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June, 2005

Joel Peter Witkin, "Severed Leg Weathervane,"
2003, toned silver gelatin print, 33 7/8 x 26 1/8".
The nether side of humanity, presented with the utmost theatricality, has long been Joel-Peter Witkin’s specialty. The settings are replete with detail that may be as carefully considered and executed as anything Witkin has thus far produced. The primary clash has always been between a dowdy Victorian-era decorative sensibility and the gore and monstrosity of a horror film. He fuses them in such a committed and intense manner as to be fascinating at a glance as well as with close scrutiny. The forbidden nature of much of these images produces just the kind of ambivalence and conflicted emotions that the artist would have us dwell on (Fahey/Klein Gallery, West Hollywood).

There is just no way around it, there’s almost no artist who can match the eerie and incandescent lure of Jose Luis Cuevas when he works in the drawn medium. His vision is so intimate and intense that this particular format--watercolor or ink--draws you in close, seduced by his oft grotesque, always compelling, barely palpable personages floating in scenes that can only be called sublime--we can’t quite look and we cannot look away. Such is the case in the the rotund, oddly evaporating masked laborers (looking more like grave diggers) captured in the wonderful work, “Los Muerteros” (Tasende Gallery, West Hollywood).

José Luis Cuevas, "Los Muerteros 1," 1983,
ink and watercolor on paper, 47 1/2 x 31 4/5".

Wayne Martin Belger, "Third Eye,"
2004, mixed media, 12 x 9 x 8".
They don’t necessarily look anything like cameras, but Wayne Martin Belger’s clever assemblages are quite functional (so it would have been nice to see what one can produce with them). Using found objects to construct an object already charged with meaning--eg. a human skull, World Trade Center debris--gives them a certain reliquary status. You can’t help but feel that holding up these things and looking through their viewfinders will directly affect what you see through them (Bert Green Fine Art, Downtown)

London-born David Forbes makes paintings that feel like a cross between Bosch and Basquiat, had Basquiat preferred uppers to downers. Like Bosch, every detail is precise, horrific and carnivalesque; the colors are both lush and lurid--deep reds, poppy yellows, lollipop oranges. One thinks also of Joan Miro on acid when we see these  works. The compositions are packed full of squiggles, spidery filigree, quasi-figures, and genital shapes, plus amoebae-like organisms oozing, growing and colliding together in a bright hallucinatory explosion (Track 16, Santa Monica).

David Forbes, "Complicated Tea Ceremony,"
2002, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30".

L.A. native Paul Botello makes fantastic, surreal paintings that depict a wild range of scenes and emotional pitches, from futuristic titans battling it out in a day glow galaxy to a Meso American beauty rising out of water and foliage with a blue serpent and a blue sun god filling the sky above her. Vibrant and unapologetically Latino, these works are so pictorially and emotionally intense, they seer the eyeball--and that is a good thing! (Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica).

Paul Botello, "Phoenix Rising,"
2004, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 36".

Paint arranged in stacked horizontal or vertical bands is bound to call to mind geological and landscape associations, and Stephanie Weber’s paintings certainly are no exception. The aluminum substratum cools things down, allowing for reflected light to come off of the surface when the paint is thinned out or scratched back into. Each band serves, to a greater or lesser degree, as its own field for color and incident, keeping the orchestrated effect in a given image at odds with the accumulation of detail. There is also a mixed feeling of great movement and speed in some layers, while neighboring bandwidths can be quite still (George Billis Gallery, Culver City).

Stephanie Weber, "Crossings," 2005,
mixed media on aluminum, 50 x 39".

Roberto Gil de Montes, "Capricho," 2004,
watercolor and pencil on paper, 22 x 30".
Photo: Henrik Kan
Roberto Gil de Montes is best known for his various figurative canvases, perfectly painted to balance a naive, folk sensibility with great sophistication of means and intent. He tosses us a curveball here with a few works in watercolor and pencil that fragment the figure’s face into a matrix of cubist forms and and planes. He for formal experiment here, and continues a theme that runs through his work: the tension between figure and ground. But the symbolic punch of a head exploding into pure shape cannot be accidental (Jan Baum Gallery, West Hollywood).

Carlos Garaicoa concerns himself with a nostalgia-drenched conceptual architecture--part and parcel of Havana’s exquisitely layered decrepitude, but also the beating heart of the artist’s cockeyed but unapologetic modernism, and his satiric but appreciative take on post-modernism. Garaicoa’s best-known work up in the U.S. is his ongoing series of photographic montages in which he documents the razing of old buildings and maintains their ghostly presence with superimposed outlines. Yet more touching for their neo-modernist affection, however, are his pop-up books, his hyper-Noguchiesque paper lamps, and his utopian proposal for a shades-of-Corbu radial university campus, here presented as a detailed scale model (MOCA at PDC, West Hollywood).

Carlos Garaicoa, "Campus or the Babel
of Knowledge," 2002-04, one wood/card-
board/acrylic model, 205 x 205 x 20 cm.

Thomas Nozkowski, "Untitled
(Y-97)," 2001, oil on museum
board, 12 3/4 x 15 3/4".
Is there such a thing as funny--as in ha-ha--abstraction? Thomas Nozkowski’s paintings and drawings demonstrate not only that there can be, but that there should be--and that its success is all in the telling. Nozkowski’s pictures benefit from the visual equivalent of comic timing; not only do odd shapes, described with a gracefully brittle line, engage in odd interactions, but they do so in precisely the right place on the canvas or paper, amid exactly the right supporting cast. Compositions never get three-ring-circus busy, but there’s always a little bit more than first meets the eye. It’s the magic-trick aesthetic that made early film comics like Keaton and Chaplin so transcendent (Daniel Weinberg Gallery, West Hollywood).

Playful and entertaining in a wholly different way, Wayne White superimposes supergraphic lettering against thrift store lithos of bucolic pastoral scenes. Titles decode the letters and words, but it’s still fun to disentangle the phrases visually, not to mention relate the messages to the appropriated images, which are not so much repudiated as cast into the role of foil. “Drool” appropriately reclines by the ocean shore. The blocky letters of “Way to Get High” float up from the tree lined river that serves as rustic backdrop prop.

Wayne White, "Organic Remains of a Former World," 2005,
acrylic on offset lithographs, framed (triptych), 58 x 87".
The illusionism of these 3-D devices dropped like a time bomb into a mythic past echoes the wishful thinking of too many fellow Americans, perhaps with the intent of introducing a note of reality into the public discourse via a playful, if slick, unreality. “Organic Remains of a Former World,” with the title’s letters pinching and wrapping in a death grip with the Old Growth vegetation, why it gets downright manichean (Western Project, Culver City).

Choong Sup Lim never fails to surprise. The work here is likely to reflect his sensitivity to materials and his engagingly eccentric way with shape; and chances are good that it is three dimensional; and white may be the predominating shade. But all bets are off beyond that--except that whatever’s on view is sure to depend on Lim’s exacting craft for its power (Sabina Lee Gallery, West Hollywood).

Choong Sup Lim, "Wing: Double Symmetry and One Stroke," 2003, synthetic hemp cloth/powdered pigment/wax, 32 x 78 x 2 1/2".

Kristan Marvell, "Winds Vertical,"
2005, cast bronze, 92 x 24 x 24".

Erica Gonzales Bibeau, "Firescape 1,"
2005, photograph Epson print, 40 x 40".

Nature forms the material substance in the bronze sculpture of Kristan Marvell and photography of Erica Gonzales Bibeau. Marvell’s columns are titled to evoke the movement of natural forces: “Swift Narrow Sheer,” “Winds Vertical.” You can’t help but think of Giacometti’s beloved existentially emaciated figures, but these undulating presences project growth and a restless optimism. Bibeau’s “Firescape” photographs play to the effect of ash after the landscape has been leveled and the atmosphere filled with smoky remains. Color is subtle to a near monochrome, and receding ridges wash out with the distance until they merge ghostlike into the expanse of sky, or stand like silent witnesses to forces to which they must submit. The poetry, indeed, lies in the geological layers, full of unexpected history that reveals itself only very slowly (ANDLAB, Downtown).

Vivika and Otto Heino were (and Otto remains) grandparents of the contemporary California clay scene--not the only ones, and not even the most adventurous, but certainly among the most influential and the most accomplished. They exploited the Japanese--Zen, if you will--approach to pottery, turning out pot after pot, tile after tile, with great delicacy and simplicity. The fun and games occur in the glazing, whether a near-abstract-expressionist calligraphic gesture dances across the surface or that surface simply glows in its thick, juicy reflectivity (Craft & Folk Art Museum, West Hollywood).

Vivika and Otto Heino, "Bottle," 1960,
stoneware/blue with white decoration/black
slip on foot, cone, 21 1/2" h x 6" diam.
Photo: M. Lee Fatheree

Viewers were warned. They could have turned back at the entry wall where they read texts that laid out Jenny Holzer’s history of artistic intervention and revealed that this installation, “Under a Rock,” contained strong language. But most traveled down the passageway to a secluded, dark, chapel-like space to be confronted with the stunning force of Holzer’s message. They stood mesmerized by bright letters floating on three LED (light-emitting diode) signs, forming and reforming words like traffic warnings or news bulletins. The messages were more fierce and urgent than Holzer’s earlier Truisms. “Crack the pelvis... your fighters blow fingers. . .in ten directions. . .” Gradually, as our awareness built and we realized that reflections were also inscribed on the ten black granite benches that lined the room like tombstones, shadows began to merge with cold stone. People bent over the slabs to study Holzer’s take on death, sex, power, violence, and the struggle to survive in contemporary society (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara).

That insects and machines possess certain overlapping visual and structural similarities is not an original idea, but Paul Paiement’s approach is striking. The multiple series of “Hybrids” are executed with such meticulous commitment that they bear the stamp of a scientific study even as they incorporate metallic candy colors and. the buttons and panels of the latest consumer electronics Titles such as “Belinota Laserpointa” good naturedly evoke Latin scientific names, and the agglomeration of series works arranged into compositional types as though sorted by genus. If it is all rather too easy to swallow, the eccentric pleasures of this bestiary are substantial (Laguna Art Museum, Orange County).

Paul Paiement, "Hybrids A-Nymphalidae Ninten-
dae," 2002, watercolor on paper, 14 3/4 x 11 3/4".

Robert Rauschenberg, "Rauschenberg,
Anagrams, Jamileh Weber Gallery, Zürich,"
1996, offset lithograph, 50 3/8 x 35 5/8".
Robert Rauschenberg’s work with posters grew out of an announcement he produced for one his own shows in 1960. Stunning announcements he designed for exhibitions at galleries like Leo Castelli and Linda Ferris are highlighted here. They join posters Rauschenberg created for cultural affairs (with artists such as Merce Cunningham and John Cage) and social political events to make up the bulk of the exhibition. The works are mounted unframed on walls toned to highlight Rauschenberg’s brilliant pallette, his interest in the beauty and grace of the (especially male) human body and the pattern, color and texture of fabric. The artist’s signature is evident everywhere--literally and in iconic figures such as flags, birds and bicycles. The Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange and Earth Day posters may surprise some who are not aware of Rauschenberg’s work for social change. But his ability to outdo even the travel industry in dramatizing distant destinations such as Tibet, Venice or Malaysia, is legend (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, West Hollywood).

With a good bit of irony and insouciance, Melanie Pullen uses models to “re-dress” in a glossy, haut fashionlayout manner, scenes of mostly female crime victims, such that we are at once distanced from and enchanted by the horror. While awash in the fine art of it all, we forget that these are stories of real violence against real women. Like all simulcra that depict violence on women, this gorgeous work manages to do two opposing things at once. First, it says, yes, this happens mostly to women (a feminist statement). Second, it remains so visually engaging that misogyny and violent crime become--like so much media brutality--an inured practice (Ace Gallery, Beverly Hills).

Melanie Pullen, "Half Prada,"
2003, C-print, 79 x 55".

Per Kirkeby, "Untitled (PK 05 11),"
2005, oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 88 1/2".
Per Kirkeby’s paintings cannot be called either abstract or representa-sentational; which is also what can be said about the varied faces of Nature that remain his main subject in this new body of work. Thick paint, which the artist refers to in geological terms as “layers,” lay down this rich green sedimental surface; in these landscapes and foliage he creates more the conditions--change, scale, transcendence-- of nature than its actual depiction. This former Fluxus member, a maker with his hand in everything from painting, to sculpture and architecture, Kirkeby remains an artist who can wield a brush to amazing ends (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).