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January, 2006

Mineo Mizuno, "California Landscape,"
1987, ceramic, 74 x 32 1/2 x 18" each.
A major retrospective of Mineo Mizuno samples 30 years of work by this exceptional Japanese born, L.A. based ceramicist. Finely curated pieces from 1973 to 2005 highlight this noted artist’s non-functional vessels, and her deliberate celebration of the Asian respect for slow, meditative hand work. Lush, complex luster finishes decorated with calligraphic markings echo the shapes, processes and unpredictable dynamics we find in nature. Coming from major museums and lenders, the works’ scale runs from intimate to six foot tall glistening monoliths arranged into an impressive installation (Long Beach Museum, Long Beach).

Peter Voulkos died in 2002 but not before changing the face of ceramics; in the 1950s and as a teacher at Otis Art Institute he was among the first to pioneer the idea that ceramics could be art for its own sake, rather than prissy craft. This show traces the early works and emphasizes tangentially the influence on this artist of all non-western craft, but primarily Japanese aesthetics and philosophy. The most impressive objects are the massive so-called “Ice Buckets,” a banal nickname for exquisite tube-like vessels whose surfaces and glazing really do resemble fossilized bark, ebony silt from a dry river bed, and red clay from some ancient time. The buzzword “Zen” is used too much in art, but it is unavoidable here and fully applicable in its best sense, as the objects we see--

Peter Voulkos, "Plate".
whether delicate tea ware or massive abstract disks--seem not composed but literally discovered by the artist’s processes (pushing, pulling, stacking, kneading) that generated them (American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona).

Enrique Martinez Celaya, "Breath," 2005, oil
and tar on canvas, and mirror diptych, 100 x 156".
Enrique Martinez Celaya is one of a few artists who makes work that is large enough to hold this gallery’s vast space. Here he presents large scale paintings as well as a sculptures that continue his investigations of man and nature. An image of a young boy in a delicate shirt expresses the fragility of human beings in relation to the natural landscape. On diptych, "Breath," includes a mirror
that not only reflects the other works in the exhibition but captures the viewer and immediately puts you into the work. Celaya is a talented painter who is able to utilize many media--in addition to painting, here he presents photography, writing and sculpture--simultaneously, to convey his subtle but poignant message about nature and life (Griffin Contemporary, Santa Monica).

Painted with what look like the brilliant raw pigments of the sort used in Persian miniatures, Romio Shrestha makes paintings of appropriated Eastern and Hindu gods, seated cross legged in mandrolas, sporting many arms, appearing to dream of tiny deities, and looking as if they have spontaneously combusted into lavish flames and elaborate foliage. Detailed, exotic, done with no detectable irony, and clearly of our day, this is technically amazing, oddly evocative stuff (Don O’Melveny Gallery, West Hollywood).

Romio Shrestha

Andy Warhol, "Kiku," 1983, unique
screenprint on paper, 32 x 40".
The Kiku, or chrysanthemum (Dendranthema grandiflorum) is not indigenous to Japan, but that didn’t stop the Meiji emperors from formalizing a conscripted version of the radiating composite for their family crest. Andy Warhol wasn’t Japanese, nor did this deter the Pop artist from taking the Kiku to heart, releasing it from its pretentious symmetry and making it the perfect vehicle for demonstrating his dexterity with space, line and colors as stunning as those in any geisha’s kimono. New Yorkers vegetate in front of Monet’s Water Lilies when life looks glum and winter seems endless. At least for now, we in L. A. have these "Kiku," each one more achingly beautiful than the last (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica).

This is an Irving Penn you are not used to seeing and most certainly should see. We expect the high fashion shots, the love of glamour and the staged Conde Nast portraits that turn faces into odd geometry. Dubbed “Ethnographic” works, these rarer, entrancing and sultry platinum prints capture faraway places--New Guinea, North Africa, Cameroon--seen through the lens of a Western European who cannot help but do a little bit of staging to exaggerate the feel of the exotically sensual. There is a warrior who sits on a throne-like stool, his legs spread wide so that strategically placed, at his crotch, is the head of a reclining lithe girl, all nubile breasts and girly whimsy. A more white male fantasy of “the primitive” one cannot imagine. Even more gorgeous, and less contrived, is a warm hued 1971 print of two Moroccan women--one old, one a child, both draped in dark black veils from head to toe, so that all we see is the sliver of bread they carry (Fahey/Klein Gallery, West Hollywood).

Irving Penn, "Seated Warrior, Reclining Girl, Cam-
eroon," 1969, gelatin photograph, 18 3/4 x 18 3/4".

Newcomer Kenny Harris makes realistic paintings in the tradition of say, Rembrandt Peale--the light and ability to observe is photo accurate yet there is always a trace of gesture and surface pit that reminds you to be awed because this was done by a very delicate human hand. The other interesting thing here is that Harris traveled to Cuba for inspiration, and so the images of solitary antique chairs on tiled floors, of doorways and quaint interiors have this rural nostalgia that sharper trompe l’oeil does not achieve (Gallery C, South Bay).

Kenny Harris, "Blue Towel,"
2005, oil on panel, 12 x 8".

Milton Rogovin’s black and white documentary style photographs look at miners throughout the world. He began photographing miners in the 1970s, shooting them both at work and at home. The photographs are presented as diptychs that contrast the grim working conditions with the domestic. An advocate for social change, Rogovin, who is now in his 90s, has continued to present issues of class and those struggles in his work. The photographs on view come across as direct statements of fact. That his subjects are willing to open their private doors to Rogovin attests to his sensitivity towards those willing to pose for him (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

Milton Rogovin, "China," 1986, gelatin silver print, 10 x 10".

Ramone Muñoz, "Ollantaytambo," 2004, oil on canvas, 66 x 138".

Jon Nguyen, "Unititled #4," 2005,
acrylic on panel, 48 x 48".
The work of painters Ramone Muñoz and Jon Nguyen comes from within the traditions of historical and lyrical painterly abstraction. Muñoz’ “Shift Site” deals very sweetly with the residue of visual experience by sifting memories of travels through a cool aqua palette and larger, stately forms. Alternating occasional gestural inserts with broader open forms, he conjures up a semblance of the monumental without overpowering the viewer’s sense of intimacy. In “Ollantaytambo” green and blue forms are layered on a scumbled background, resulting in a cross between a lush still life and the mountain landscape he is recalling.

The “Noise” series by Nguyen deals in a more muscular vein by compressing experience. A set of intersecting shapes and gestures are layered on top of one another in a kind of fast forwarding where swatches of color seem to be flying by on their way to another site.
Drawing on a spectrum of saturated and generally acidic colors, Nguygen almost carves at the painting surface like he was trying to scratch his way through to the other side. In “Untitled #4” this controlled strife is underscored by stark reds and gray/blacks (ANDLAB, Downtown).

Damian Ortega’s “The Beetle Trilogy” is the documentation of a performance in which an old Volkswagen Beetle was used as a prop. The exhibition includes two videos as well as three sculptures that relate to the activities of the performance. Ortega put grease under the wheels of the Beetle, tied yellow ropes to its sides and engaged in a tug of war with the car in a futile battle of man vs. machine. While a drummer played, he pushed and pulled the car.

Damian Ortega, "Moby Dick," June 3, 2005
performance, photographic documentation.
The video tape documents the performance. Included are the drums, pulled apart and attached to the wall and floor, as well as cast VW parts. A second tape documents the burying of an upside down Volkswagen so that at the end of the performance all one sees is a large pile of dirt and four wheels (Gallery at REDCAT, Downtown).

Sol Lewitt, "Splotch #18,"
2005, fiberglass, 68 x 68 x 68".
The ebbs and flows of Sol Lewitt’s black and white sculptures resemble mountain silhouettes, sandcastles or melted cityscapes. The forms seem to emerge from their bases like stalagmites. Lewitt’s familiar formal geometry seems to have disappeared, but it is still implicitly there. When looking at the drawings in relation to the gouaches one can visualize the wavey lines on paper being an aerial view of the sculptures or vice versa. The minimal palette of these works--black, white, or black and white--calls attention to presence and absence as well as to positive and negative space (Margo Leavin Gallery, West Hollywood).

Commissioned by the city of Nancy in France to examine post war modernist government housing, Kirsten Everberg’s lushly detailed paintings of exteriors and interiors present spaces divided in much the same way modernist architecture divided space. Everberg paints thick areas of color that allow representation to melt into abstraction. Her surfaces are exquisite, and the subject of her works equates the past with the present (1301 PE, West Hollywood).

Kirsten Everberg, "Fountain, Nancy,"
2005, oil & enamel on panel, 60 x 48".

Camille Pissarro, “Conversation, chemin
du chou, Pontoise,” 1874, oil on canvas.

Paul Cézanne, “The House of the Hanged Man,”
1873, oil on canvas. Photo: Hervé Lewandowski.

Camille Pissarro was like a pollinator in the 19th century; he interfaced between Theo and Van Gogh when the latter went to Arles, and he wrote to and essentially mentored Paul Cézanne by being a sounding board for ideas about the relationship between the seen world and the world of form--the essential dogma of modern art. His insights led Cézanne down a path to notoriety as the father of the 20th Century avant garde; fewer of us know Pissarro. Pissarro’s place next to Cézanne is addressed and ameliorated by a terrific show highlighting the years that the two men painted together. Their mutual influence is captured on canvases the two made of similar places and similar motifs. What we see is that, unlike the brittle and closed Cézanne, Pissarro was generous and thoughtful--he saw form and nature with a kind of clear sighted tenderness; Cézanne with a laser sharp intellect. In scene after liquid scene of the landscapes by Auvers the interchange of visual ideas comes across. Pissarro will see the intense light of the Oise River Valley as brilliant shape; in Cézanne’s version of the same scene he takes that idea and expands it, translating the entire viewed world into a puzzle of interlocked space and volume. Pissarro looked first, Cézanne looked more deeply. Their landscapes and still lifes, even portraits the two undertook of the exact same subject, indicate that one discovered and shared, the other refined and made history (Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], West Hollywood).

One never tires of seeing Weegee’s photographs. However familiar they have become, they still manage to offer surprises and unexpected twists. As a photojournalist specializing in crime scenes, Weegee was always at the right place at the right time. He had no problems bullying his way into a crowd to get the perfect photograph. On view are images depicting nightlife as well as crime scenes from the 1940s and 1950s. Born Arthur Fellig, he became know as Weegee after the Ouija board because he appeared to materialize like magic whereever the action was. The exhibition divides his work into sections covering Fires, Kissing Couples, as well as the famous Police photographs. Thus it encompasses both the better and less known images he created during his ambitious career (The Getty Center, West Los Angeles).