Return to Articles


February, 2007

Along with Warhol, Lichtenstein and Oldenberg, Jim Dine was one of the so called founders of Pop Art in the early 1960s.  He is best known for his series of nearly kitsch hearts, tools, Venuses, and bathrobes done with a similar graphic simplicity as Warhol's daisies.  Warhol was a masterful draftsman, but many Pop artists like Dine did not study life drawing in those days when commercial design, media culture and fine art fused into that wildly successful aesthetic.  In the early 1970's, Dine decided to learn to draw, observing reality keenly and recording his perceptions so as to tool and train his hand.  A comprehensive overview of Pop imagery and the results of Dine's mastering of drawing form the core of this exhibition.  The more than 70 large-scale works on paper surveys the range and depth of his draftsmanship over more than four decades. Some of it may look a bit dated because we have seen Pop so much for so long, but look closely and you will see serious craft and plenty of wicked humor (Pepperdine University, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Malibu).

Jim Dine (American, b. 1935), “Tool
Drawing II”, 1983, mixed media, 70 x 70".
Collection of Arne and Milly Glimcher.
Copyright Jim Dine

Eduardo Villacis, “Construction of
Pyramids Over Rome”, 2003, Giclee.
Ecuadorian artist Eduardo Villacis engages in very sophisticated form of institutional and colonial critique.  Villacis has built a body of images and artifacts framed by the speculation found in the theories of, for example, Edward Said.  He imagines in this work what would have happened if Columbus had been taken prisoner by the Aztecs; if Meso-Americans had studied and exploited European tools, labor and know-how; and if they had supplanted them as a global colonial power.  It gets better: this is done cleverly in the guise of images, objects and documents made by the artist as if they were intended for that "factual" storehouse of (dominant) "history" we call the ethnographic museum.  So you are seeing a new history displayed and reified, while we ask ourselves how museums aid and abet dominant culture.  It is a great idea and a very thoughtful conceptual installation, even if some of the actual draftsmanship verges on cartoony hyperbole (that may well add to the conceptual wryness) (Bert Green Fine Art, Downtown).

Meg Madison’s cleverly titled “12.26” show delves into a question you may have had on December 26th. . .What happens to all the Christmas Trees?  Madison pursued various trash trucks and curbside departures with camera in hand, documenting the once-beloved centerpieces of suburban holidays, now pathetically in the back of a dumpster or awaiting that fate, limp on a curb.  Few art shows are simultaneously elegant and hilarious, but Madison pulled off the perfect January coda to the Holiday frenzy in which we are all complicit (Kristi Engle Gallery, Downtown).

Meg Madison, photograph from "12.26".

Corey Stein

There is funny and painfully honest revelation bound up in the intentionally caricaturish self portraits of Corey Stein, collectively dubbed "Trying to Pick up a Gallery Guyde."  The play on spelling "guide" and the idea of gathering reading and gathering companionship is not an accident, but intended to reference the artist's frustrating efforts to find a gallery and a guy--both tricky acts in the city where everything is smoke, mirrors and (of particular interest to the artist) fast talk.  The Cal Arts grad had brain surgery that threatened her career and affected her processing of speech.  As the surgery made her acutely aware of the sounds of words and their potential double aural meanings, she began to put this new kind of processing into works that tell high relief visual stories in the manner in which a pantomime or silent film relay a tale.  In the paintings her face peers out, having us flat-footedly confront her as she is; floating like picture thoughts above her face are little round portraits of maybe failed dates and daunting dealers.  These works are shot straight from the hip with a childlike free-rein vulnerably and a sagacious directness able to process hard lessons through humor and self acceptance (Sherry Frumkin Gallery, Santa Monica).

Amy Bennett, "Warning Signs," 2006, oil on panel, 18 x 38".

Amy Bennett's new paintings are perverse views of suburban life.  She creates a fictional neighborhood into which she projects scenarios about life, death and relationships.  Often depicted looking down from above, Bennett created the neighborhood as a scale model in order to think about the relationships between the homes and the people that would live there.  She then painted these places in exacting detail, allowing her memories and fantasies to direct the dramas that could occur.  The modestly scaled paintings variously depict individual homes, as well as the entire neighborhood.  Houses are painted from both the front and the back, where the swimming pool or the children's playthings reside.  Some of the works depict people, usually alone inside their house or yard, oblivious to what surrounds them.  “Bennett's Neighborhood,” while seemingly ordinary, feels like a "Stepford" community.  There must be something amiss amongst the perfect homes and landscapes (Richard Heller Gallery, Santa Monica).

Antonio Adriano Puelo, installation view, 2007.
Antonio Adriano Puelo draws from many sources to create his highly detailed paintings and works on paper.  The work straddles the line between painting and collage, and Puelo allows these boundaries to be blurred.  The large scaled paintings have a natural palette of yellows oranges and browns.  Titled "Birds and Beasts," they depict elements of the natural world including birds trees and owls.  Combining abstract design with photographic reproductions, the works have a tension within them between the real and the imagined.  While nothing in Puelo's works is quite real, they are not pure fantasy either.  The draftsmanship is skilled, and the works are formally complex and jammed packed with lines and texture, so there is always something new to see (Cherry and Martin, West Los Angeles).

Sandra Mendelsohn Rubin, "Valley View: Early
Spring, 2005, oil on polyester, 4 x 7 1/8".

Sandra Mendelsohn Rubin takes us with her as she shifts from a reality of cars and freeways to a world view and body of art chronicling her evolving new relationship to the bucolic Northern California environs she made her home seventeen years ago.  It is a change many of us contemplate but few have the means or courage to act on.  These paintings of open, serene land bathed in salmon colored light, with highlights in intense yellow and blue underpainting cast on hills and leaves by a lazy and descending sun, suggest that departure into nature might be just the way to go (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).

Kendall Carter, "Hommie," 2006, mixed media.
Kendall Carter cleverly deploys diverse elements such as chrome plated milk crates, potted orchids, and black Kangol hats fashioned into lampshades in order to transform the respectable white gallery cube into a dynamic “living” room where hip-hop confronts fine art expectations.  Designer fabrics assert their privilege next to camouflage patterns.  Viewers may recline on upholstered couches, sinking into pillows handcrafted from shoelaces.  Behind them, a white wall fitted with a faux cornice arms itself with graffiti for a face-off with its black padded leather opposite across the room.  A multihued line drawing memorializes the Rock Steady Crew break dancers, while a wild assortment of skilled and outlandish street performers compete for our attention on a large video screen that loops endlessly (The Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

What happens if you make a four-inch tall clay elephant and balance that elephant on a rosy tomato; particularly after that tomato is left out for a month and the clay is unfired?  What happens is that over time the liquids from the tomato seep into the clay and create a delicate mold like a skin of fog all around.  Thomas Müller's installations at Haus Gallery are absurd.  Everyone involved admits it will be hard to sell a rotten tomato and unfired stoneware.  The absurdity is Surreal, of course, and this compelling work invites the viewer to return to see how the two elements are getting along.  

Thomas Müller, "Pea with Giraffes: (detail)
porcelain, wood, paint, photo, pea, 6 x 6 x 6 feet.
Also in the gallery are other sculptures that do not incorporate this element of Time.  These diminutive narratives are intimate without being precious, and clever without any unnecessary irony.  They are unexpected bon mots that coexist nobly with several delicate drawings and watercolors made in their honor (Haus Gallery, Pasadena).

Sophie Ryder, "Introspective,: Wire, Life-Size.
Sophie Ryder shows an installation of near life size figures that remind us of Kiki Smith's amorphous figures, all bent but still abundant.  Like Smith's, these figures have female morphology (breasts, rounded, full mid sections), but the heads of hybrid creatures that are a melange of rabbit, moose, feline and even horse (it’s hard to tell which).  These women-animal hybrids curl in fetal positions, squat primitively, and stand up-right.  Their huge ears and muzzles stand like primeval head dresses you find painted on the heads of shaman figures in prehistoric cave art.  In a refreshingly indirect way these bizarre creatures communicate the generative power of the female principle in nature (Imago Galleries, Palm Desert).

Cal Arts grad Katrin Jurati creates an installation of painted fabric that calls up issues of high art-low art, past history-no history, viewing space-open space.  Called “Ten Billion Stars That Twinkle In Heaven,” the work consists of suspended paintings on silk inspired by Jurati's photographs taken at The National Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris as well as medieval images she samples from the internet.  The silks are painted with dyes, marker, glitter and black-light paint in a collision of detail that comes off as a cross between illuminated miniatures and an acid trip.  It is all blown up to fantastic proportions with fabric banners engulfing the gallery, extending to street facing windows, and re-positioning expectations about art surfaces and art display in very interesting ways (LACE, Hollywood).

Katrin Jurati, "The Ten Billion Stars That Twinkle In Heaven" (detail), 2007.

Donnie Molls Tres Palms, 2006,
Mixed Media, 76” x 87”.  
Courtesy Peter Blake Gallery

DJ Hall, Swing, 2006, Oil
on Canvas, 70” x 77.5”.  
Courtesy Koplin del Rio Gallery

“Greetings from the American Dream” asks where the trajectory of Pop Art has taken us.  After four decades of everything is art and art samples everything, where does it stand as the emblem of American dreams and consumer utopias?  The museum wants to legitimize the show by saying this looks at the new and different "current" pop art; but everything old is sooner or later new again.  They do not need to press this issue.  Cindy Craig's über realistic jewelry counters speak for themselves as they pun commodity and desire.  Wayne Coe stays socially engaged with ironic toy-like models that allow one to fashion an "Iraq war." And Tracy Snelling's photo constructions ruminate on urbanity via the well-worn sign of the suburban bungalow. For these artists and the others included, there is nothing new under the Pop sun, but that does not detract from the good work here as well as the timely reflections about culture and taste the show provokes (Riverside Art Museum, Riverside).

David Kapp, "Cyclist," 2006, oil on linen, 80 x 80".
Revealing the relationship between geometry, architecture, abstract expressionist painting and realism, David Kapp’s new works are like maps that allow us to see that paint and color are the structural units behind the building of images.  His architectural vignettes--roofs, partial walls, something that suggests scaffolding—are seen from odd angles stroked in thick, blocky layers of paint. Kapp uses a Cezanne-esque geometric perspective that is not the mathematical perspective that allows realism to "make sense."  As he dispenses with a dedication to the real world, he provides the eye with lessons of form and pigment (Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica).

Polly Apfelbaum's works lie in the space between drawing and sculpture.  Her large-scale floor works are flat drawings on fabric that are laid out in a specific configuration on the floor.  These enlarged doodles usually have flowers as their subject, and are created in a myriad of fabrics and colors.  One multi-paneled work fills the back gallery.  Apfelbaum draws intertwining lines and shapes with fabric dye onto a velvety pink rectangles of fabric.  The large, gridded work comes alive as viewers walk around it, its hue changing from light to dark as the fabric reflects the changing light.  A second work, also presented on the floor, is an array of orange/yellow cut out flowers that are assembled as a rectangular bouquet on the floor.  Flowers have long been a favorite subject for Apfelbaum, who acknowledges the reference to Warhol.  In a 32-panel print work, the flower reference takes on political overtones by reproducing fragments of political graphics embedded into the shape of a flower (Angles Gallery, Santa Monica).

Polly Apfelbaum, "Orange Crush," 2007,
dye on cynthetic velvet, 158 x 126".

Sport and spectacle are the subject of Paul Pfeiffer’s current videos.  He adds architecture into the mix.  In the three sculptures, entitled “Study for Jerusalem 1, 2 and 3,” he creates architectural models out of plywood into which he places small projectors with images of sedate crowds.  Sounds periodically emanate from the structures, yet they do not seem to be coming from the depicted crowds.  Although many of his early works digitally removed players and focused on the ball or the stadium crowds, they called attention to what was present as well as what was absent.  The new works do exactly the same thing, but add an element of religion.  That sport is a religion for some, and that rock and roll stars as well as sports heroes are considered Gods comes as no surprise.  Pfeiffer makes the most of these situations by investigating the aura of the spectacle in his multi media works.  The most seductive work in the exhibition is entitled “Flagpole.”  Resting against the wall in the far corner of the gallery is a metal flagpole on which, at half-mast, a tiny video monitor plays loops of the image of the setting and rising sun.  The glowing orange ball appears to rise and fall from the top as well as the sides and the bottom of the world. “Flagpole” references an artificial nature. We long for it to be real, but know that what we’re seeing, just like what we’re hearing or not seeing, is a fabrication (MC, Culver City).

Joe Brubaker transforms the sensibility of religious reliquaries into contemporary sculpture.  Using woods, mixed media, and just about anything that stirs his imagination, he renders sculptural forms that exude an unforgettable presence.  Traveling frequently through much of the world, Brubaker seeks out artists, especially in remote villages, particular those creating spiritual figures.  The artist puts a 21st Century spin on carvings of indigenous people—whether voodoo figures, Mexican santos, or Colonial Spanish retablos.  Created largely frontally, like totems or Egyptian deities, Brubaker emphasizes an intense face placed, often within a Brancusi-like streamlined and elegant body, in which painted, or finished wooden arms, torso and legs become integrated into the abstract design of the figure.  His cheerful, frightened, and introspective figures stare at us as they convey an existential loneliness.  Inner thoughts are projected with superb skill and materials.  In Brubaker’s hands, discarded objects seem to find their rightful place (Sue Greenwood Gallery, Orange County).

Joe Brubaker, "Charles," wood
sculpture, 26 x 15 x 6".

Bart Parker, American, "Newport, R.I.," 1968, gelatin silver print, 8 1/2 x 13 1/2".

There may be larger, more colorful exhibitions of photographs on view elsewhere, but the attraction of The Collectible Moment is the opportunity to come face to face with a group of works that celebrate the entrance of photography as a collectible art form in L. A. half a century ago.  The examples here explore a variety of aesthetic and cultural issues that defined the 1960’s and ‘70s.  The 160 or so modern works on view were first collected by the then Pasadena Art Museum before it became the Norton Simon Museum.  Scattered among the core of photographs by major figures such as Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Duane Michals, are ephemera including letters and brochures from the museum’s archives.  There are works that define a uniquely California aesthetic from Imogen Cunningham, Judy Dater and Robert Heinecken.  And don’t miss Jerry McMillan’s photographic explorations of the third dimension, or Mike Mandel’s endearing collection, “Untitled, Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards” (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena).

The J. Paul Getty Trust’s continuing conservation of the world’s treasures is one of the best uses of their vast endowment, as this rich and luminous exhibition of Icons from St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai aptly demonstrates.  Dating to the sixth century, and isolated for much of the time since, St. Catherine’s has a world class collection of icons and illuminated manuscripts that have been preserved by the dry desert environment, and integrated into the daily rituals and services of the monastery.  These glowing images are installed in an appropriate setting of shadowed vaults and arches, where their dazzling colors and vibrant iconography function dramatically.  A variety of artists from throughout the Middle East and Europe created these icons, many of them anonymous.  One shimmering altarpiece that bursts with magical imagery is by El Greco.  Many of the works follow the stylized Byzantine figurative tradition, but as the centuries passed one can observe how the human figure became more personalized.  The figure of “Saint Catherine” echoes the lyrical stance associated with Italian Renaissance masters such as Simone Martini.  From the elegant gilded symmetry of the icon of “Saint Theodosia” to the quirky flying devils of “The Heavenly Ladder of Saint John Climacus,” these icons visually convey story of the Christian liturgy.

The museum’s new 7,000 square foot Photography Galleries are inaugurated with an exhibition drawn from the collection of Nancy and Bruce Berman.  Entitled "Where We Live: Photographs of America” includes 24 noted contemporary landscape photographers such as Robert Adams, John Divola, William Christenberry, Joel Sternfeld, and Stephen Shore.  Each artist is represented by an array of images, rather than just one or two, allowing viewers to get an idea of what their project is about, beyond the central theme of national identity.  For photography fans, it’s exciting simply to see so much space devoted to living photographers.  If this show is forshadows what is to come, Los Angeles is extremely fortunate. These varying views of the American landscape, ranging from Divola's isolated desert structures to Christenberry's Alabama homes focus on what is around them.  What is important about this exhibition, however, is finally not the artists individual accomplishments, but their collective vision (The Getty Center, West Los Angeles).