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May, 2005

Gunther Domenig, the Stone House.
“Structures that Fit My Nature” presents drawings, models, and documentation of two significant projects by Austrian architect Gunther Domenig: the Steinhaus (Stone House), which is the architect’s own home; and a more problematic structure, the Nuremberg Documentation Center, designed as a historical archive to transform our memory of the Albert Speer’s Nazi coliseum into a war memorial (a difficult task given the horror of that regime).
Domenig’s Stone House has the reflective surfaces, asymmetry and peaking roof lines of Frank Gehry mixed with the clean expressionism of Frank Israel’s structures. It is a highly individual and inventive language of personal expression and space enclosure. The architecture is itself a marvel of lines, angles, surface and engineering, and the documentary photographs of the projects by Gerald Zugmann and Joachim Brohm are dramatic aesthetic statements in their own right (MAK Center, West Hollywood).

Hanna Greely, "Muddle," 2004,
coconut fiber/silicone glue.
Photo: Joshua White

Matt Johnson, "Breadface," 2004,
cast plastic with oil paint.
Photo: Joshua White

For years, the objective nature of art has been under attack. Installation and performance art, video and conceptual art have challenged the integrity of the art object. A show of sculpture from twenty young Los Angeles artists is titled simply Thing. As this gruff title implies, it reaffirms art-as-object, but does it in a way that slyly incorporates the conceptual art lessons of recent history. Whether displayed on the wall or floor, the works invite a new consideration of beauty. Hanna Greely’s “Muddle,” a coconut fiber doormat replete with a sleeping dog disinvites the viewer from stepping on it, and so thwarts the functionality of a very common object. Equally tongue-in-cheek is Matt Johnson’s “Breadface,” cast plastic with oil paint made to look like a real slice of bread--with eyes and mouth holes torn or chewed out, just as we probably did when we were kids. These works force a rethinking of banal objects. They also invoke the straightforward desire to make something well with one’s hands. Particularly ambitious in thisrespect is Kristen Morgin’s monumental full size car, titled “Sweet and Low Down,” which is fashioned painstakingly out of unfired clay, wood, wire, cement and glue. Purely abstract, yet highly evocative works juxtapose materials and form in Michael O’Malley’s “Untitled Object 11.04,” and Joel Morrison’s human-scaled and untitled stainless steel sculpture (UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

General Idea Editions: 1967 – 1995” is a jam packed exhibition that traces the impact of the Canadian collective. Formed in Toronto in 1969 the trio--Jorge Zontal, Felix Partz and AA Bronson--create artworks, magazines and ephemera that fuse artistic and cultural practices. The work of General Idea was always poignant and pointed. Their magazine “FILE” (1972-1989)--a spoof on LIFE--lives on as an example of their appropriationist strategies. Interested from the beginning in how art and popular culture can co-exist, the group created the Miss General Idea Pavilion as well as the well known AIDS posters that used Robert Indiana’s LOVE painting as the point of departure. To see such an extensive range of the works of General Idea gathered together is a timely reminder that art filled with topical relevance can indeed stand the test of time (Cal State L.A., Luckman Gallery, East Los Angeles).

General Idea, "Playing Doctor," 1993.

Einar and Janex de la Torre, "The
Mexican Budah”, 2002,blown glass,
resin and mixed media, 29” x 12” x 14”
Einar and Jamex de la Torre are Mexican American artist-brothers. They understand the complexity of this mixed ethnic positioning that embraces, by definition, such oppositional (or weirdly related) sensibilities as the humorous reconciliation with death that we find in ancient Meso America and in Mexican folk art, the hyper-drama of Catholicism, the rabid consumerism that turns almost anything into mainstream trinkets for purchase in the U.S., and the misogyny that has marked both the West and the Latin. The duo responds to all these strains by making really strange, sensually decorative little objects (sometimes they look like jewels, sometimes like junk totems) from the quasi-precious material of glass. The objects reference liturgical objects and camp kitsch, all with an unapologetic girlie lushness.
These glass oddities--all color and sparkle--spoof the Yankee ability to be seduced by sheer surface, subverting both the American expectation of the marketable trinket, and the Mexican insistence that craft is indeed high art. Super cool and funny stuff (CSU Fullerton Art Gallery, Orange County).

James Leonard’s vibrantly hued paintings contain some of the energy that made abstract expressionism such a uniquely American form of painting. But these highly textured paintings also reveal representational allusions: to the figure in “Movement for You,” and clearly recognizable elements of a landscape in “Before Red.” The works are, at first glance, a sea of red. However, once the eye adjusts, you can discern a supporting cast of other, mostly primary colors that add a sense of movement and musicality to the compositions. Happily, much is left to the imagination (Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, Orange County).

James Leonard, "Can't Tell You Why,"
acrylic on canvas, 54 x 54".

Linda Day, "Pulse #18," 2005, acrylic on panel, 96 x 24".

Titled “Pulse,” Linda Day’s current body of work consists in a series of abstract paintings that stretch out over the gallery walls like some sort of frozen, illuminated streetscape filmed over many nights, then coalesced into a number of discrete images. Reflecting the artist’s interest in technology and how it influences our perception, the works embody light through color, building it up through multiple layers of transparency within a modular geometric structure (another year in LA, Atwater).

Larry Cohen began his career some two decades ago with very abstracted Cezannesque paintings of fruit--lush lemons, oranges against flat wall designs. Today he has honed his skill, increased the photorealist punch of the work to take us through and beyond open windows--often with the selfsame fruit, now assiduously rendered, on the sill. Spreading jewel-like before us are vast vistas, perfectly painted, of the city below or other scenes caught from a bird’s-eye view. The palette is silvery and nostalgic at times, crisp and intense at others. We continue to marvel when Cohen’s hand can compete with machines in capturing both what we see and what we feel when we see it (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).

Larry Cohen, "View of Santa Monica
at Night," 2004, oil on canvas, 30 x 20".

Cynthia Minet’s new work consists of a series of large-scale vinyl and fabric sculptures based on the image of carnivorous plants. She populates her artificial jungle with a combination of hairy fabrics, fake fur, highly colored vinyls, snaps, latches, zippers and perfume, turning the vocabulary of prêt-à-porter fashion into a rambunctious shop of misbehaving sculptural forms. Funny and mock scary, Minet’s work conjures up references to our genetically modified environment alongside post-process art of 1970’s era feminism. What a hoot (SolwayJones, West Hollywood).

Cynthia Minet, "Nest," 2003, vinyl/fabric/
zipper/snaps/wire/fiberfill, 75 x 30 x 15".
Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Lyn Nance-Sasser, "Sunday Morning
Paper," 2003, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 48".
Lyn Nance-Sasser might be called predictably perverse; that would be a bad thing if she was not a good painter and a great visual storyteller. Her large acrylic paintings have that intense, colorful figuration based in illustration that we find in children’s books. Indeed, she comes right out and tells us that is her inspiration. But unlike the happy endings of picture books, you track through these quaintly idyllic scenes of childlike innocence to see, tucked in a corner, some looming disaster painted in that same fairytale style: pending explosions, animals that are less Aesop than they are carnivorous. We see it all coming, yet the work is no less charming for it (L2kontemporary, Downtown).

With paintings that are both meticulously illusionistic and drunkenly abstract, Kristen Leachman has stayed her course and slowly refined it to the point of maturity. The patterns of trompe l’oeil strips of fabric that formerly stuck right to the surface of the picture plane give way to bunching and meandering that releases baroque energy, opens up the visual space, and introduces a plethora of imaginative associations. Built as they are on sustained discipline and patient execution makes this energy very convincing, elevating them well beyond the mere depiction of skeins of yarn. The broken patterns amount to visual sustenance. Indeed, the fixed size of each of the five works on view (and five is quite enough), 75 x 13 1/2 inches, functions like a door that invites you to try to squeeze through. Artists love to make you wonder what lies beyond the edge; few are doing this better than Leachman (Newspace Gallery, Hollywood).

Kristen Leachman,
"Footprints," 2005,
oil on birch panel.
75 x 13 1/2".

If the Getty’s painting collection can leave something to be desired, it boasts a world renown repository of illuminated manuscripts. Masterpieces in Miniature underscores yet again, and correctly, that during the Middle Ages tiny painted books were primary repositories of visual and social culture. These truly amazing holdings are not culled from the typical Northern European manuscripts we are more accustomed to seeing, but the more rare books hailing from Italy during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The exhibition features 13 new acquisitions, which taken together helps us trace the evolution of the painted book over a 300 year period. More importantly they hint at a very significant arc between the images in these tiny didactic texts and the visual experiments that become the full flowering of the Italian Renaissance. Favored by the wealthy, the show stresses that these objects were more sumptuous and sought after than the large frescos or panels we most prize today. We encounter everything from choir books, liturgical texts like a full Bible, a charming register from a shoemaker’s guild, a book of hours, and a Renaissance copy of Caesar on the Gallic Wars (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).