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March, 2005

Francisco de Goya, "It Is Time" from "Los
Caprichos," no. 80, 1796-97, etching/
burnished aquatint/burin, 21.5 x 15 cm.
There was no more eccentric artist than Francisco de Goya, no one who so forcefully entered and announced the modern era as defined by odd, imagined content and a kind of obliviousness to polite visuals for an elite patron base. It’s true, he had the latitude to experiment with the more nightmarish sides of human nature and work outside of monied taste precisely because he had a day gig and a paycheck, working as First Painter to King Charles IV, that paradigm aristocratic simpleton who allowed Napoleon to “liberate”--that is to ravage--Spain. Whether it was because of the illness that left him stone deaf, or disillusionment with the hypocrisy of the Court, of the Church, of utopian promises by the Enlightenment and and its military arm, the French Revolution, Goya retreated to his “Finca del Sordo” (Country Manor of the Deaf One), where he conceived some horrific yet stunningly sublime works in paint and in print.
Here is a rare, rare opportunity to see some of the folios from the “Los Caprichos” series (roughly translated as “The Whimsies”). In it Goya deals with humanity’s vagaries and random brutality, so apt today as global countries torture and maim to promote their versions of “right.” Alas, some things never do change. This is a surprising little jewel of a show (College of the Canyons, Valley).

The female figure has rarely been depicted as idiosyncratically as Wangechi Mutu does it. Painting and collage are combined with detailed precision, but the sexy lines and shapes are horrifically mutated into alien beings. Decorative embellishment floats both within and external to the figures, looking like miniature cosmos or a disfiguring disease (indeed, she starts to move away from the figurative device in a recent series of “Tumors”). Her images strike an exceptional balance between poles of attraction and repulsion (Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City).

Wangechi Mutu, "Unforgivable
Hierarchies," 2004, mixed media.

Jorg Dubin, "Cuffed", 2004,
oil on linen, 39 x 31".
Orange County-based painter Jorg Dubin offers realistic portraits of woman in various stages of undress. The sitters gaze out of the images quite unfazed by their exposure. The works are expressively painted, allowing the skin tones to fuse with the background, creating blended transition from the realistic to the abstract in each work, which is precisely the point. Dubin is able to imbue his subjects with visual and psychological power, but fascination with the process of applying paint determines the outcomes as much as the individuality of his subjects. Exploring the human likeness has been his mission, though his past depiction of women has been problematic since, more often than not, they were typecast as society people on the skids, sexually deprived or evidencing a skewed sexuality. These nudes are graceful and straightforwardly or subtly erotic (Robert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica).

Their magical atmospheres and tantalizing deep space make Robert D. Cocke’s panoramic vistas positively operatic. Every square inch seems to have been carefully attended to in these grand landscapes. A shaping hand is apparent, sometimes barely implied, other times rather shockingly explicit, and whether it is a mortal or divine presence is unclear and does not matter. Hills roll off into the distance, clouds dot big skies like flocks of birds, vegetation softens the earth’s surface, and tree crowns survey it like mute sentinels or great ships in the distance. The sense of building energy or impending cataclysmic event is portentous. And Cocke does it all in little panels that run from five inches to no more than about two feet. Wow (Tasende Gallery, West Hollywood).

Robert D. Cocke, "To Pesaro,"
2004, acrylic on panel, 7 x 7".

John Baldessari, "Person with Guitar (Blue),"
2004, 3 layer screenprint, laminated on
handcut sintra, 27 1/4 x 42 x 3/4".
Gemini GEL has been among the world’s premiere print workshops since the mid-1960s, and continues to work with many international caliber artists such as Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, John Baldessari and Ellsworth Kelly. Included in this highlights exhibition are new works by Baldessari and Kelly that not only push the limits of printmaking, but also show that these artists continue to develop and bring fresh innovation to their work. While Kelly’s new images are both geometric abstraction and delicate line drawings of nature, Baldessari’s new works are three dimensional images that explore the color and shape of guitars that have been removed from found images.
Baldessari’s process is to cut away the shape of the guitar and replace it with solid color, surrounding it with the black and white tones of the original images. Other aspects of the images--like hands--also get a graphic treatment, and are raised into relief off the paper surface. These new prints continue his use of found images to create witty and evocative collages (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica).

Kenny Harris, "Mariana," 2004,
oil on canvas, 30 x 15".

F. Scott Hess, "Riverbed," 2004,
oil on canvas, 48 x 60 x 2 1/2".

California Old New Masters is an intriguing look at old favorites and new talent in the arena of contemporary narrative painting. A sprawling exhibit, it is worth a trip because of its noted curator, Donald Kuspit, and because many renowned artists are included ranging from F. Scott Hess to Ron Rizk. Highlights include Jon Swihart’s beautiful nude and mysterious landscape; an odd sampling of David Ligare’s pseudo neo-classical paintings (including one still life with orange soda and glazed donuts), notably a large classical figure silhouetted against the landscape; the subtle but glowing paintings of faces by Roni Stretch; and the fresh figures of Kenny Harris. F. Scott Hess is represented by three paintings, the most fascinating and effective of which is a landscape in which a woman is literally hanging precariously and provocatively from the shrubbery. This painting echoes the dark tones and sensual flesh of Gustave Courbet’s nudes. Less convincing is his nude women with a donkey; it is slick and does not have the rich surrealist flavor of his other more successful work. Also exquisite are small scale works by Robert Schwartz. Reminiscent of Persian miniatures or Flemish paintings, his figures and landscapes possess a magical precision that illuminates the narrative (Gallery C, South Bay).

Kaucyila Brooke, photograph
from "Vitrinen in Arbeit".
In her new photographic images Kaucyila Brooke focuses on the subject of vitrines taken at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria. The title of the exhibition, “Vitrinen in Arbeit” means “museum displays under construction,” and indeed it traces the transition of the display methods of the museum as it became more technologically advanced. Each image is a carefully framed color photograph that either captures the empty cases, along with the reflections of the surrounding museum, or juxtaposes the classical architecture of the museum with a fragment of an object on display. In total Brooke made several hundred images which will be compiled into a limited edition book that will available at the gallery at the end of the show (Michael Dawson Gallery, Hollywood).

“Architecture of Absence” is a large scale retrospective including fifty photographs created over the last 30 years by noted German photographer Candida Höfer. Höfer’s large color images depict empty rooms in cultural centers from all over the world. Her images have a clarity and balance to them that makes their subjects sparkle. They are extremely carefully framed and tend to display a maximum amount of detail. Höfer is a member of the “Becher’s circle”--photographer’s who studied with Bernd Becher during the 1970’s and ‘80s, a group which includes Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, and Axel Hütte.

Candida Höfer, "Palacio Real
Madrid XI," 2000, photograph.
Höfer’s images resonate because she not only chooses interesting subject matter, but also because she so effectively translates the feel for the 3-dimensional world to the 2-dimensional picture plane (CSU Long Beach, Long Beach).

Michael Gonzales, "Schminx," 2000,
fiberglass/enamel/automotive paint, 28 x 96 x 180"
(approximate). Ryan McGinness, "Flocci Non
Faccio", 2004, brown latex paint/silver
vinyl on wall in background.
Leonard Cohen’s ‘60s novel “Beautiful Loser” serves as the inspiration for Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture. The show aims to celebrate alternative culture in Orange County and elsewhere, and thus also pays tribute to the “old masters” like Jean-Michel Basquiat whose early tags read “SAMO,” photographer Larry Clark, comic book illustrator R. Crumb, the late graffiti artist Keith Haring and the granddaddy of them all, Andy Warhol. Media ranges widely to include paintings, sculptures, still photographs (some of which are R- if not outright X-rated), video, installation and some performance works by more than 30 artists, many of whom are self-taught.
Those who have art school or university training appear to emulate their brethren, who acquired their skills in the streets through tagging, publishing “zines” or individualizing their skateboards, cars, bodies and anything else ready for ink or paint. It’s evident that this particular underground, sustained by punk, hip-hop and other, harder to classify, influences is still a man’s world, with women making inroads but definitely in a minority. Much of this art is of the moment, an organic creation far removed from the preciousness pervading much of so-called fine art. Here today, gone tomorrow, to be replaced with something new (OCMA, Newport Beach, Orange County).

The artworld tends to be inclusive, but just a tad snobby; if you are say, a cook, you are less likely to be taken seriously as a “real” artist. This is particularly ironic since there are so many artists forced to make a living by day and do their passion by night. Three Chinese artists who have day jobs--as bureaucrats, engineers, inventors--make a good showing of photographs they create during non-working hours. Yang Cheng shows withered lotuses, perfection in imperfection as he puts it. Lily Y. Lee shows rough hewn and earthy ceramics that suggest the land rather than the hand (and is at her best when she keeps things simple). Finally, Jeffrey Ying shows photographs of architecture, streetscapes and Tibetan people. Done full time or spare time, this is more than respectable work (LMan Gallery, Downtown).

Yang Cheng, photograph.

Rita Blitt, "Haiku Harmony," 2003,
stainless steel, 20 x 26 x 1 1/2".
In Rita Blitt’s hands, graceful drawings with a minimum of marks reveal her passion for lines dancing through space. Deft and quick, she draws with two hands simultaneously as if a musical conductor leading an orchestra; you can almost hear the music. Similarly, her sculptures are ribbons of narrow steel that form graceful calligraphy that twirl like a ballerina on her toes. The artist experiments with the nature of a continuous and a broken line, as well as the shapes that are formed in their negative spaces. Strips of steel wend in and out, forming wide and exuberant configurations. But in some areas the steel ribbons meet and come close together, closing the gap between them.
The drawings on paper are framed in a traditional manner, but the sculptures are mounted in a way that extends the nature of the work. On a steel shelf, straight steel brackets are counter melodic to the lyrical form resting on it. Blitt also exhibits paintings produced with two hands each holding a brush, but it is her drawings and sculpture that are her strength (Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, Orange County).

Jeffrey O'Connell, "Figures / Yellow Frieze #2," 2003/04,
oil and enamel on paper mounted on a panel, 27 3/4 x 70"

A consummate draftsman best known for somber and moody figurative works, Jeffrey O'Connell surprises us with fully abstract works whose sense of composition and color remind us that when you toss away the figure, the move to non-representation is best built on a firm and assiduous mastery of the drawing canon.  O'Connell was inspired by music: jazz, classical, all those patterns of rhythm that move from what appears to be chaos into something that we experience as harmonious.  In these paintings O'Connell hits the same chord.  He employs acid bright colors, a recurring backdrop made from a vertical, loosely placed grid, and finally a matrix of flat yet softened shapes that tangle and tense against the lines.  In a work like "Blue-Play/Black Bars," O'Connell's spontaneous yet controlled abstract mark-making--both organic foreground shapes and hard edged background armature--produce an effect that is direct and somatic (FIG, Santa Monica).

In "As Above, So Below: Art as Political and Cosmological Space," pre-eminent environmental artist Lita Albuquerque and her architect collaborator Mitchell De Jarnett use video, photographs and a large-scale model to document the conception and progress of their comprehensive Sacramento project of 2003, “Golden State.”  “Golden State” is the largest public art commission in California state government history, and was the centerpiece of a 1.5-acre, $392 million mixed-use project of offices and open areas.  The project got short shrift as it coincided with Governor Gray Davis' recall. What you will see here is the re-creation of an environment that boldly uses granite, glass, steel, water, grass, as well as figurative and geometric forms writ large onto huge usable surfaces; it all comes together to frame a whimsical, cosmic looking use-area that encompasses urban parkland, pedestrian plazas, a performing arts space, a civic monument, an observatory, and a work of conceptual art.  

Lita Albuquerque and Mitchell De
Jarnett, "Zone of Transformation," a
section of the public artwork
"Golden State," 2003, located
in Sacramento, California.
If you wonder about art housed in elite boxes and wish for a more functional and integrated role for contemporary thought/design in culture, this show will open your eyes to the possibilities (CSU Fullerton, Orange County).

The first room of this modestly sized gem of an exhibition of works by Jacques-Louis David is dominated by the painter’s dramatic elevation and aggrandizement of Napoleon in “Bonaparte Crossing the Alps,” commissioned by King Charles IV of Spain. More modestly sized but equally revealing portraits of Napoleon, members of the artist’s family, an orphan of the revolution with a Renior-like face and other sitters precede a collection of drawings and paintings of antiquities. David’s renderings of gods and heroes, including the museum’s own “Farwell of Telemachus and Eucharis,” spotlight the artist’s highly polished skills, portraying finely finished bodies in relationships of love and longing that are as conflicted as those of today’s Hollywood celebs. The exhibition concludes with commissions painted by David in Brussels, where he captured the pain of exile in another work from the museum’s collection, his insightful double portrait of Napoleon’s nieces, “The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte” (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).