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September, 2005

John Slepian, "little_one,"
2005, interactive installation.
The Exquisite Electric is one of the smallest shows to have be staged here, but appearances are indeed deceptive since it also offers viewers much to think about. The artists explore what exactly it is that makes us different from other forms of life, or how humans, ever inventive of novel technology, will then try to imbue such technology with some reflection of our humanity. Here the results range from the elegant, such as Jim Campbell’s "Fifth Avenue Cut-Away #1," an approximation of a highly pixelated image showing shadowy people walking in front of vaguely delineated skyscrapers, to the unabashedly gross, as in Adam Chapman’s monstrous, humanoid apparition imprisoned in a glass cube and invisible until viewers touch a screen. The later is particularly fascinating since modern fiction and assorted cult horror films are filled with such images--and they become more titillating or humorous as the public becomes more jaded.
There is an element throughout the show that strongly suggests that we are becoming a society of voyeurs. For example, John Slepian brings us "little_one," a monster "baby" that resembles an errant molecule and emits pitiful cries until picked up--at which point it then makes some even more nerve grating sounds. The show is not, after all, entirely bereft of the comfort of beauty. Camilla Utterback’s "Untitled No. 5" is an interactive video installation that consists of a screen showing an appealing abstract painting. When viewers step on an electronic mat, elements of the "painting" turn into jagged black lines (CSUF Grand Central Art Center, Orange County).

"Jacob van Ruisdael: Master of Landscape" presents the dramatic landscapes of one of the great masters of 17th century Dutch painting. Forty-eight of van Ruisdael’s landscapes comprise the exhibition. A highlight is "Jewish Cemetery," on loan from the State Art Museum of Dresden. It is atmospheric and has an air of fantasy that inhabits a Baroque space. Contrasting light and shadow in hyperbolic fashion, the artist used reality as a starting point to build monumental compositions that are highly romantic. Painting castles, lakes and the skyline of his native city of Haarlem, famous for its bleaching fields, van Ruisdael transformed and animated his rural vistas, enveloping them with sweeping shadows and vaulting sunlight.

Jacob van Ruisdael, "The Jewish Ceme-
tery," c. 1657, oil on canvas, 141 x 183 cm.
One monumental work, "The Great Oak" (1653) is drawn from the Museum’s own permanent collection for inclusion in this ambitious survey. A related exhibition, "Dürer to Rembrandt: Master Prints from the Herman and Ruth Engel Collection," very nicely complements the van Ruisdael exhibit (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, West Hollywood).

Adan Hernandez, "Pelicula II," 2004,
oil on canvas, 68 1/4" x 63 1/4".
Both sides of the curatorial brain come into play in a show that dishes up both the familiar and a very new and exciting tack. For the standard, Adan Hernandez shows lush, magically surreal works filled to the brim with colliding dreamlike passages that evoke but never describe Chicano life. One is a look through and above the front and back seat of a fuzzy dice, be-speckled low rider at the drive-in movie (or parked at the necking spot--how innocent it all seems today). The front seat couple tangle in what look like glances of longing (she) and drug euphoria (he), while the back seat couple move to the next phases. The whole scene is awash in limbs and lips, dreamy, cool light from some unseen screen or a starry night. In addition to Hernandez’s quite predictably Chicano faire (and that does not necessarily detract from his offering), a group show titled "La Onda," translated, "The Wave."
This may well be a reference to the next wave of art production that extends beyond the Chicano/barrio culture that this gallery has made its specialty. The samples offered constitute a wonderful array of young, in some cases newly graduated Latino and Latina talent, whose diverse sensibility shows that the Latin American aesthetic extends beyond magic surrealism and bright colors to embrace all manner of contemporary art production, including concept art (Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica).

Brazillian artist Waltercio Caldas uses objects to explore perceptions and space. His three-dimensional constructions are table top sculpture that can be viewed from multiple angles, yet from only one point do all the elements line up. Using yarn hanging from the ceiling combined with stainlees steel, Caldas creates abstract forms that sit atop large granite tables. He fashions geometric illusions from these elements. The four large works in the main gallery space function together, but each only has one vantage point where all the elements coalesce and become complete (Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica).

Walter Caldas, "Black Series"
(installation view), 2005, mixed media.

No Man’s Land is a dynamic group exhibition featuring the work of seven emerging artists. Yoko Lida, Jed Lind, TV Moore, Tyler Towland, Lisa Sanditz, Ryan Tabler, and Cheyenne Weaver all look at the American Landscape as the point of departure for their works. And the artists included in "No Man’s Land" do part ways, working in varied media: sculpture, video projection, painting and installation. The works here were selected to challenge, rather than to affirm, accepted and conventional notions of the the land (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

Stephan Balkenhol, "Vier Figurengruppe,"
1999, wood, variable sized figures.
Blake Byrne is an influential LA based collector who donated his collection. The Blake Byrne Collection is curated from his gift, and this takes advantage of the scope and complexity of his vision as a collector. Over 100 works by 78 artists are presented. These are characteristically challenging and unusual pieces by a blend of well known and, as yet, little known artists. Byrne has collected some artists in depth. The exhibition presents a fresh view of contemporary art over the last fifty years, though there are plenty of artists with whom most will be quite familiar:
IJohn Baldessari, Stephan Balkenhol, Marlene Dumas, Robert Gober, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Yayoi Kusama, Gordon Matta-Clark, Rita McBride, Paul McCarthy, Steve McQueen, Annette Messager, Juan Muñoz, Claes Oldenburg, Gabriel Orozco, Ed Ruscha, and Jim Shaw (Museum of Contemporary Art, Downtown).

Patty Chang, "Shangri-La," 2005,
installation view. Photo: Joshua White.

Fiona Tan, "Correction", 2004,
still from the color video installation.

Patty Chang has looked into actual and metaphorically reflective surfaces before, licking water off a mirror in "Fountain" and passing an onion from her mouth into that of her parents in a performance entitled "In Love." Chang shot "on location" to capture the work of locals constructing a mirrored sculpture fabricated to mimic the shape of mountains in a forty minute long video examining reality and fiction in the South Central China farming town that recently declared itself to be "Shangri-La". The mirrored sculpture, on a rotating platform (or its stand-in), becomes a central player in this installation. It is "kind of a giant sacred mountain prayer wheel crossed with a disco ball" says the artist. There’s more, including shots of a vaulted hut built to contain the chanting meditations of monks, and the icing of a mountainous cake that commemorates the manufactured tourist destination. This is at once a playful and insightful experience.

Fiona Tan’s "Correction" is a large scale, six projector installation that documents those who are associated with incarceration: prisoners as well as guards. Tan’s work blurs the boundaries between video and photographic portraiture. For "Correction" she filmed 300 prison inmates, creating a series of video portraits. These moving images continuously loop and are presented
on the screens, which hang in a circle. Each portrait is visible for 20-50 seconds, making the total viewing time nearly three hours. An interesting and rhythmic relationship emerges between the still and the moving image, constantly moving you from the perception of a moment to the passage of time (UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Isaac Julian is a British photographer/filmmaker whose installation "True North" is his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles. Julian, whose films include the experimental work "Looking for Langston" and the feature "Young Soul Rebels," has become well known as a video artist making multi-projector installations that explore issues of race and identity. "True North" is based on the story of Matthew Henson, an African American manservant who went to the north pole in 1909. The landscape of Iceland provides a dramatic setting for Julian’s photographic and video explorations, which are both poetic and narrative in nature (MAK Center, West Hollywood).

Isaac Julian, Untitled from the "True
North" series, 2004, digital print.