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December, 2005

Fletcher Benton, Model for "Balanced/
Unbalanced F," 2005, steel, 13 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 8".
A classicist in the same sense as Britain’s Richard Meyer, Fletcher Benton has made constructivist hard edge outdoor sculptures to punctuate many of our well known corporate spaces (eg. Cedars Sinai, UCLA), using signature platonic shapes such as the circle, rod, or square balanced and calibrated in perfect vectors of push and pull, stasis and mobility. Maquettes and drawings for large scale public sculpture projects show how tough it is to end up with these “simple” shapes, and suggest that often the intimate elegance of idea drawings can be more satisfying than outsized public displays (Tasende, West Hollywood).

In 1966 Ed Ruscha published an artist’s book documenting every building on the Sunset Strip. This, among the other artists’ books made at the time, helped to establish Rusha’s career. The original edition is now a sought after collector’s item. In 1973 Rusha followed the same formula--loading black and white film into a 35 mm camera mounted in the bed of his pick-up truck--and documented all the buildings along Hollywood Boulevard. He repeated this endeavor in 2004 using color film. The two sets of images have now been printed together and are on view here. The project is comprised 142 prints, each with the two sets of images from 1973 and 2004 running parallel to one another on the page.

Ed Ruscha, "Then and Now," 2005,
gelatin silver prints, 27 1/2 x 39 2/5".
The portfolio allows one to examine the details and the changes that have occurred on one of Los Angeles’ most famous streets. In addition to being an interesting complement to a previous work, it is also important as an historic document (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).

Graciela Sacco, "Cuerpo a Cuerpo
(Body to Body), No. 38," 2002
Argentinean installation artist Graciela Sacco captures the new transnational content of art, a position uncomfortable with emphasizing boundaries and race as essentialist “conditions,” and more interested in showing that boundaries/ideological lines are abstract constructions with tangible and often devastating results. Her “Shadows from the South and the North” series on view here uses the heliography commonly employed in making architectural blueprints to transfer, onto found and discarded objects (using complex photosensitive emulsion processes),
powerful images she’s appropriated and rendered herself. In several works, these almost apparition-like visuals, suggesting sometimes maps, sometimes hidden wall markings are transferred onto silk cloth to stunning effect. When you get up close and read what is there you find mobs, demonstrators, the disenfranchised--those consequences of politically imposed notions of us and them, center and margin (Stephen Cohen Gallery, West Hollywood).

As the world fractures in reactionary politics, The Art of Engagement commemorates a new book by art historian Peter Selz of the same title. The book asks the recurring question: Should (or should not) fine art interact with political activism? To mark the book’s arrival the gallery has gathered a cache of top-notch work with social themes from precedent setting artists such as George Grosz, Otto Dix, Leon Golub, and leading into current conceptual makers such as Alexis Smith and Terry Allen. Smith shows a 2003 collage of the political commentary magazine “The Nation,” depicting the artist-manipulated image of a dove overlaid with a 7- Eleven logo.

Robert Arneson, "Primary Discharge,"
1990, ceramic, 15 x 12 x 7".
Hitting us over the head as only he could, Robert Arneson’s “Primary Discharge” is a ghostly mask bleeding red and blue from its eyes to lament the hollowness of organized politics. As those artists who inherited the cerebral, distanced stance of the late ‘90s are forced by the present political landscape to decide (again) art’s relationship to life, this is a great heads up (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

Phoebe Washburn, “It Has No Secret
Suprise,” 2005, mixed media, installation
view, dimensions variable.
Photo: Joshua White.

Runa Islam, "Be the First to See What You See As You
See It," 2005, 16mm film with sound, 7 min., 30 sec.
Among three current projects, Phoebe Washburn’s installation, “It Has No Secret Surprise,” entirely covers lobby and stair walls with numerous pieces of cardboard or plywood cut into varying sizes, all cobbled together with drywall screws. Dotted with small pop-up windows and containing the start of a hydroponics garden, Washburn’s work mulls over ideas related to the environment as well as notions of recycling. Finding bits and pieces of old exhibition packing materials from the Museum adds a dimension of archeology to the physicality of the site. Runa Islam’s “Be The First To See What You See As You See It,” is a 16mm film loop that portrays a young woman walking through a space in which china is displayed on pedestals. After manipulating the objects as though she were testing them, she slyly pushes them over until they crash to the floor. Filmed in slow motion, this oddly pleasing test to destruction feels like a game the silent actress sets up with her delicate porcelain prey. Ryoko Aoki’s works are fundamentally drawings. Using a variety of quirky pencil and ink strokes, felt pen marks, and gestural contour drawings, Aoki builds up a light, rather surreal world still abounding in remnants of the everyday. Her animated drawing works (a collaboration with Zon Ito) in video projection are downright enchanting. The animated movement complements the underlying narrative and transformative quality of her drawing (UCLA Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Executed in a variety of materials from paint to resin on panel, Kimberly Squaglia makes lush and large work in which lace-like biological ribbons resembling lacery or random spider webs intermingle with amoeba-like, freely floating squiggles and skeins of tendrilly lines. It’s all held in check by pinnacled shapes of color that enter the composition like sharp, calcareous formations growing underwater. Joan Miro would be proud of work that hints at the energy of life processes rather than intones life directly (Sherry Frumkin, Santa Monica).

Kimberly Squaglia, "Glacé," 2005,
oil/acrylic/resin on panel, 30 x 21".

Tom Wudl, "The Gift," 2005, pencil/charcoal/
acrylic and gold leaf on paper, 163 1/4 x 236".
Tom Wudl has been trying to evolve a new vocabulary that mixes the seen with the iconic. It is commendable when artists challenge predictable formats that won them collectors and praise, but in this case, it’s apparent that, however nobly, the uneven results here argue that he is still sorting this all out. The repeating forms now used as floating and repeating markers are eyes, flowers, diamonds and clubs from playing cards; these are interspersed with references to imagistic traditions, especially the classic comic duo Laurel and Hardy. In “The Gift,” pastel flower buds that call up those tissue paper flowers we made at camp or that appear on wedding cakes float behind a grayish and masterfully obscured image of the two comedians.
Among the new work, “The Gift” tells us that Wudl is most definitely clarifying and fine tuning his new course (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).

Christopher Murphy is a young, skillful figurative painter whose psychological works explore incomplete spaces as expressed through the illustration of groups or duplicates. For “Matter in the Wrong Place” Murphy’s strategy is to render figures in exacting detail, while depicting the backgrounds as flat areas of bright color. For example in “Scatter,” a young man looks down at his open palm, in which he holds two round objects. These objects --the buttons from his shirt--fall from his hand to the ground below. The figure only wears a pinkish brown dress shirt and his underwear. The events leading up to this moment are subject to speculation, which is the quality that makes these paintings so evocative (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).

Christopher Murphy, "Scatter,"
2005, oil on panel, 55 x 25".

Kent Bellows, "Sora, December 1995,"
1996, oil on panel, 30 1/8 x 18 1/2".
Usually group shows mean reaching into the files willy nilly when gallerists are out of ideas, with typically uneven and vague results. The Figurative Impulse is an exception. The quality of the selections here stays exceptionally high and presents a variety of sensibilities, from light-handed, to mysterious, to very erotic. The theme that runs throughout is the body’s enduring power as a complex metaphor. Desolate in tone and luminous in its detail, Kent Bellows’ “Sora” is a scarred woman in ‘70s styled hair posed before a stark stone wall. An A-list figurative painter for nearly three decades, Odd Nerdrum moves paint like Delacroix and hints at the kinky subtexts of Balthus in the monumental “Love Divided,” capturing two young women intimately near each other.
William Beckman’s “Study for Diana #1” is a virtuoso pencil drawing of sculptress Diana Moore, and Susan Hauptman’s “Self-Portrait as Prima Donna Bitch” admits--almost through hyperbole--the necessary narcissism of the artistic viewpoint (Forum Gallery, West Hollywood).

Tim Forcum’s abstract paintings are colorful arrays of overlapping shapes that allude to both physical and psychological landscapes. The physical landscape in the works relates to geological structures of the densely layered earth. Natural toned ovals coalesce on the paintings’ surface as the palette moves from dark to light, and as shapes are layered from back to front. The imagery filling these large-scaled canvases can be seen as dense and colorful floral clusters. There is a delicate balance between positive and negative space as well as between abstraction and representation in these dynamic paintings (d.e.n. contemporary art, Culver City).

Tim Forcum, "Carrousel Park,"
2005, oil on canvas, 72 x 60".

Natasa Prosenc, "Sphere" (detail),
2001, video still from a video installation.
Slovenian born filmmaker Natasa Prosenc currently divides her time between Slovenia and Los Angeles. Her site specific two-projector installation explores the spiritual journey of a figure through an evocatively ambiguous natural landscape. The dual projections, one on each side of the wall, picture the blurred face of a woman as fluids pass over her. The intricate sounds of water gurgling inhabit the space. One becomes part of the work as the two projections surround and envelope you. A third projection filling a back hallway depicts an elongated figure who appears engulfed in flames. Prosenc has made single channel as well as video based installation. Her work uses both sound and image to explore varying notions of self in a changing environment (Overtones, Culver City).

John O’Brien’s “Pagine Veneziane (the Venice Diaries)” are a series of lyrical mixed media drawings that combine photographically-derived images of historic Italian architecture and biomorphic modernist abstractions. The sharply delineated black and white representations, however fragmented, resonate with fantastical mid-century colors (precisely the saccharine tones used by upscale Milano designers of that era) to evoke Post Modern temporal layering. O’Brien accomplishes this without sinking into melancholy (Kristi Engle Gallery, Downtown).

John O'Brien, "Pagina 9," 2005,
mixed media on paper.

Sandeep Mukherjee, "Untitled" (detail),
2005, acrylic ink and needble etching
on curalene, 8 x 24 1/2 feet.
We know Sandeep Mukherjee from his room sized mountain with floating drawn figures shown at Margo Leavin and Pomona College last year, but here he shifts to fully abstract works that involve delicately dripping obsessive watery dots in magenta, ochres and blues into coiling vortices. These spirals are exaggerated by lines radiating from the center, not painted but embossed into the vellum-like working surface to achieve effects that call to mind everything from the inside of shells to the expansion of galaxies (Sister, Downtown).

The notorious bad-boy filmmaker from Baltimore John Waters is best known for his eccentric feature films, which include “Hairspray” and “Polyester,” and is also a maker of photographs and objects. This exhibition, titled “Change of Life,” culls together works spanning forty years, and includes photographic montages as well as sculptural explorations. Poking fun at Hollywood and the cult of the movie star, Waters’ static works are as cutting as his films. He is a master of juxtaposition, and has a unique ability to make fun of sex, race and politics in a way that entertains even as it functions as a running commentary on contemporary culture. Included are screenings of his well known as well as little seen film work, as well as photographic sequences that combine images from television which extract new meaning from the banality of the everyday (Orange County Museum of Art [OCMA], Newport Beach, Orange County).

John Waters, "Manson Copies
Divine's Hairdo,"©1993,
photography by Greg Gorman.

The Getty got it right when they acquired the historic archive of photographer Julius Schulman, a man who has spent the best part of 95 years of his life in Southern California capturing modern architecture from a unique perspective. Their exhibition of over eighty of Schulman’s works puts on display the ability of this esteemed photographer to orchestrate subliminal effects, infusing structures designed by notable architects such as Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, John Lautner, and Pierre Koening with glamour. An initial adjustment to the modest size of Schulman’s photographs by those attuned to the heroic scale of recent work by the likes of Thomas Struth or Andreas Gursky, gives way to an appreciation of Schulman’s pioneering ability to stage lighting, employ models and record his vision from points of view that achieve the maximum cinematic impact (The J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).