate drawings and paintings are obsessive doodles that have taken over the page. The works hover between the celestial and the microscopic, and are map-like as well as diagrammatic.  These fictional studies are at once familiar and strange.  Objects are drawn as a succession of lines that grow into other objects.  In these works there is no beginning or end, only an allover pattern and design that absorbs you into its detail (Daniel Weinberg Gallery, West Hollywood).

Daniel Zeller, "Schizoid Schematic,"
2003, ink on paper, 14 x 11".

In the 1880s a group of designers and artists in London responding to the ideas of social utopia and modernity that called for a conflation of high and low art coined the term Arts and Crafts Movement.  William Morris among others from this school had a profound impact, both formally and philosophically, on both sides of the Atlantic.  On our shores Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright lamps and furniture loom large.  At long last, a large survey show examining the ideas, economic and social history behind the Arts and Crafts Movement makes its debut with two full re-created period rooms and 300 examples of textiles, furniture, ceramics and designs (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, West Hollywood).

Frank Lloyd Wright, "Table Lamp" from
the Susan LawrenceDana House,
Springfield, Illinois, ca.
1903, glass/bronze/zinc.

Thomas Moran, "Golden Gateway to
the Yellowstone," 1893, oil on canvas.
Artists including Thomas Moran, Thomas Hill and Albert Bierstadt captured the spectacular beauty of nature in their dramatically lit depictions of the steep canyons and majestic waterfalls in Drawn to Yellowstone: Artists in America’s First National Park.  Their paintings, which form the core of this beautifully installed exhibition, are supported by generous wall texts and screened film footage that clarify historical events related to the park and its establishment in1872. Family activity guides, designed to encourage younger viewers to interact with the works on display, allude to the drift from the spiritual grandiosity of 19th century
representations towards less stately contemporary depictions of the lures of Yellowstone, such as Anne Coe’s humorous rendition of three bears devouring a picnic lunch (Museum of the American West, Atwater).

Richard Ward, "Thru My Veins," 2004,
mixed media on board, 24 x 48".

Viet Le, from the series "Pictures
of You," 2004, photograph, 5 x 5".

The OsCene is a large group exhibition featuring artists from Orange County.  The show fills the museum, presenting varied works that range from film to music, from video to painting, and from fashion to digital projections.  While the range of mediums is vast, so is the quality of the works.  In large survey shows like this it becomes more about the style and types of works being created that define a time and a place than in the actual works.  The OsCene is can be seen as an interesting juxtaposition to the Orange County Biennial, but more raw and more focused on artists local to Orange County (Laguna Art Museum, Orange County).

American Gothic: Talent for the Dark Ages presents some of most talented emerging artists in the region.  Tyler Stallings, Laguna Art Museum's gifted chief curator, has assembled a diversity of technically exceptional as well as viscerally and conceptually searing work, including painting, photography, installation and drawing.  The uniting factor is a sense of apocalyptic wreckage.   This is  an unflinching confrontation of the human fallout from all that’s gone awry in our times, from genetic engineering to terrorism, as well some fearless face-to-face wrestling with timeless struggles involving identity, social acceptance and mortality (Gallery C, South Bay).

Lee Clarke, "Young Boy with Skull,"
acrylic on canvas over panel, 34 x 34".

When it comes to sheer touch that combines beautiful control over line and brushwork, yet seemingly spontaneous expression, George Yepes is among the best.  His darkly romantic excess can’t help but make you think he would have been Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s equal among the Pre-Raphaelites.  But these saints and sinners are hardly a throwback.  Yepes’ painting has a visual density and suggestiveness that is as tantalizing to the intellect as it is arresting for the eye (Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica).

George Yepes, "La China Poblana,"
2004, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 41".

In Americans in Kodachrome Guy Stricherz draws from a pool of over 50,000 family snapshots taken in that now archaic format from between 1945 and 1965 (he reprints the selected images using dye transfer) to capture the very stuff of Paul Simon's Dangling Conversation:  the repressed and quiet angst of the American post war suburbs.  The photos were solicited via ads in numerous small town newspapers about 20 years ago, and over 500 families from around the country responded.  There is indeed a TV in every home ("First Television") and 2.5 kids born to parents who could people cereal adds ("Momma and Donna").  Stricherz--with his selection of closed down vantage points, figures close to our viewing plane, and intensely acute focus--sees a disease beneath the giddy hopefulness (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica).

Guy Stricherz, "Seventh Wedding
Anniversary," Hermosa, South
Dakota, 1952, Irvin Evans.

Walker Evans, "Mask, Kanioka,
Congo," 1935, vintage
gelatin silver print, 10 x 8".
Walker Evans is best known as one of the  photographers for the FSA (Farm Security Administration) in the 1930’s.  While most of his rural and urban studies are well documented, once in a while a lesser known body of work is exhibited.  Presented here is a series of photographs Evans took in 1935 of the Museum of Modern Art’s African Art collection.  The black and white images of the sculptures are detailed studies of their shapes and forms that convey the photographer’s aesthetic sensitivity.  The images, many of them close cropped details, celebrate the craft and the form of the object, but shy away from issues of content and origin.  Taken at the time of the first exhibition that tried to contextualize African art in terms of its relationship to Western art, these images thus serve as a reminder of the debate about so called “primitive” works (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

A hint of contrivance and very excellent technique mark the photographs of Laszlo Layton.  The photographer's "Natural History" series apes the curiosities found in old illustrated books on nature from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Those were intended to be scientific and taken from observation, but because of the level of science and historiography the often etched images tended to look exotic and medieval.  Layton frames and illuminates bizarre bats and birds, lemurs and bits of animal antlers to borrow that same high contrast, graphic feel, and that same fantastically Gothic air (Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica).

Laszlo Layton, "Guianan Cock-of-the-
Rock," toned cyanotype, 11 x 14".

The delights of nature are seemingly stockpiled in the richly decorative treats served up by Barbara Weldon.  These paintings are immersions in the myriad shapes you encounter, if paying attention, during a garden stroll.  The naturalism is actually subordinated to modulated rhythmic patterns, and variegated background color is used to formalize and heighten sensation rather than to describe space or scenery (Tasende Gallery, West Hollywood).

Barbara Weldon, "Transitions II," 2003,
oil/wax/gold leaf on canvas, 46 x 32".