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May, 2007

Karen Carson, "Giddy Up Ol' Paint II," 2006, acrylic on tycore, 45 3/4 x 71".

Karen Carson's older styles can be seen in several of the women's art shows that are on view all over LA. We know her for this clever text work, and most recently for works on silk that showed smoldering forests either caught in sunset or ablaze--it almost didn't matter which because the message seemed to be the movement of paint and intense color across the glossy cloth surfaces she'd chosen for her last show. The artist continues this idea of primordial woods under duress, adding apocalyptic winged horses that are alive and terrifying. Into these fields she injects flat, contrasting silhouettes of oblivious urbanites who invoke cutouts as they're bracketed against the frothy style she uses to depict nature. The artist shares her time between her Venice studio and a ranch in Montana, so the sublime beauty of land and beast was bound to become a subject (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

John Baldessari, “Noses & Ears, etc., Part III:  Two Altered Persons (One with Yellow Nose),
2007, three-dimensional archival inkjet prints with acrylic paint, 43 1/2 x 92 3/4 x 4”.

John Baldessari has always been a master at taking things apart and putting them back together. He uses found imagery, usually depicting ‘B’ actors, crops and then juxtaposes them with other images to create uncanny relationships. Works both large and small display an unique sense of humor and wit. In "Noses and Ears, Part III" he dissects and manipulates facial features, distorting identities and creating subtle monsters out of men. The exhibition includes a short movie clip in which a child gives a presentation on the nose. This introduction serves as the underlying theme of the show. The works depict faces whose noses have been turned upside down or inside out. The manipulation is often subtle, and the layering of the photographic images adds a sculptural dimension to the works. What is kept in and what is left out has always been a concern for Baldessari (Margo Leavin Gallery, West Hollywood). 

Judy Fiskin, "Untitled," 2006, silver gelatin print, 8 x 6".
“The End of Photography” is a very short black and white video in which the narrator laments what happens when one no longer does photography work in a darkroom. No more fixer, no more tongs, no more radio, etc. The imagery that accompanies the narration focuses on the architectural landscape of Los Angeles where facades of apartment buildings sit squarely in the frame, surrounded by blowing trees and branches. This imagery is similar to Judy Fiskin's static images that focus on isolated fragments of art, memorials, and architecture set against a faint background. Fiskin transitioned from photography to video in the late 1990's, using her keen eye and ironic wit to call attention to that which is often overlooked. In her current exhibition new as well as older images are presented, questioning whether this is really an end to photography or perhaps a new beginning, only now embracing digital technologies (Angles Gallery, Santa Monica).

Absent story line, a visually compelling video installation by Brandon Morse digitally records actions--of bodies, or of some organic form not necessarily recognizable. These are projected in dim light in a series of multiple, simultaneous projections timed to have this hypnotic effect of suggesting growth or the morphing of living matter that goes on constantly but usually below our visual radar. The idea is that these projections make this unseen motion manifest, and create the feel that it is driven by an outside force or forces pressing the mysterious choreography to some conclusion that never quite happens. As an indirect evocation of some life force that manages to not be sappy but retain a good measure of sensuality and abstraction, Morse hits a mark (d.e.n., Culver City).

Brandon Morse, ".1 PPM," 2007,
computer generated video on DVD

Marion Peck’s masterfully kinky opus Soft Paintings for Gentle People displays psychological power and technical skill that exposes viewers to the sentimental landscape of innocence. Cartoons rendered in exquisite painterly realism, Peck’s genius is for picking subjects that reveal a little about the viewer, be you a predatory taster of flesh or a valiant defender of childlike wonder. There is plenty of middle ground in this work, although an ironic and subversive sensibility could not be exorcised out of these works by anyone past adolescent development. But what they are to us and what we want them to be to us is half the fun--or terror--lurking in the oversized eyeballs of Peck’s peculiar populous (Billy Shire Fine Arts, Culver City).

Marion Peck, "Bouquet," 2007, oil on canvas, 21 1/2 x 17 1/2".

So many artists have used the map as a metaphor for placement and displacement. Josh Dorman uses actual antique maps as his working surface, and feels no compunction about altering these by hand. With pen and ink he adds a line or arrow to take the viewer on a circuitous trajectory to nowhere. With a heavy glob of pigment he will create a juggernaut of shape that stops the eye, or a visual bridge that links distant continents. The patterns and lines, longitude and latitude that were part of the old maps, become mere compositional assists; land masses become pure abstract shapes, boundaries between territories that allowed the user to navigate long ago become mere grids on which he locates doodled ladders, floating steps and floating ramps.

Josh Dorman, "Frankly," 2006, ink on antique maps on canvas, 38 x 48".
Dorman's maps--honey colored and dotted with small inked squiggles of buildings, arrows, sailboats and more--ask the same question with the same childlike optimism that John Lennon asked: what if there were no nations? (George Billis Gallery, Culver City).

Betty Sheinbaum, "Family at the Table,"
acrylic on canvas, 20- 1/2 X 32-1/2".
Betty Sheinbaum continues to refine a technique that lies somewhere between abstract shape and deeply expressive realism. At TAG, the show “Back at the Beach” captures the energy, diversity and unique light of our sea-side suburbs. Betty has worked in collage and a variety of media. What is most remarkable about these oils is that Sheinbaum’s selectively broad, wetly worked swaths (this is a master painter who manipulates this technique for a desired effect) say so much about that eccentric and vital sense of community that seems to percolate near any sea and sand (TAG, Santa Monica).

Nam June Paik
(l.) Chapter One Is Better Than Chapter Eleven, 1988 / 1990, antique television cabinet, acrylic paint, glass, phonograph horn, 20” GE television, 9” Zenith television, Sony Watchman television, Laser Disk player Model # MDP33, original Paik laser disk
(r.) TV Tulip (computerized one hundred flowers), 1998, ink jet prints (100 different images) each 32 x 42 cm, on paper rolls, affixed to the wall, and antique television console. Limited to 15 installations, signed and numbered certificate.

This show is an apt reminder of the remarkable contribution made by seminal pioneering video artist Nam June Paik, who died just last year. The exhibition includes a wall-sized installation of 100 images of tulips transformed into wallpaper editions (a homage to Warhol's "Cows," though one wonders who did it first). Also included are video-based works and new genre multiples constructed from laserdiscs, CDs, vinyl recordings and other found objects.  As provocative and moving as the works themselves are, a highlight is the elegant, historical, often funny black and white photographs of the artist shot by Lim Young Kyun, who documented Paik’s performances, events and activities for over two decades (AndrewShire Gallery, Midtown).

Peter Wegner, "The United States of Nothing,"
2007, neon and wall paint, 120 x 480 x 2".
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.
In the "United States of Nothing" New York-based artist Peter Wegner creates a large scale map on the gallery wall. Pulsating bursts of white neon pinpoint cities in the United States with names like "Nothing" or "Lost City". The work fills darkened space, referencing the expanse of the landscape and the relationship between open and filled spaces. The neon works continue in the back gallery where red neon illuminates the coordinates of two places named "Standard." This work, entitled "Double Standard" is presented in two shades of red. In addition to the neon works, Wegner presents three portfolios of photographic images in which he documents windows, walls and works creating colorful abstractions. Wegner, always interested in double meanings and word play, has consistently expanded his artistic vocabulary from painting, then to installation, and now into photography (Griffin, Santa Monica).

Frank Romero’s current show includes, of course, the large wall bound cut-out cars that continue to delight us.  In their spunky way they're able to speak of L.A.'s "wheels on concrete" culture, the Chicano cruising ethos and the whole high art-hand craft dichotomy attending Western and non-Western ideas of art. To emphasize some of these ideas, he has added neon touches to the low riders, but the real treat added here are abstract canvases that seem to take their motif from aerial views of webbed freeway overpasses. Flat, solid bands of paint coil, overlay and bend like the 405 dumping onto the 10, or like abstract geometric patterning you might find in a Frank Stella work (Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica).

Frank Romero, "Freeway Red & Blue,"
2007, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 72".

Daniel Dove, "Eye of Providence," 2007, oil on canvas, 66 x 132 inches.

The paintings of Daniel Dove and Tom McGrath complement each other in their approach to depicting the contemporary industrial landscape. McGrath's work is more abstract and urban in its approach (there are similarities to the city works of Ed Ruscha). He paints expanses of the urban environment as it spreads out from a high vantage point, allowing the lights of the city to sparkle in his compositions. Dove, on the other hand couples detritus with beautifully painted fields. He works both abstract and realistically, bringing together diverse styles of painting that allow the different types of paint application to merge on the canvases. Fragments of signage and graffiti hover in the shadows of interlocking pipes, all of which exist in an unidentified space. Interior and exterior, urban and pastoral converge in work that is innovative and captivating (Cherry and Martin, West Los Angeles).

Brian Forrest, "Santa Ynez Canyon
#16," lightjet print, 48 x 40".
The less we have of it, the better it looks. This is so true of the land, of open nature and the lack of it which was heralded by the Industrial Revolution. Brian Forrest decided to take the Zen approach to this sad state of affairs by seeing anew what is close around us, by making the available and the present the beautiful. As an anecdote to urban overload, Forrest walks the local mountains and photographs nature under very low light--that special light between the previous night and the impending day, somewhere between pitch dark and luminous. He shows large scale, nearly four-foot light jet prints of trees and wooded areas in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains, captured when there is very low ambient sun. The high acuity that this jet printing technique affords produces surfaces that at first look velvety black, fully abstract, dreamy and infinite. Lulled by this rich field, you linger only to find that in the darkness there is indeed a maze of branches behind which you discover deep recession and the outlines of a wooded grotto, or path winding back through shrubs. The rising sun (or is it the not-yet set moon at very early morn?) shines as a partial disk of subtle light. These photos make you work for your pleasure--just like nature (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), the Argentine-born son of an Italian sculptor, was studying art in Milan just as Futurism began to fade. By the 1950’s he had gained attention for his explorations into the third dimension by way of the holes and slashes he inflicted on stretched canvas surfaces. The Italian Cultural Institute, in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum, has mounted a show consisting mostly of works on paper that affirms Fontana’s interest in bold shapes and forms.  This exhibit also documents the steps he took towards producing the mature work that he would show in exhibitions of Italian Art Informal and the Venice Biennale and Documenta in the 1960s. Early drawings and a series of studies consisting of slashes cut into colored pieces of tinfoil, several expressionistic ceramic sculptures, a black dress with slits and a handful of photographs of the artist address Fontana’s efforts to surmount the barriers erected between two and three dimensional art (Italian Cultural Institute, West Los Angeles).

Lucio Fontana in his studio

Morris Louis, "Number 99," 1959-1960,
acrylic resin (Magna) on canvas, 99 x 142".
The Morris Louis survey show may be the best museum exhibit I have ever seen where nearly every artwork was horribly hung and abysmally lit. The exhibit was awkwardly divided between three galleries, one of which was up three flights of stairs from the first, and the other across the street. Neither the scrunched hanging nor the folksy atmosphere could detract from the masterful power of Morris Louis, an optimistic version of Rothko at his most elegiac, with giant canvases alternately caressed and smoldered by an ether of chroma. Louis appears to have invented the contemporary maxim that an artist must work in a series. A groundbreaking approach is inherent in almost every one of these series. You are not an abstract painter if you have not absorbed a few giant Louis canvasses. But better to do so away from these cramped galleries (MCASD Downtown, San Diego).

Over ten years ago, John O’Brien approached real estate mogul Richard Carlson and art-collector wife Kathleen Reges with a proposal for an artist-run exhibition space in one of the historic buildings of the Brewery complex in downtown Los Angeles. Since then, O’Brien has organized and overseen dozens of exhibitions featuring both Angelinos and visiting artists from Europe and beyond. The Brewery Project has become one of the important venues for alternative, often non-commercial or even anti-commercial, art as well as a center for important events like the fundraiser for Darfur held in March.

“A Simple Complex Redux” is, lamentably, the Project’s final exhibition. The space will be converted into a studio for an architectural team and a jeweler, and O’Brien will move on to other projects. “A Simple Complex” was the title of the first Brewery Project exhibition. The concept--a show featuring artists who deliberately worked in diverse, often apparently contradictory styles--gives an idea of O’Brien’s conceptual innovations for the exhibition space. “A Simple Complex Redux” features thirteen artists, some of whom were in the original exhibition. This group similarly creates work that appears stylistically or conceptually inconsistent. As O’Brien is quick to point out, “That means their work is often difficult, if not impossible, to market.”

John O'Brien, “Materials List,”
2007, miixed media installation.
Nonetheless--or perhaps precisely because of these diversities and contradictions--the show is conceptually rich and visually intriguing. O’Brien’s “Materials List” is an installation of frames and other identifiably art-related objects positioned on a mirror, all listing off kilter in an engaging commentary on the nature of creation. Co-curator Wendy Adest (also co-curator of the first “Simple Complex”) has displayed four in her ongoing series of paintings on plexiglas. Reflections of the day-glo plexi surround her cut-out forms with glowing haloes in a poetic play of light, shape, and the essence of painting. Other works, from Rebecca Ripple’s “God” sculpture, in the form of three patent-leather platform shoes, to Maura Bendett’s multi-media “Melt,” a bejeweled concoction coruscating off the wall, also challenge and delight (The Brewery Project, Downtown).

Sigmar Polke is an artist skilled in diverse abilities who is able to easily transition from medium to medium. It is a treat to view his early photographs, in which he experimented with double exposures and absurd juxtapositions. The works feel like they come from another era, exhibiting none of the slickness of contemporary digital manipulations. The small format images made in the 1960's, foreshadow things to come in Polke's later painting and photo works. The fact that he did not see the photographic image as sacred but as an object that could be scratched into and painted upon was unusual at the time and something we now take for granted. Polke's use of layering and collage in these early pictures is both inspiring and confirming (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).

Ezra Johnson, still from "What Visions
Burn," 2007, DVD, 22:27 minutes.
Ezra Johnson’s twenty-plus minute painted film, “What Visions Burn,” runs on a continuous loop. Chances are that you will not walk into the video room where it is being screened exactly when the DVD begins. But that’s OK, since making sense of the narrative is less compelling than witnessing the use Johnson makes of the camera to animate his paintings while building up references to repositories of old and new art. You will see Johnson’s depictions of artists putting on masks and stealing paintings, police cars in pursuit, lovemaking, a couple on the run and a guy who fiddles while a loft burns. There is no dialogue, but all of the action is underscored by the sound of footsteps, sirens, cars accelerating, fountains splashing, etc. The camera zooms in and out, framing the lush surfaces of Johnson’s brutishly glorious paintings, jerking the viewer along on a trip through time and space.
Images such as the animated splash of a boat’s wake, the wooden floor of a skewed dark gallery hallway, or the light filtering through storm clouds above the industrial rooftops of a city are so compelling that you will find it difficult to leave after a single viewing (Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles). 

Exhibitions that present interactive or screen-based works are often hard to engage with; viewers are hesitant to sit at a computer and look at art in a gallery setting. For Command Z:  New Work in Digital Photography curators Douglas McCulloh and Ted Fisher designed three viewing stages from which to view the interactive works. Each pod has a ramp leading to an elevated platform where there is a single mouse. The person navigating through the work can share the stage, but more importantly the fact that the computer is connected to a large scale projection makes the viewing of the work by a large number of people possible. Each of the three stages have been carefully curated so that the work on each screen has subtle relations to one another. While a few of the works could be seen on a home computer, most have been edited for this particular presentation.

Ken Gordon, "Time Squares," 2006, still images
running of Max/MSP/Jitter, continuous loop.
The projections include short videos as well as net based projects by artists including John Greyson, Jonathan Harris, and Jacob Reed. In addition to the computer-based pieces there are also numerous looping DVDs, projects that explore yet another mode of photographic and digital manipulation as in the innovative works by Dane Picard and Rebecca Bollinger (Torrance Art Museum, South Bay).

Cheryl Ekstrom, "Extreme-Unction: Warriors Against Angst".
This small but engaging exhibition of works by 21 women take the beauty of nature, its imperilment and sundry environmental issues, as the point of departure. Echoes: Women Inspired by Nature offers engaging, at times witty, and also simply beautiful works of art selected to justify the moral tone. Curated by Betty Ann Brown and Linda Vallejo, the show strikes a comfortable balance between sheer visual beauty, as contained in the paintings of Astrid Preston and Takako Yamaguchi, and works that are visually less compelling as they favor placing their emphasis on message. The curators have mixed older with more current works, with an emphasis on sculpture/assemblage and installations. Altogether, the show is among of the best this venue for new art has offered lately (OCCCA, Orange County).

Spiders carrying human skulls on their backs, flowers seeing through eyes, humanoid beings whose bodies are made from bricks and faces that are more reminiscent of the dead than the living surrounded by brilliant flowers and leaves are the subjects that, in various permutations are the product of a self-taught artist who thus exposes mystical visions that he has had since the age of four when he fell into a two-month long coma. Myron Conan Dyal was subjected to exorcisms rather than given medical care at the behest of his parents. It was not until he reached his fifties, that he was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy, an affliction that he dismisses today as secondary to the power of his spiritual visions.  And these visions make for a potent visual experience that eludes ready categorization (CSUF Grand Central Art Center, Orange County).

Myron Conan Dyal, "Picture 112".