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January, 2007

Saul Bass was the quintessential graphic designer of Hollywood, and this show includes more than 20 movie posters and six movie soundtrack album covers (remember those?) designed for such films as “Vertigo” (1958), “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959), “Exodus” (1960) and “In Harm's Way” (1965).  He was one of the first motion graphics artist before the trade had a name, and a continuous loop video of the artist's motion-picture title sequences also are on display.  The Art Students League-educated, native New Yorker brought a sense of fine art to his trade.  This surely came from early contact with teachers associated with the Bauhaus of the 1930's.  Today this work is done by computer, and it is quite remarkable to see how ahead of his day Bass actually was (Skirball Cultural Center, West Los Angeles).

Saul Bass, "Vetigo," film poster.

Odd Nerdrum, "Self Portrait (Head on a
Table)," oil on canvas, 14 3/4 x 12 7/8".
Norwegian master of realism and Nordic angst Odd Nerdrum presents stunning paintings that compare favorably even with the dense and energetic style of, say, Lucien Freud.  The volume is turned up on this artist's thirty-year visual inquiry into who we are, how we connect and what we seek.  The works here have, for the most part, black grounds in which the  figurative dramas take place in a cosmic, floating mush of diaphanous starlight that only an artist with this skill could pull off.  In "Drifting," two  real, naked (not antiseptic nude) bodies float facing each other on the horizontal plane.  They are suspended there looking, hoping to come together, while you feel as if some eternal force of relationship and repulsion will not quite permit this union.  Couples run through dense woods, their faces so filled with pathos that you wince.  It takes real consideration of what it means to be human to make this sort of work and have it ring true as opposed to sappy and sentimental--Nerdrum rings mostly true (Forum Gallery, West Hollywood).

James Siena makes intricate paintings and drawings in which lines and shapes spiral in and over each other.  These obsessive works constitute a subtle exploration of pattern and color.  Their modest size keeps the works intimate, and beckons the viewer in for close examination.  It is easy to get lost in the overlapping patterns.  Siena takes advantage of the timelessness of the work, which allows you to indulge visually as well as connect with his love of creating these forms.  Whether painted or drawn, Siena’s works have a consistent intensity of color and shape.  And while the works may seem similar, each piece is a unique exploration (Daniel Weinberg Gallery, West Hollywood).

James Siena
to come

Fiona Banner, "Leaning Nude," 2006,
graphite on paper, 67 1/4 x 89 1/4".
At a time when a wardrobe malfunction baring the teeniest bit of female anatomy can result in serious fines for network television corporations, Goldsmith grad Fiona Banner turns her attention to artfully portraying the female nude in wordscapes.  Banner references art practices at the same time that she sets up an intimate interchange with the viewer, drawing us in with her well considered descriptive phrases.  "She's leaning back onto the heel of her foot so that the weight runs along her leg and up her spine, leaving the left side of her body to hang loose . . ." Banner suggests in "Smoky Nude."  The four larger than life graphite on paper text based descriptions of live models in this show bare all, hanging suspended from the ceiling or leaning against the walls, illuminated by the glow of a cheeky, flesh colored neon work that reads “Nude Standing” (1301PE, West Hollywood).

Robert Rauschenberg is not the first name that comes to mind when one considers Surrealism.  And yet Surrealism haunts the content and fabrication of a series of prints that make up this captivating exhibition.  Rauschenberg conscripted cardboard backings scavenged from his laundered shirts and used them as foundations for drawings that featured surrealist inclusions of found object collage elements as he traveled through Italy and Morocco in the early 1950’s.  In 1990, Styria Studio re-created 28 of Rauschenberg’s shirtboard works in print editions that mirror the originals in every detail except for an enlargement by half in their size.  Separate templates were manufactured to meticulously reproduce every element visible in the originals, including wrinkles in layers of paper and glue stains seeping through the cardboard.  One can almost envision traveling alongside the artist, looking over his shoulder as he selects newspaper clippings, scraps of paper, ribbons, feathers, and images of flora, fauna or human body parts, which, taken out of context and positioned adroitly, engage the viewer in a search for new meaning (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica).

Robert Rauschenberg, "Shirtboard 5 - Morocco/
Italy," lithograph/silkscreen on handmade paper
with pencil, hand coloring and collage; Kitikata
and Powell Repairing, 1952/1990,
21 3/16 x 8". Edition of 65.

Jim Shaw, "Dream Object (Vise Head),
2006, bronze, 12 x 8 1/2 x 8 1/2".
Jim Shaw’s drawings, painting and sculptures combine pop culture with the inner workings of his imagination.  He is a gifted story teller as well as a talented draftsman and painter.  Well know for a series of dream drawings in which he recounted his nightly dreams as small scale works, Shaw has continued to transform that project into paintings, sculptures and now a room-sized installation.  In the East Gallery, painted on large shipping tubes, we enter a fantasy world featuring Indian rituals in the American landscape.  Creating a pathway through which viewers travel, the enclosed room brings visitors into the experience.  In the larger West Gallery, Shaw uses two old theatrical backdrops as the background for a painting which hangs floor to ceiling.  In it a group of businessmen congregate in front of a futuristic locomotive, pondering the demise of the American dream.  Through a hole in a second backdrop where a large red web has been painted, Shaw creates a surreal scene in which a trio of 3-D elves contemplate a glowing object in front of a painted fire (Patrick Painter, Inc., Santa Monica).

Frank Breuer is a German photographer who has also spent time photographing in the United States. His subject--the industrial landscape--recalls the projects of the New Topographic, but Breuer photographs in color, exploring found color and spatial dynamics.  His images of shipping containers and poles fall into the category of the banal, yet when seen through Breuer’s lens they become beautiful icons of our technological society.  The modest sized works were shot on cloudy days, so the sky blends in with the ground and the shadows are minimized.  It is an atmosphere that gives these places a eerie calm (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

Frank Breuer, "Untitled, 1278 Antwerpen,"
2004, C-print, Diasec mounted, MDF, 24 x 28".

Peter Hopkins, "Untitled (Zooey)," 2006
fluids, fabric, and foil on camvas, 84 x 72".

Takehito Koganezawa, Untitled, 2005
colored pencil on paper, 16.54 x 23.43".

New York-based Peter Hopkins’ painting’s glow and sparkle.  Using various fluids and materials to create his enigmatic surfaces, each work changes depending on light and vantage point, as well as with the addition of holographic foils.  They seem not of this world.  Hopkins is something of an alchemist, using media such as medical dyes and cosmetics instead of paint to create the saturated surfaces on his large-scale canvases.  These are abstract works, and are primarily about the formal properties of color and light.  The selection of industrial fluids may function in ways similar to paint, but never as paint.  In the back gallery are drawings by Takehito Koganezawa, a young artist born in Tokyo who now resides in Berlin.  His cartoon-like works depict animals and figures in surreal and often humorous situations (Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica).

This thoughtfully orchestrated installation allows Jessica Curtaz, Timothy Nolan, and Leslie Yagar to give voice to their individual concerns as they exhibit the dedication to craft and detail that brings a luminous delicacy into the work they construct. Nolan employs a variety of mark-making tools to heighten the illusion of three-dimensional surfaces, generating striking, elegant patterns that proliferate like crystals against contrasting black fields.  Curtaz’s precise graphite studies of looped and twisted wire take on the suggestion of dancing abstract clumps, tangles and strands of linear elements when viewed from afar.

Leslie Yagar, "Perforated # 2," 2004,
ink & acrylic on rice paper, 8" x 3.5'.
 Yagar employs textural components, including traceries of pinpricks and tears.  These elements are enhanced with diffused washes of color that underscore the delicate nature of her fragile organic forms (Bandini Art, Culver City).

Dave Muller, "Piles & Globes, Likes
& Loves," installation view, 2006.
In “Piles and Globes, Likes and Loves,” Dave Muller plunders an archive of 90,000 and counting songs extracted from tomes such as Piero Scaruffi’s “A History of Rock Music” as well as personal lists of he and his daughter’s all time favorites.  We are exposed to an examination of seemingly endless inventories of song titles.  Scattered about each of the three rooms dedicated to Muller’s exhibition are red, yellow and/or blue Song Book radios.  Each plays tunes cued to the color coded information that pops up on computerized screens, which announce what is currently playing where.  Oversized drawings in acrylic on paper that correspond to song titles as well as blown up newspaper clippings heralding groups such as the Beatles or Earth, Wind and Fire populate the walls.  
Several paintings of mirrored disco balls similar to the one Muller constructed for the 2004 Whitney Biennial suggest that the material collected on the walls has bounced off their reflective surfaces.  Observers are invited to use red, yellow or blue pens (the primary colors Piet Mondrian featured in “Broadway Boggie-Woogie”) to affix their signatures next to titles of music they favor in three huge books color coded to match the components of Muller’s installation (Blum & Poe Gallery, Culver City).

A trio of artists offer a suite of monoprints, and though all are commendable the work that stands out is that of Dennis Hollingsworth.  Hollingsworth has been around for a long time; and these monoprints show him at the top of his game in terms of both their execution and in their ability to remind us of what can be done with an astute calibration of abstract paint, a sense of delicate whimsy and thoughtful control.  As has been his way, some works include fluid transparent shapes in soft colors sitting in the presence of harder sharp edged forms--the result is a bit like looking at geometry in the process of opening and spreading (Cirrus Gallery, Downtown).

Dennis Hollingsworth
to come

Yoshiki Hishinuma, "Inside Out 2way dress,"
Spring, 2004, Polyester. Photo © Guy Marineau

Testa & Weiser, "Carbon Beach
House," 2006. © Testa & Weiser.

Skin and Bones draws the logical relationship between fashion as geometry in space and indeed architecture.  For those of us who find the whole fashion machine, with its absurd standards of good and bad body, offensive, this show redeems the whole industry in one fell swoop.  There are skirts that remind us of the conical constructions of ziggurats at the dawn of culture; and blouses that are Minimal cubes if they are anything.  The idea is that the same social and formal "texts" or design rhetoric that runs through harder arts like architecture and painting--texts of power, identity and design reflecting a particular social ethos--also percolate down to or even originate in clothing design.  To deconstruct clothing as a form that speaks on many levels has been going on since the 1980's, but to see an entire show dedicated to this provocative concept is more than fun, it is quite amazing (The Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown).

Lavi Daniel, "Untitled (#45),"
2004, ink on paper, 16 x 11".

Echiko Ohira
to come

Lavi Daniel's mid-career survey exhibition, “Parables of Space” (curated by Ann Ayres) spans from 1982 to 2006.  The exhibition ranges from his earlier representational work to his gestural and abstract work.  It ends up with his most recent pastel paintings that set up networks of lines that activate spaces that feel as though you’ve been place beneath a freeway interchange.  Throughout the years, Daniel has always been considered a painter's painter whose goal was to elicit intense emotional responses from a viewer through virtuoso paint handling.  Refreshingly traditional and yet still surprising, these mostly larger scale works bear up to the scrutiny of time that a survey affords.  Echiko Ohira and Minoru Ohira's exhibition, “Materials and Nature” (curated by Jay Belloli) in the Mezzanine gallery is really astounding.  This couple has worked with intensity and focus on paper works and wood sculpture.  Combining a sensitivity and acumen rarely seen, the physical process of moving these natural elements into diverse and surprising compositions produces enchanting visual poetry.  Minoru often uses found pieces of wood which he crafts into vessel-like, organic shapes.  Echiko uses paper remnants (sometimes stained) that she assembles into multi-tiered, large-scaled forms, or encapsulates within quirky geometric frames.  Both perform their distinctive stylistic moves with control, flair and abandon, achieving a memorable equilibrium (The Armory, Pasadena).

Binh Pho, "Springtime in Pulau Bidong, 2005
Bradford pear, acrylic pain, 14 x 5".
River of Destiny: The Life and Work of Binh Pho is a small show, but one that demands one’s full attention.  Blink, and one might miss one of the myriad of details that distinguish his work from even the most accomplished artists who have chosen wood carving as their medium.  But, wood carving is only a part of Binh’s virtuosity.  His repertoire also includes assemblage, painting, appliqué work and collage.  Nearly all of his pieces have, if not a convoluted narrative then a conceptual quality that demands at least a rudimentary knowledge of his Vietnamese culture and the country’s turbulent history.  Symbols such as fireflies, peacock feathers and butterflies canbe generally understood as representing freedom, hope and pride.  If the show has one flaw, it lies in its presentation.  They are crammed into just one upstairs gallery, where they vie for attention like a too-large group of overdressed prom queens.  The exhibition design also does not allow one to see the pieces from all sides, which is frustrating since every inch of surface contains focal points that appear to be of equal importance.  It is well worth it to crane your neck and get as close to the works as museum etiquette permits (Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach).

Horace Bristol worked for Time, LIFE, Fortune, and National Geographic in the 1930s and ‘40s.  Less known is the fact that in June, 1937 when he began working for LIFE he proposed a story about migrant farm workers in California's Central Valley that was to include accompanying text by then newcomer novelist John Steinbeck.  Steinbeck did not do the text, instead going on to use the research to write the famous “Grapes of Wrath.”  Meanwhile Bristol joined the ranks of photographers like Dorothea Lange, producing what would become iconic images of migrant farm workers during the Depression.  He made a career shooting some of the most compelling images of urban poor, battle scenes of World War II, and views into post-war Japan, where he spent a good deal of time.  An impressive sample of finely printed Bristol prints are on view here (East West Gallery, Santa Barbara).

Horace Bristol
to come

Magritte is in the air, and his certain brand of Surrealism freshly legitimizes an artist such as Glenn Waggner.  He makes rainbow sherbet hued skies in which trees float above the arc of an earth colored a smoldering red-green. Like Magritte, Waggner understands the connection of Freud to Surrealism, if perhaps a bit too literally, as when he paints strange phallic towers rising high into the sky with no apparent entry or exit (Orlando Gallery, San Fernando Valley).

Glenn Waggner,"Floating Orchids," 24 x 33", oil on panel.

Jimi Gleason, “Outcast”, 2006,
Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 24".

Alex Couwenberg, “Quicksilver 21”,
2006, Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 24.

Grey Scale is a show of abstract painters working in grays. The idea is that if you really can make paint speak some language of universal form or meaning, this ideally should happen without the emotional and structural "crutch" provided by color. Ten very well known LA painters take up the challenge with abstract work in which subtle gradations of the gray scale speak volumes about relationships of stasis and tension, of ground in infinite space. Marcia Roberts has been doing this kind of work with poetry and precision for some time, and though Lita Albuquerque has preferred strong theatrical blues and golds to match her dramatic vibe, she also seems able to alter her style to fit the concept at hand; here she goes subtle. Many of the other artists, from James Hayward to Tony Delap to Wess Dahlberg, have been tooling this sort of subtle work for a very long time (Peter Blake Gallery, Orange County).