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March, 2006

The next time your kid threatens to turn blue unless you get him that toy that comes with a Happy Meal, give in gladly if he promises to grow up to be another Jonathan Callan, the British sculptor who transforms children’s toys into the bizarre with injections of silicon. Or Walter Martin or his cohort Paloma Munoz, who subvert snow globes and install them in public places like the Wilshire/Normandie Metro Rail Station. Or any of the eleven sculptors, painters, video or performance artists in From the Land of Misfit Toys who have customized playthings in ways that play up humor, cultural criticism and the questioning of preconceptions (Otis College, Ben Maltz Gallery, West Side).

Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz—
info to come on “snow globe”

Liza Ryan, "Untitled," 2006, inkjet
print & graphite, 4 7/8 x 4 7/8".

Leon Golub, "Fleeing Figure I,"
1971, acrylic on linen, 39 x 33".

Creative license may be suspect in the world of literary nonfiction, but photographer Liza Ryan’s “enhancement” of selected bits of human anatomy and landscape with graphite, charcoal and collage elements. Ryan has you look at how a twig or a vine can fuse with human hair, or how the veins of the skin are similar to those of a leaf. These quiet works are lush and dense, and successfully draws the viewer into an intense examination of the tenuous relationship between reality and illusion. While Ryan quietly suspends disbelief in the main gallery, the late Leon Golub infuses two adjacent rooms with explosive work. A colorful collection of drawings based on classical myths is overshadowed by Golub’s dark, intense explorations of the violence of war. Scrubbing paint into unstretched fragments of linen that suggest tattered, blood stained banners, Golub confronts us with images of violence that are impossible to deny or ignore: “Burnt Man,” “Fleeing Figure,” “Fallen Warrior” (Griffin, Santa Monica).

Clytie Alexander, installation of "Diaphan Orange" and "Diaphan Tan,” 2005, perforated kozo and shellac based ink, 34 x 25”.
Clytie Alexander moved from L.A. to Mojave and is now in New York, and the changes from urban to vast open spaces seem to be inspiring some very fine work. Titled “Diaphans” due to the see-through quality of the 12 metal and 2 paper rough squares, each is rendered diaphanous by pristinely ordered holes Alexander has punched into painted planes. The works are crisp and clean, but they are not in the least bit cold like much process-focused sculpture. The panels are installed so that they hang just away from the wall support, and the backsides of works have been strategically painted in colors that cast a hued shadow on the wall that is readily visible through the holes of the work.
The color-plays and hued halos thus created “frame” and enliven the cool blues, icy greens and rich oranges of these handsome pieces. Here op art meets minimalism meets perceptual color mixing that would make Monet proud (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica).

Two light sculptures and a third sculpture illuminate the gallery walls, filling them with colored light. Ann Veronica Janssens’ work is about how light and space coexist, and it most certainly relates to the aesthetic associated with the California Light and Space artists. She searches for a perfect interplay between projected and available light seen in relation to the body. At first glance the works appear too simple yet they change as you move around them. In addition to the projected works, “Aquarium” is a perfect sphere, which floats in a glass cube and reflects both the viewer and the surrounding space (1301PE, West Hollywood).

Ann Veronica Janssens, “Aquarium,” 1992-2005,
glass/water/methanol/silicone oil, h: 15 x w: 15 x d: 15”.
Photo:  Frank Nilson

Bobbie Moline-Kramer, "Face to
Face VII," 2004/05, oil on panel, 6 x 6".
So distanced have we become from our feelings that they are medicated, simulated, packaged, analyzed--everything but actually experienced in our bodies, full force. Bobbie Moline Kramer shows a new portrait suite in which several large-scale faces and a series of 6 by 6-inch additional faces capture varying degrees of intense or contained emotion. Moline-Kramer works from composite photos of a person randomly spliced together so that identity and symmetry are re-imagined and portrayed at moments of emotion so intense that there is no filter. Those moments where we have no more shame, when we laugh until we cry and the intimacy afterward is embarrassing. Those moments when we suffer so, that our noses run and saliva gels unattractively at our lips (This you will see in a large indigo toned image of a black woman in great despair, lit from the right as if caught in some dark physical as well as psychic space).
“Face to Face” is the show’s title, and in it Moline-Kramer confronts us face to face with human emotion writ large, writ really large. Here we see folks in the throes of being human in the most unedited way, and it is unnerving to watch them feel so intensely. . .it reminds us that we can too. It is hyperbolic? You bet. It is manipulative and theatrical? Absolutely. Intense human pathos manipulates us and others, is by definition dramatic, and to render it otherwise would be to pander to the flat lined emotive world that relegates the privilege of feeling to the likes of Madonna (heaven help us), the child, the id, or the rarified, kooky “artiste.” As for her technique, form hangs onto your attention as paint, as translucent medium judiciously able to trap light in some 4th dimension unique to the pictorial. These oil on panel works handle surface with Renaissance precision (Paul Kopeikin Gallery, West Hollywood).

Alexander Ross’ signature abstractions look like branches of hardened green viscera, green fossils, or some other oozey analogue that suggests the growth and movement of nature in the most lush yet non specific ways. Ross actually builds these organic looking contraptions out of plasticine medium, photographs the models, studies the resulting shapes judiciously to maximize visual and emotive resonance, and then paints the unctuous green accretions against innocent sky blues. The finished works call to mind cells, magnified fingerlike microbes, or a bizarre growth on some extra terrestrial planet. The canvases are large and sumptuous; it is clear that this artist is beyond facile with paint. Yet the formula, however virtuoso, is becoming predictable. Smaller works that loosen and experiment with the paradigm more freely have an inventive warmth that is less expected, no less appealing, and full of fresh possibility (Daniel Weinberg Gallery, West Hollywood).

Alexander Ross, “Untitled,” 2005, oil
paint on canvas, 98 1/2 x 72 1/2”.

Makiko Kudo, “I Don't Know,” 2004,
oil on canvas, 71 5/8 x 89 3/8”.
Very well known in Japan, Makiko Kudo paints large canvases with landscapes and foliage in eccentric blues, dirt browns and unlikely goldenrods. The style of rendering invokes (but is not exactly) that uniquely Japanese craft form in which landscape is constructed from bits of tissue. Here the lyrical shapes are of astoundingly skillfully handled pigment. The sensibility lies somewhere between abstract mark making and the caricature that gave rise to the anime phenom. In Kudo’s hands however, land, a distant volcano, green knolls, and Hello Kitty snows are inhabited by cartoony,
lanky Japanese school girls with cropped coifs, drawn loosely only as outlines in a dry brush that makes them appear to be spectral or graffiti afterthoughts competing with the more poetic theme of nature. This strange and stunning work aptly draws on the old and the ultra new in Japanese graphic traditions, as it refuses to settle into the amine legacy, while insisting that we take the weird, portentous emotion of its quirky stick-figure girls most seriously (Marc Foxx Fine Art, West Hollywood).

When we think of landscape painting, it’s usually in terms of bucolic or urban vistas or dramatic seascapes aglow from within. Few of us would readily conjure up images of what looks like a runaway surfboard adrift in a sea, or mounds of congealed paint festooned with shells and flowers. But as Landscape Confection points out, traditional concepts of landscape have been dramatically expanded. While artists have put their imagination into high gear, we as viewers will have to look with an open mind or gain nothing from the experience. As we see in, for example, Jim Hodges’ curtains of delicately strung together silk flowers, silvery spider webs and carefully constructed neo-baroque forms, it’s very much about shattering preconceptions and a spirit of adventure.

Rowena Dring, “Pool,” 2004, stitched fabrics.
Australian artist Neal Rock’s lumpy, candy-like constructions look as if he’s subbed brushes for cake decorating gear. Rock creates lumpy sculptural reliefs in his “Polaris Range” series by squeezing globs of colored silicon onto metal armatures, then filling in any gaps with tiny flowers and other decorative elements. Rowena Dring’s carefully delineated landscapes look, at first glance, like a paint-by-numbers exercise. Up close, one sees that these are not paintings at all, but shapes cut from cloth and sewn onto canvas with meticulous care; “Untitled (Stream)” is a tour de force. If it looks as though some artists have raided grandma’s sewing basket, all the better. Anything goes here. Beauty is in and decorative is no longer the d-word (Orange County Museum of Art [OCMA], Orange County).

Susan Rush, “So Sweet That Cat,”
mixed mediums with collage, 36 x 24”.
The title Beyond Borders is a metaphor. I t describes both the differences and contrasts of the four exhibiting artists--international and California--the media they use, and the images they create. Daggie Wallace and Manuela Reitz are from Germany, Salma Arastu is Islamic and Indian-born, and Susan Rush is a Californian. The exotic flair of their diverse art seems to come even more alive in the warm and colorful setting of the gallery. While the exhibition is intimate and limited to a few works by each artist, the art runs the gamut of expression. Wallace creates in luscious painted pastels, forming sensuously realistic individual portraits.
Reitz’ acrylic paintings are mystical semi-abstractions where a story is told, but the details are more in the colors, texture and composition than in what is really happening. Arastu brings together the spiritual nature of her heritage with the sophistication of living in New York. Her mixed media and acrylic on canvas natural subjects, such as the sun, flowers, or moonlight, exude an Oriental enchantment. Rush makes a dramatic switch from realistic charcoal cityscapes to rendering an inventive assortment of figures that are reduced to living in small circular spots that float in a broad field of colorful tribal-looking abstract mixed media collage (Space on Spurgeon, Orange County).

A provocative project poignantly titled Leaving Aztlan denotes an important departure from race, from racial thinking, and the confining lure of heritage as defined for minorities by centrist notions. The Latina/o or Chicana/o artists in the show are bent on making works that contravene stereotypes of Latino art (magic realism, street life, acid colors, the barrio). They instead offer up some very sophisticated concept works that insist on being read more broadly, and only through the current theories of art practice. Connie Arismendi’s mixed media “Noche de Boda” celebrates a Latin coming of age ritual with a crocheted-like snow flake and a delicate orchid--more Victorian in its references to feminine desire than South of the Border; Carlos Fresques spoofs Americana, as any Pop visual critic might, with a thickly textured, readymade spoof on our ubiquitous, pan racial “happy face.”

Salomon Huerta, “Untitled Head (#4),” 2001,
oil on canvas on panel, 12 x 11 3/4”.
There is excellent work among this group show of ten promising artists who push forward the notion that good art is thoughtful rather than racial (Santa Monica Art Studios Arena 1 Gallery, Santa Monica).

Patrick Hill, “Deja Vu,” 2005, walnut, acrylic
paint, dye, wool, 36 x 18 1/4 x 26 1/4”.
A renewed interest in the property of Symmetry has emerged: talk of its prevalence in everything from buildings to Greek thought to M.C. Escher’s mathematical fantasies are in the air just now. The implications of this idea are sampled in an array of works that address or use the principle both head-on and more covertly. The subtly placed artworks in the Schindler house also fuse with the architecture as well as with the grounds, calling attention to what is unique about both. For example, the gorgeous five panel drawings placed between windows by Sandeep Mukherjee engage in witty interplay with the colors and shapes of the garden that can be seen through the windows. While not all of the works are site specific, they generally resonate in the context of the house. Work are in a variety of media, including video, sound, sculpture and drawing. The other artists here include Eddo Stern and Jessica Hutchins, Amy Sarkisian, Edgar Arceneaux, Patrick Hill, Brandon Lattu, Stephanie Taylor and Sam Watters (MAK Center, West Hollywood).

In the group exhibition An Image Bank for Everyday Revolutionary Life, each artist was invited to make work based on images taken from or inspired by the photographic archives of the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Siqueiros was himself a collector, and the images in his archive span many genres and time periods. Some are overtly political, others are environmental. As curated by Laurie Firstenberg and Anton Vidokle, each participating artist could make a work in any media based on what they saw in the archives.

Daniel J. Martinez, proposal for “An Image
Bank for Everyday Revolutionary Life,”
While the majority of works produced are photographic, not all of the invited artists used the actual images as their point of departure. Some made wall drawings, others videos, yet all the work in the exhibition speaks to a political or social issue. The installation speaks to the power of the archive and how, even when times change, certain issues remain compelling (Gallery at REDCAT, Downtown).

Ken Bracken, “Untitled,” 2005, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36".
An interesting three-person show ranges from the comedic to the austere. The comedy comes Adolph Simpson’s filled-to-profusion collages, packed with Bosch-like mosaics culled not from dreams but from the most banal mass media: Felix the Cat puts an errant hand on Betty Boop’s butt, Popeye squares off with the Pink Panther. Simpson shows us a more serious side in one collage titled “Ancestors,” where he takes on the knarly issues of colonialism and race using similar pulp culture visuals. As for the austere, Kavin Buck makes enamel on canvas compositions all varying the theme of vertical hard edge bands in pungent colors. He says these are emblems of L.A.’s concrete environs, but they mostly recall Barnett Newman zips.
The middle ground is held by Ken Bracken, who stacks obscure, delicately limned biomorphic suggestions of real objects onto the center of three-foot canvases where as much space is left as marked. The feeling is akin to a page in a nostalgic scrap book holding weathered leaves and other doodled remembrances (Bert Green Fine Art, Downtown).

Dominique Moody, "My Opic Detail".

Charles Dickson, "Mobilization of Sprit"

Two L.A. art figures, Dominique Moody and Charles Dickson, who also happen to be artists and innovative story tellers, employ found objects and all manner of bric a brac in sculptures that remind us of tribal histories and myths long forgotten (Craft & Folk Art Museum, West Hollywood).

At a moment when its CEO Barry Munitz has left abruptly, asked to pay hundreds of thousands back to the Foundation for unspecified but clearly not noble reasons, and when the frazzled looking curator Marion True is indicted in Italy, the Getty Museum tries to keep its best face forward and draw on what it does best. One of its most sensible areas of focus is Edgar Degas--partly because he was both an artist who used early photography (a particular strength of the collection) in his work, and because as a painter he is so well loved by the museum going audience. Their Degas photographs are legend and in this show they draw together Degas’ works from a variety of media, underscoring the cross referencing done by so many of the early Modernists. Works like the lovely pastel “Miss Lala at the Fernado Circus” (a girl spinning high above the ground from a rope held in her teeth) confirm the close ties between early avant garde artists and the fringes of proper culture. There is a stunning early self portrait of a 23 year old Degas, there’s the expected “Woman at the Bath” who we (or rather, Degas) views voyeuristically without her knowledge (his favorite perspective), and a folio of sketches made casually. This latter object is perhaps the most revealing of all (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).

Herve Friend, “Redlands from Smiley Hill,”
1891, vintage Albumen print, 13 x 16 3/8”.
It comes off as a pitch for the City of Commerce of Redlands, but in fact this show was born out of the early heyday of growth in and around L.A. at the turn of the century. When investors were canvassing our environs for fertile soil and cropland, there was a drive to move towards what is today Redlands. Two investors in the late 1890s hired photographer Herve Friend to document the expansion of the lands, dams and water delivery systems around Redlands, and to project this beckoning paradise and mercantile mecca. Friend made at least three trips to Bear Valley throughout August and September of 1891, out of which came 160 14 x 17 inch photographs, which were distributed by the Bear Valley Irrigation Company to potential investors across the country and in Europe.
The idea was to produce a documentary survey and a sophisticated marketing tool drawing people and money to what would become our sprawling city. The result here is an excellent show of what stand up surprising well as fine art photos and a sumptuous as well as historically fascinating catalogue (Michael Dawson Gallery, Hollywood).

Known well in France, less so here in the States, photographer Lucien Clergue is represented in a fairly comprehensive retrospective that shows a career in which everything--nomads, abstract patterns in nature, the female nude--is seen and recorded with the same intense sensuality. Clergue’s black and white work stands on its own, but it has not hurt one bit that he has mixed with and shot fabled literati from Picasso to Jean Cocteau.

Lucien Clergue, “Nu Ornithologique,”
2004, cibachrome print, 16 x 20”.
His photo portraits of Picasso are well known and deservedly so (Louis Stern Gallery, West Hollywood).

Shirley Irons, “Wind,” 2005, oil on panel, 11 x 14”.
Shirley Irons presents both photographs and paintings depicting the meadowlands of northeastern New Jersey. The meadowland is a place of transition, a place of both growth and decay. By focusing on that area of New Jersey Irons references Robert Smithson’s projects that explored and elevated the detritus of Passaic, New Jersey to monumental status. She explores the beauty that nature instills on a place which is otherwise an eyesore. These photographs are fleeting moments where sky and building coexist. Accompanying paintings are more placid studies of specific moments in time.
The specifics of the place disappear as the power of the image takes over. The relationship between painting and photograph also gives the place added dimension (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

Irit Batsry was awarded the 2002 Whitney Biennial Bucksbaum prize for her film “These are Not My images (neither there nor here).” Since then she has shown her films and photographic works in exhibitions world wide. Here Batsry transforms the space by presenting projected as well as photographic images taken at Events Park in Milagres, Brazil. The vibrant color of the dilapidated buildings is distorted through her manipulations. Batsry plays with the relationship between the abstract and the digital as she manipulates the observed world. What was seen versus what was transformed is hard to distinguish, especially because many of the images contain mirrors.

Irit Batsry, "Longshot," 2006, digital
lambda print on fujiflex, 47 x 63"
The mirror reflects as well as distorts, and Batsry plays with the rich variety of ways that this can transform how we see. The large scale presentation of vibrant and saturated colors dance on the walls. From a technical standpoint this work investigates issues of perception and technology, but also stretch the limits of imagination (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

Carnival masqueraders
in Venice, Italy, 2001
The phenomenon of ¡Carnival! festivals as current day cultural production is explored via fifty elaborate costumes and numerous masks, reflecting a range of masquerade and performance themes, and the complex symbolism of such events in Laza, Spain; Venice, Italy, Basel, Switzerland, Oruro, Bolivia; Tlaxcala, Mexico; Recife/Olinda, Brazil; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and New Orleans.
For authenticity, the celebrations and rituals are brought to life in real time through photographic murals and videos of recent Carnivals, so that we get a sense of the evolution, the intensity, the sights and sounds of this complex and age old custom. It is partly ironic and partly heartening to have this focus on the ritual at a time when in the very places where Carnival takes place there is so much despair: New Orleans, Brazil, parts of Mexico. The logic is that these places are rich with history and need our support to keep these legacies alive (UCLA Fowler Museum, West Los Angeles).