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July/August, 2006

Like they say in Jewish vaudeville: "What's not to like...?"  That can most certainly be said of “David Hockney Portraits,” the first large museum exhibition devoted solely to Hockney’s portraiture, one of the most popular if not conceptually challenging of his styles.  Here is a draftsman who can capture/summarize reality with such ease that it almost looks decorative.  He lives a life that intersects with seemingly all of culture's literati, appealing to the voyeur in us.  On top of which he possesses the ability to yoke pure form to an undertow of emotional mood.  The fun part is that this concentrated dose permits us to see that his portraits actually vary widely in style, reflecting whatever compositional or technical goal Hockney is working out.  Images of his young lover at the pool are broad, flat areas of Palm Springs pastel color.  "Mum" (the artist's mother) is a study in van Gogh-like texture, in which painter's paint moves across the canvas in thick impasto.  In this mega-mug affair you will see Hockney capturing intimate subjects--friends, family, lovers, patrons, critics, and even himself--as well as all manner of  wannabes and movers and shakers who have hung onto the artist in his sustained rise to star status (Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], West Hollywood).

David Hockney, "Self Portrait," oil and
charcoal on canvas, 76 x 22 1/2" on 5 panels.

Kehinde Wiley, "St. John the Baptist II,"
2006, oil on canvas, 8' x 6' .
Kehinde Wiley's portraits of black men are often based on images and poses from Renaissance artists coupled with baroque decorative patterns. His current exhibition is titled "Columbus" because Wiley based his models’ poses on specific works in the Columbus (Ohio) Museum's collection, but his subjects’ dress and attitude are entirely modern. The installation resembles a museum show where the walls are painted and wallpapered, the floor carpeted, and the works hung in the midst of wooden decor.  The traditional setting of the works provides obvious counterpoint to the images of the young men who, depicted as they are in blue jeans, baseball caps and untied sneakers, speak to contemporary issues.  
When planning his work and selecting his models, Wiley often invites them to his studio for them to choose a painting or pose that they would like to be painted in.  The large-scale works here convey a striking presence, perhaps heightened by this aspect of collaboration between sitter and painter (Roberts & Tilton, West Hollywood).

Jorge Marin’s new work is his most interesting to date because he relies less on his ability to make sensuous, gorgeous figurative objects and turns instead to a provocative mixture of abstract figuration and ancient Olmec styles of representing the human form.  There are twelve figures massed together, each with the broad cheeks, short neck and handsome features typical of the Olmec and Mayans.  Each figure has its own headdress, each has their  eyes barely closed and lips slightly parted, so that they seem personages or beings recalled from the ancient Meso American past (Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood).

Jorge Marin, "Orante II," 2006,
Oaxacan clay, bronze, 26 1/2 x 14 x 9 3/4".

Roe Ethridge is an observer.  He creates stunning, if ultra safe chromogenic prints that record his travels in Los Angeles as he prepped for this first west coast show.  The process is very deliberate and directorial in the filmic sense—carefully, even beautifully staged.  As such, the images are circuitous signifiers of what it means to live 'round these parts.  In an image of a decaying apple next to a barely visible bush of flowering plants, if the message of a contemporary L.A. "vanitas" were not clear enough, Ethridge tosses in an ashtray overflowing with used and noxious cigarette butts.  There is exotica such as the redhead smoking a water pipe, and many portraits (one of a cop) that come across as 1950s and ‘60s era cinema stills (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).

Roe Ethridge, "Apple and Cigarettes," 2004/
2006, chromogenic print, 41 x 32 3/4".

Kristen Morgin's latest set of sculptures are simply amazing.  Her play with scale makes the objects she fashions out of wood, unfired clay and various glues into dilapidated, eerie and slightly scary dopplegangers of the real things.  Aside from the sense of imminent collapse and decay that these sculptures elicit in a viewer, there is a sly sense of humor at work.  Morgin's "Topolino" car lays out like the evening sky of T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".  Her "Carousel Horses" are both a majestic residue drawn from memory and an unsettling deterioration of physical matter (Marc Selwyn Gallery, West Hollywood).

Kristen Morgin, "Topolino," 2003, wood, unfired clay, paint, wire.

Roger Ballen, "Puppies in Fishtanks,"
2000, silver gelatin print, 16 1/2 x 16".
If you want to make an argument for never, ever using a digital camera, go see these drop dead gorgeous, sonorously poetic silver gelatin prints by Roger Ballen.  These images are funny and grotesquely pretty at once.  There is a sullied little boy wearing a mask that’s all askew, framed by abject walls, who peers out as if we disturbed his play.  A fellow with an oversized head and gruff workman's features, peers at two tiny cages in which puppy bulldogs are confined.  All the photographs have this sense of capturing the bizarre poetry of situations and people that the naked eye would pass over as not more than scruffy (Fahey Klein Gallery, West Hollywood).

You can talk and talk about what it is that makes Los Angeles so strange, and you can mention the gap between the real and simulated that pervades and defines this city.  We have all heard the cliché that the perfect metaphor for this city and its odd life is the car.  We wear our cars as status, and the streets they travel on spread us out so that we preen and pose but never actually touch.  In a drop dead gorgeous group of color photographs Adam Bartos, captures this city via its abandoned or stopped vehicles parked in underpasses or in front of bleak apartments.  Bartos nails dead on the strange and distant silence in a city often full of sound and fury and signifying nothing in particular (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica).

Adam Bartos, "108 Paloma Avenue, Venice
Beach," 2004, color photograph.

Carol Kaufman, "Untitled 1," 2006, colored
pencil, graphite and gesso on panel, 10 x 13".
Carol Kaufman creates her dense drawings with progressive overlays of mostly graphite and sometimes colored pencil.  Viewed as a whole, they tend to look like a sheet of metal or lead, much like the graphite covered surfaces of Nancy Rubins.  Upon closer perusal however, the overlays reveal themselves to be a dense network of differentiated marks crisscrossing the underlying support in a variety of directions.  Kaufman's labor-intensive procedures gift the viewer with more than just a simple material transaction; the varying weights and tones of the marks conjure up landscapes and skyscapes, albeit as seen from a great distance (d.e.n. contemporary, Culver City).

Jose Bellver, "Untitled #2,"
2004, acrylic on panel, 74 x 68".

Patsy Krebs, "The Hours: Nones",
2002, watercolor on paper, 22 x 22".

"The Hours: Abstract Watercolors" are Patsy Kreb’s poetic studies of light and atmosphere.  These petite and sumptuous squares of watercolor that rise from the dark lower edges into an ever lighter atmosphere are condusive to contemplation and introspection.  Named after the prayers that once marked off the devout's voyage through clock-less time, her use of subtle gradations of luminescent colors both evokes and projects  states of consciousness.  José Bellver’s intense bands of brilliant colors mark a dramatic contrast to Kreb’s muted hues.  Though each painting focuses on a dominant color, underpaintings of gold, platinum, copper and silver pigments where the gesture is agitated and smoothed out successively in waves.  The result is hovering Rothko-like forms and suggestive shapes that morph into a more structural study of the ebb and flow of tint (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Fine Art, Santa Monica).

Light and Space artist Helen Pashgian’s copper and epoxy constructions capture and manipulate shifting realities.  Evocative of Robert Irwin’s circular light pieces and Craig Kaufman’s plexiglas forms, mysterious floating circles and cylinders are animated and clarified through the viewer’s changing position.  Technically impressive, they hover between being a mystifying perceptual puzzle and adamantly tangible object.  These suspended forms, with their coppery shadows and pearlescent surfaces, project and recede into visual and meditative explorations.  They force the viewer to pry into the myriad ways light emanates and reflects, free of literary or narrative translation (Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica; see also Jeanne Willette’s review of the “Translucence” exhibition—Ed.).

Helen Pashgian, "Untitled," 2006,
Industrial Epoxy and Copper, 61" x 34".

Monique van Genderen, untitled installation, 2006, vinyl on wall.
Monique van Genderen's monumental wall work at Hammer Projects has filled the entryway staircase with shimmering light.  Her usual method, drawing on shapes and forms culled from historical abstraction and then laying those out with cut-and-peel vinyl adhesives on a combination of painted surfaces and bare walls, is particularly well suited to this site.  Her collagist sensibility has always availed itself of the peculiarly reactive light sensitivity and reflective qualities afforded by the various finishes of the film.  Thus, the atrium light bouncing between glass reflections of the outside traffic on Wilshire Blvd. and the upstairs entryway creates an even more than the usual kaleidoscopic beauty.  In fact, it brings a courtly majesty to the walk upstairs (Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Harry Gamboa Jr. was a founding member of ASCO, the activist Chicano art collective that demanded in radical ways--eg., manure delivery to big, important museums--that the art establishment recognize Latino artists.  A long since established mid-career artist and educator, Gamboa is taking on another ivory tower: pedantic education that pervades art and art theory today.  Making all manner of brightly colored tower-like sculptures, complete with letters and faux movable handles and flaps that resemble children's blocks built on teeny stilts, the apparent metaphor is that we have built education on a tower of fancy but fake, pseudo-smart temples--and that tower is teetering rather than enhancing visual creativity (Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica).

Harry Gamboa Jr., "Bastion," 2006,
wood and acrylic, 60 x 24 x 36".

Sanford Biggers, "OM," 2006, sand painting.
Eighty-eight contemporary artists (Marina Abramovic, William Wiley, Jenny Holzer, Anish Kapoor, to name a few of the most notable) from 25 countries respond to the ideas and person of the Tibetan Dalai Lama in The Missing Peace:  Artists Consider the Dali Lama.  They directly or indirectly invoke the need for world peace that is his central message.  Some artists do this by drawing on existing works that relate to this theme; others by making site specific works created for the occasion.  Some of the works' relationship to the idea of promoting peace is straightforward (Bill Viola), but others, like the performance-turned-video work by Sanford Biggers, are less clear in their call to come together.  Biggers outfits hip hop dancers with LED lights.  They perform and are videotaped from above.  
The resulting moving light video is displayed as a multi media work included in the exhibition.  The purveying tone is that communication between cultures, respect for our differences, and a commitment to non-violence are urgent goals (UCLA/Fowler Museum, West Los Angeles).

Portuguese-based Alvaro Siza, a winner of the Pritzker Prize, is a highly revered architect whose career spans more than 50 years. This exhibition explores significant aspects and ideas embodied in a selection of five of his buildings through a presentation of photographs, drawings and models. While looking at architectural models and plans is often difficult for the layman, this installation does not overwhelm one with technical data.  These drawings and photographs are easy to access and beautiful to look at.  Siza makes art from light and forms, and by looking at photographs and models for buildings, including the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, London (2005), and Water Tower Portugal, (1988-1989), which is both a minimalist sculpture and a functioning water tower (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Álvaro Siza, "Model of Iberê Camargo Foundation,"
Porto Alegre, Brazil, 1998-present
Photography: Sudio Álvaro Siza

Built on the theme of realism, which “American Masters” suggests runs deep in the American tradition as far back as John Singleton Copley, the Ash Can School, and the WPA, this show fast forwards us to late Abstract Expressionist and Pop artists.  They yanked American art back to its penchant for recognizable imagery at a time when splashing paint was the order of the day. The works sometimes do not connect fully to the lofty thesis, but art history notwithstanding, you will be treated to some very fine Pop realism, such as Jasper Johns' "Two Flags (Whitney Anniversary)."  Roy Lichtenstein's play on word and image, "Picture and Pitcher," is a particularly fine woodcut (Leslie Sacks Fine Arts, Brentwood).

Roy Lichtenstein, "Picture and
Pitcher," 1981, woodcut, 25 1/8 x 17".

"Flourish" is announced as an invocation of visual pleasures; and that it is.  With a light hand and firm eye, curator Kristina Newhouse has placed together works that span much of the current Los Angeles art scene.  From Mara Lonner's embedded decorative patterns consisting of camouflaged and co-opted building materials, to Maura Bendett's over the top low relief agglomerations of glued and glowing baubles and bangles splayed out on the wall, to Betsy Davis' miniaturized futuristic cityscape in a rock, a sense of gesture and playfulness pervades.  The august limits of dogmatic theorization are overturned with a flourish (Torrance Museum, South Bay).

Carrie Ungerman, “4:50 am,” 2006, thread and
gouache on paper, dimensions variable.

Nicoline van Harskamp, "Untitled
(Five Riverside Guards), 2006.

Jill Magid, "Evidence Locker:
Control Room," 2004

French philosopher Michel Foucault has made the mainstream.  His theories on the panopticon--the institution of ephemeral surveillance, with all its notions of hierarchy, class, power, of who watches whom--once restricted to the classroom, are now quoted in the daily rags and have been the subject of a number of exhibitions.  One such is aptly called "Supervision," a two-person show that comes at the topic from the tangents: power and seduction.  Nicoline Van Harskamp photographs persons who wear security uniforms for a living; she invites them to gatherings and watches the configurations of power set up between police and security guards, the status of each imbedded in his clothes.  The resulting photos are compelling.  Jill Magid adds the element of seduction that comes with watching.  She infiltrated the London police, got them to watch her for one month from a variety of cameras as she wore the spy vamp's red trench coat.  Because she knows we know we watch, the erotics of dominance and gazing come alive (UCR/California Museum of Photography, Riverside).

David Reed is a veteran New York based painter noted for flowing surfaces of overlapping transparent brush strokes.  "Leave Yourself Behind" traces Reed’s work from the 1960s to the present, allowing the evolution of both his form and his content to unfold on the gallery walls.  The paintings fill the walls from edge to edge, butting into the corners as if they were punctuation marks in a long sentence on abstraction.  New works are juxtaposed with those from his past, making this an exhibition about style rather than chronology.  While the horizontal format references the landscape, the surfaces are layered colors in a viscous mixture.  Visually they come across as enlargements and detailed views of an imaginary world (Cal State L.A., Luckman Gallery, East Los Angeles).

David Reed, "#3," 1972, oil
on canvas, 76 x 38 inches.

Sally Chiu, "Connect Series (Green
& Orange)," oil on canvas, 36 x 36".

Lance Morrison, "Sigh," 2006,
oil and canvas, 18 x 18".

Sally Chiu, an abstract artist from Santa Barbara, is here paired with Lance Morrison, who paints hummingbirds hovering in atmospheres without point of reference.  Both artists present something quietly spiritual that asks the viewer to look closely.  Chiu's work yields its secrets only upon close reading.  At first glance, her small shimmering paintings are mini-Rothkos but, rather than being field paintings, they are messages: "focus" one says, "peace" spells out another in stenciled letters.  The "Connect" series hides shadows of birds in flight.  Morrison's hummingbirds are equally mysterious, captured as tiny flights of air suddenly stopped and trapped within glowing colors.  His soft hazy fields contrast with the shiny surfaces Chiu creates out of old-fashioned boat varnish.  The paintings of these two artists are not of things but evocations of moods, requiring contemplation and granting quiet (Sue Greenwood Fine Art, Orange County).

Catherine Opie first gained our attention with her shock tactic photographic portraits of an in-your-face gay-lesbian underworld.  Although aesthetically elegant, these works were one-note wonders and lacked any staying power.  Over time, what lingers in the mind are her explorations of the American landscape, both of Los Angeles and the hinterlands of an America that we tend to bypass, if possible.  Her studies of freeway overpasses and the panoramas of strip malls, have an unexpectedly elegiac effect, like Eugene Atget's perpetually deserted streets of Paris.  "In and Around Home” shows Opie to be something of a latter-day Walker Evans, taking affectionate note of a world we all recognize.  From housing developments springing up like lichen to cover the hills of Valencia, to the gated and guarded MacMansions of Beverly Hills, surfers along the California coast, to the secondary roads cutting across the Heartland, we recognize ourselves and our lives in her work.  

Catherine Opie, "Abandoned
TV," 23005, photograph.
Dating back to her days as a graduate student at Cal Arts and reflecting the sensibilities of Lewis Baltz, several of these suites of photographs have never been shown publicly  before. Unlike the formal blankness of Evans or Robert Frank, Opie's works are narratives, familiar stories of ordinary Americans whose lives are revealed by our recognition of the details (Orange County Museum of Art [OCMA], Orange County).