Return to Articles


March, 2007

Andrea Polli, "The Fly's Eye," 2002, digital print.
Is it art?  Is it science?  “Atmospheric/Weather Works” is a mind boggling experience. Andrea Polli, a digital media artist from New York, along with a team of scientists, meteorologists, environmentalists, computer experts, and city planners, investigate seven topics in which we are all, like it or not, submerged--the weather, pollutants, the atmosphere, and their effects on us.  The magnitude of these global installations took years of intense collaboration between teams of experts.  Using film, real-time video, interactive projections in darkened exhibitions, Polli deals with the effects of unbearable heat, freezing Antarctic weather, hurricanes, and more.  In some displays, Polli masterfully adds sound to allow us to hear the voice of the atmosphere.  Nature becomes tangible as we are lulled by soft melodies of the Earth going about its business--dealing with a variety of weather conditions, air, water and its natural spinning movement.  
One of this amazing exhibition’s concerns how easily pollutants travel.  “The Strange Journey of PM2.5.” uses monitors, geographic maps, and a video of Dr, Kuoying Wang of the National Central University in Chung-Le Taiwan.  Polli and Dr. Wang’s team followed a minute particle of dirt that left a factory in China, traveled to Taiwan and crossed the Pacific Ocean in less than a week, all without a passport.  Overall, “Atmospheric/Weather Works” reduces enormous atmospheric conditions down to human scale, making it personal and real.  The project may be primarily aesthetic, but it is also extremely educational.  It makes you feel the reality that we are all effected by the fragile layer of the Earth’s atmosphere (UC Irvine, Beall Center, Orange County).

As he settles into the status of senior master, David Hockney, the voice of the wolf is calming down.  This can be detected in a his paintings of the East Yorkshire landscape where he spends a good deal of his time these days.  The slower tenor and tone can be sensed in the sun dappled trees that line the country road that runs along a quaint English cottage.  The man may age, but his artistic concerns and his ever refined control of them remain consistent.  In these works of the Yorkshire countryside Hockney is concerned with the way in which light and color interact to deliver our world to us via vision in pockets of sultry shape translated through the eyes of one who really sees.  

David Hockney, "Elderflower Blossom, Kilham. 2, 3 & 4
July 2006," oil on two canvases, 48 x 72" (48 x 36" each).
No matter if the shape was back then in the ardor of youth the erotic pink buttocks of a young stud at pool side, or is now a bucolic, even Romantic swath of yellow blooms.  No matter if shape is tight and crisp as it was in the ‘70s, or watery as Monet's Giverny as it is here.  Hockney is the master of abstract form seen and conveyed as a tangibly present and emotional world (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).

William Christenberry has been making photographs since the 1960's. He has focused his camera on the south, specifically making images in Alabama and Tennessee.  Repeatedly visiting the same location, his color photographs document a sense of place as well as how those places have changed.  The works are subtle and contemplative.  Isolated structures against a blue sky, vacant streets and overgrown shrubbery are the subject of Christenberry's evocative images.  In addition to earlier photographs, the exhibition also presents Christenberry's recent “Dream Building” series.  Found object/sculptures that are not, look like buildings in these images (Marc Selwyn Fine Art, West Hollywood).

William Christenberry, "Palmist Building (winter),
Havana Junction, Alabama," 1981, digital
pigment print paper, 20 x 24", edition of 25.

To inaugurate their new Dorothy and Donald Kennedy Wing, 75 black and white photos by Ansel Adams--clearly among the most seen and iconic--are on view.  Prescient in their respect for the environment back when global warming could not have even been conceived, the images must be seen today as cautionary and a threat fulfilled about our fading natural habitat.  Adams was a naturalist but also an artist's artist who, with Beaumont Newhall and David McAlpin founded the department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  You see both sides of him in these images of magnificent  landscapes that depict national parks like Yosemite under the press (even then) of excess humanity and techno intervention.  Adams was an early Sierra Club member, and many of his works were intended to raise environmental consciousness.  It is easy to imagine what Ansel would think if he could see the mess we've made today.  In addition, the show treats viewers to not so well known but very accomplished portraits of common and famous folk (Bowers Museum, Orange County).

Ansel Adams, "Monolith, The Face of Half Dome,
Yosemite National Park, California," 1927
©2006 Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
Courtesy of The Capital Group Foundation.

Selected images from Eugenia Butler's "Book of Lies" project

Beautifully installed as a sequence of suspended frames, Eugenia Butler's "Book of Lies" is a multi-part project in which she invited numerous artists to contribute works based on their relationship to truth.  Sound art, poetry and visual images were collected for a book--which is not a book.  The project was begun in 1991 and now includes more that 60 artists and three volumes.  Each artist's contribution is modest in size, yet when seen together the depth and the breadth of the project is compelling.  The works tend to inform each other, and assert themselves as a collective voice that questions as well as answers issues relating to the complexities of contemporary culture and life (18th Street Art Center, Santa Monica).

Installation view of "Material Girls".

Material Girls includes the work of 15 women for whom gender drives their process and meaning. After 20 years of avoiding work that looked "too feminist," these women, mostly from SoCal but also from as far as New York, reuse things that appear and disappear in the daily household cycles. To name a few, Mallory Cremin sort of paints quilted images, there is  a panty installation by Lisa Mraz, a cloth diaper installation of Deborah Thomas, and apron abstractions by Ke Sook Lee. All interestingly share ideas about social construction of gender roles, and pride in relation to the range of experiences subsumed under words like ‘mother,’ ‘wife,’ and ‘nurturer.’ Similar to some 1970s-era thinking, they are revamped (sometimes for the better, sometimes naively) with the benefit of hindsight. A real treat are the patterned and wry gender commentaries by consummate painter Carole Caroompas (Riverside Art Museum, Riverside).

Cindy Smith, "The Moral Museum: Selections
from the Bick Archive," installation view.

"The Moral Museum: Selections from the Bick Archive" is a tableaux "mockumentary" of the fictional life of Violet Bick, a background character in Frank Capra's 1946 movie, “It's a Wonderful Life.”  It "traces" Bick’s life from her birth in 1923, through her founding of a design company, to her writing, her activism, and finally her death in 1989.  Weaving wall text with cases of fabricated objects, and including a 34-minute faux documentary film, what is really exciting about this information and artifact collection is how simultaneously thought provoking and funny it is.  The mix of fact and fiction is driven by artist Cindy Smith's view that gender roles in history are constructed and maintained by a collusion between media and power.  Whether you accept this or not, Smith's quirky sense of what to leave behind as the scattered remains of an imagined life reveals more than just theory.  It is research that is both poignant and unsettling.  Why?  Because it depicts what might have been (Otis College, Ben Maltz Gallery, West Side).

Sarah Perry, "Summon Up," 2006. milli-
pedes, fishbones, brass, bronze, copper,
steel, chrome, wood, patinas, sealants.

Joyce Cutler-Shaw, "The
Dead II," artist's book.

Sarah Perry has been making delicate eerie works from the tiniest of bones, teeth and even hair for some time.  Perry is joined here by another artist fascinated with bones, Joyce Cutler-Shaw.  Fossils, little residues of life common to all species, are the subject matter and the medium of their art. Ecto-skeletons reflect the underlying architecture of our bodies.  They are a clock of our time here and the basic infrastructure that connects species.  In particular, both artists are charmed by bird bones--it is no accident that birds are sacred in so many ancient traditions and are now considered ancestrally linked to those huge ancient land creatures, dinosaurs.  Both artists are amateur science buffs and metaphysicians at once, and both link the poetic and the archeological.  Cutler-Shaw does this by transforming black and white, detailed drawings of pigeon bones in a variety of orientations into her own mysterious alphabet.  Perry roams the desert, harvesting actual bones of animals, rodents, reptiles, and droppings containing bones.  These she crafts into abstract structures recalling objects we know and those so old or fantastical we see them via Perry's wild imagination (USC Fisher Gallery, South Los Angeles).

Joseph P. Gerges, "The Samaritan," 2006,
oil and acrylic on canvas, 75 x 50".
Joseph P. Gerges' suite of portraits titled "In God I Trust," is a highly intense and personal examination of spirituality--his and ours--in the age of renewed (un)holy wars and massive slaughter in the name of innumerable god(s).  In his first solo exhibition Gerges mixes the modern and personal portrait format with the frontal and abstract paradigm of icons to investigate contemporary spirituality.  Family and models look out at us frontally, stoically, aping orthodox prayer screens done in wax for contemplation as far back as the 7th century.  The show has the über intensity of a first effort, but effectively suggests how power, wealth and presence have been mixed with divine sanction.  This issue is so not new--the Pyramids and medieval wood panels depicting saints were efforts to link faith and a select class.  Using a collision of found imagery and childhood memories drawn from the artist's Egyptian-American upbringing, Gerges attempts to explore the notion of faith and religion.  His portraits hint at both a personal relationship and an abstraction that occurs in global and market realities (which is the source of the show title, taken from our favorite greenbacks).  This is ambitious and dicey territory to tread without sounding preachy or New Age-ist.  The distance provided by portraiture, the evocation of  Byzantine iconography, mixed as these are with suggestions of the violence perpetrated by organized religion for millennia, make the show topical (Gallery C, South Bay).

Tony Marsh shows a variety of serious and witty objects that relate to the long functional and symbolic life of the vessel--as ritual and quotidian object.  He shows collections of neutrally hued, rough hewn vessels calling up unearthed ceremonial containers of the sort uncovered at Thera.  He makes brightly colored, rather nonsensical shapes (they suggest things like sea shells, pods and fruit), and places these in vessels to invoke the long history of still life painting.   Also visible is the link containers make with our instincts for memory, desire and collecting, and to call up the intimacy of the vessel as holder of water, food, grain, all life-giving substances.  Marsh includes lush reds and blues to fashion vessel contents; these jar up against the earth tones, communicating once again the long history of the vessel as decoration, heated silica and usable earth. 

Tony Marsh, "Floating and Dreaming Performated
Series," 2006, ceramic, 8 x 12 x 10".
Finally, pieces from the “Perforated Vessel Still Life Series” are just plain gorgeous objects for their own sake.  They are designed to tell us that the vessel has been a canvas and a sculpture--a surface on which shapers of form and students of light could develop ideas like hue, texture, rhythm, the platonic and the tectonic in form (Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).

Udo Noger, "Gleiches Wasser
2," 2006, mixed media
on canvas, 40 x 56".

Margaret Griffith, "Grands" (detail),
2006, acrylic, ink and watercolor
pencil on canvas, 42 x 60".

One would be disingenuous not to acknowledge at least a strain of delicate and spare Asian sensibility in the works by two artists who imagine and communicate the world abstractly.  Udo Noger makes mixed media works on canvas where delicate, almost absent hues seem to bleed into the surface like snow or mist and carry on them the subtlest of striations, islands or elongated shapes.  They are clean and succinct, but penetrating. In an excellent and echoing counterpoint that is just different enough to generate a dialogue between the two artists’ work, Margaret Griffith employs what looks to be pencil or fine ink to create obsessive cubed and layered honeycombs that fade in and out of acuity on the visual field.  These hazy matrices of geometric shapes refuse to congeal into anything at all, yet make you think of stacked cells, or of housing units.  Their planes orient randomly, so that some infinite as well as microscopic space existing deep inside and way beyond is continually intoned. There are a range of sensibilities sampled by these two artists, not all of them "oriental," but all of them subtle and interesting (Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica).

Sean Duffy, "The Grove'" (study), 2006.
Sean Duffy's solo installation is a visual and audio triumph.  With a dozen or more matching phonographs and a slew of vintage vinyl records to choose from, gallery goers are encouraged to play whatever suits them.  Hundreds of electric speakers and a mass of wiring were scattered above the spacious gallery, all intertwined as a monstrous, gorgeous chandelier.  Speakers from your turntable could be scattered far away, maybe over where someone was playing a Motown 33 at 45, while you were slowing down a record album of John F. Kennedy speeches to 18 and emphasizing the bass tones.  The communal cacophony suddenly becomes orchestral logic.  Duffy's art liberates the viewer from passivity and insists on living in the moment with irreplaceable (and inherently unrepeatable) moments.  While illustrating Nietzche's maxim that "Out of chaos comes order," Duffy is an audio Heraclitus, adding to the proverb "you cannot step twice into the same river" with an array of vinyl groove possibilities and combinations approximating infinity (Cal State LA, Luckman Gallery, East Los Angeles).

Strange New World: Art and Design from Tijuana/Extraño Nuevo Mundo: Arte y diseño desde Tijuana is a group exhibition featuring the work of twenty artists who have lived or live in Tijuana.  The idea of the border and the barriers between the US and Mexico becomes the focus of much of the work in the exhibition.  The exhibition features all media--from installation to video to sculpture.  While some of the work is too obvious, many of the artists are exploring new forms and taking on political and social issues related to location.  Of note are Rene Peralta's intricate wood panels that create a room within a room as well as a barrier in the museum; Salomon Huerta's paintings of houses; Einar and Jamex de la Torre's wall sized installation; and Julio César Morales installation that juxtaposes a projection with wall works (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Einar and Jamex de la Torre, "Exporting Democracy / Exportando democracia,"
2006, mixed media installation / Instalación en medios mixtos.

Yvonne Venegas, "Selecciónes de la serie Las novias más hermosas
de Baja California," selections from the series "The Most Beautiful
Brides of Baja California," 1999-2005, chromogenic print.

The vintage black and white images photographs of Henry Wessel, made in the 1960s and 1970s, explore the vacant landscape as a composition of discreet elements that work in concert with each other.  The tones of his images tend to become a texture—for example the sky and the grass as opposing patterns.  In many images a shadow juts into the frame, interrupting the landscape view.  Being part of the New Topographics movement, Wessel’s compositions are hard edged and minimal studies of the observable landscape in which reality is transformed into a graphic representation of opposing shapes and textures (Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica).

Henry Wessel, Confusion Range, Utah, 1972

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

The Collectible Moment: Photographs in the Norton Simon Museum chronicles the photographs collected by the Museum during the 1960s and 1970s.  This commitment helped lead the way for photography to be exhibited as a serious art medium, thanks in particular to the talents of curator Fred Parker.  Parker saw photography in the context of conceptual and political movements in art, and culled together a wide range of images in his curatorial pursuits.  The exhibition includes sections devoted to early modernist photographs by Edward Weston, Frederick Sommer, and Manuel Alvarez Bravo.  There are rooms that present single images by photographers such as Diane Arbus, Aaron Siskind and Minor White.  What makes the show unique is its emphasis on experimental process and the works of artists who were working with new forms of photography in the 1970's.  This group includes Robert Heinecken, Robbert Flick, and Betty Hahn.  One of the highlights was seeing Mike Mandel's baseball cards depicting many of the photographers in the exhibition as ballplayers citing their favorite photographers, movies and other miscellaneous data.  While the exhibition leaves out as much as it includes, it succeeds as powerful and illuminating collection (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena).