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June, 2007

The doubleheader of new paintings by Ed Moses being presented at neighboring galleries is meant to underline this artist's continued vitality and prowess--and it does just that. Whether it be the more historically influenced abstraction of the work at Frank Lloyd, or the fluid swirls on view at Bobbie Greenfield, Moses enchants with his painterly ability. The theme of open space punctuated by looming, suspended forms and bold swiping gestures typical of abstract expressionism is highlighted in a work such as "Franko-L" (which maybe even tips its hat to the precedents set by Franz Kline or Helen Frankenthaler). In the "Down-Broz #1" and "Down-Broz #2" group, metallic copper and silvery pigments float in languid swirls on intense blue surfaces. Related to the work of David Reed and other post-painterly contemporary practitioners, Moses visits their more spare abstract vocabulary and invigorates it with his enthusiastic painterly glosses.

Ed Moses, “A-1,” 2007, acrylic, 72 x 60”.
The differences between the works, and hence the dialogue between the two contiguous galleries, is bound to generate favorites; and that is precisely the point for an artist who has steadily focused on the painting process, its materials, and pictorial improvisation for over half a century (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery and Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).

Jay Rivkin, "The Planets", 1975, acrylic on wood, 19 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 1 1/2.

From the mid-1940s, Jay Rivkin created collage that recalls the best of Picasso’s synthetic cubism. Not quite as 3-D as Cornell, but more lush and multi-layered than flat collage, Rivkin appropriated signage rendered painterly and spruced up with his infallible application of just the right hint of atmospheric (they look air brushed in some passages) and thick, hard edged paint. The late artist maintained a consistently high level of productivity, and a recognizable style that was never repetitive or formulaic. This small but comprehensive memorial show samples both the 2-D and relief works, ranging from Schwitters-esque appropriated media detritus ("Handle with Care") to very sculptural assemblages in which found materials and bric a brac challenge and deeply penetrate traditional viewing space (Tobey C. Moss Gallery, West Hollywood).

Jose Alberto Marchi, “Solis Flamma I,”
2003, oil on canvas, 31 x 45 ”.
Can you have it both ways? It looks like Jose Marchi indeed can. In this stunning show, Marchi creates nearly wall length triptychs that cohere as one visual work. The three canvases evolve from objects/reality in the first, towards paint/idea in the last. The first work in each series is a breathtakingly executed realistic image of mostly female figures--not corny nudes, but women engaged in mysterious actions in spare geometric spaces where floor molding, wood floors and walls set up an underlying  visual geometry as meticulously conceived as the figures themselves. In the middle painting of each series, figures seem to fade so that our attention is drawn away from the jaw-dropping verisimilitude and narrative intrigue, to the shapes and gridded architecture of the space containing the figure.
In the final canvas, there is only the geometry, the same suggested in the first hyper real painting, but now set up as paint and shape for its own sake. In doing both these things so well, our awareness is heightened that architectonic structure underlies the most detailed worldly observations (Latin American Masters, Beverly Hills).

“Ecstasy” exhibition viewers who were mesmerized by Erwin Redl’s grand scaled light-emitting diode installation, Matrix II, can now experience six new LED configurations in space and a dozen or so works on paper by the Austrian born artist. Several of the new three-dimensional works incorporate sound and/or changing patterns of light that suggest movement. In his aptly titled ”Fade”, Redl encircles his audience with an immense curved curtain of hanging strands of red LEDs, modulated by a computer that regulates their intensity. The most site specific work in the exhibition, “Morph,” traces an arc of green LEDs within the confines of what was once a bank vault. Two brightly patterned streaks of white lights in “Speed Shift” pulsate along gallery walls, colliding at a corner. Redl’s orchestration of the redistribution of intensity of white and blue gradients in the more subtle, modestly sized “Matrix XVI” is captivating. The grand finale, “Matrix XVL,” lures observers to step into a vast volume of space, enticed by the changes in perspective they encounter negotiating their way through precisely aligned configurations of blue lights (Ace Gallery Beverly Hills).

Erwin Redl, "Morph,” 2007, LED installation,
28’ 10” (h) x 10’ 6” (w) x 8’ 11” (d).

Charles Ray, "Hinoki," 1998-2007,
Japanese cypress, 68 x 382 x 240".
Photo courtesy the Los Angeles Times.
Japan’s Imperial Ise Shrine is built anew every twenty years by skilled artisans who are as dedicated as master Yuboku Mukoyoshi, the Osaka woodworker Charles Ray directed to re-fabricate a 32 foot long felled oak to his specifications. Ray has always been fascinated with the idea of transforming the observed world into something sculptural. His works have included a larger than life manikin, a full scale automobile that had been involved in a crash as well as more subtle works where objects rotate at imperceptible speeds. The product of this collaboration, ten years in the making, is a replication of a decaying log done in fresh, unfinished hinoki cypress. The marks of the tools and evidence of the dovetails that join sections of the sculpture enliven its pastel surface. Swirls in the branching log activate its form as vigorously as the waves in a Hokusai’s woodcut. Visitors to this enshrined object can gaze into the hollow length of the log's main trunk, elevated on blocks and wedges like a Buddha. Its extremities barely clear the floor, creating a tension reminiscent of the life force transferred between outstretched fingers in Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).

El Anatsui excels with bricollage, at taking what is there and making do, transforming it for creative intent, identity, and self awareness. Anatsui hails from Ghana and lives in Nigeria. Working in areas where from day to day war and disaster reign, where the vestiges of colonialism and robbed resources enervate production, this artist gathers metal scraps, liquor wrappers, bits of tin cans that held food, glass shards and more to produce these large scale quadrangular patterns that almost look woven. Using the existing colors as a pigment palette, relying on the natural reflective properties of metal and glass to move light across surfaces, Anatsui constructs gorgeous abstract fields that speak of resourcefulness, love of pattern, and veneration of ritual hand work (Fowler Museum at UCLA, West Los Angeles).

El Anatsui, "Flag for a New World Power," 2005,
aluminum and copper wire, 500 x 550 cm.

Installation view: Carl Andre, left; John McLaughliln, right.
The pairing of works by sculptor Carl Andre and painter John McLaughlin makes for a subtle but evocative exhibition.  Each artist concentrated on reducing their work to a small handful of variable formal elements. McLaughlin divided his canvases into lines and shapes so as to create patterns from the relationship of subdued colors. Andre used industrial materials to create geometric shapes which were then assembled on the gallery floor to make abstract forms that have the appearance of small towers or buildings. While the work exhibited by both artists dates from the past, the sculptures and painting resonate with one another, and allow one to reflect on how art has changed over time, in particular how what was once shocking to be considered as an art object has become an anchor for current debates (Michael Kohn Gallery, West Hollywood).

Shirley Tse's solo exhibition of new work "Sink Like a Submarine" projects wry humor and seemingly endless inventiveness with materials. Drawing (loosely) together concepts from the history of calculating machines (originally looms), military history and game theory, Tse weds those to physical elements that go beyond the conceptual framework. A jade heart trapped in a forest of green plastic struts combines found submarine parts, their cast replicas, and other strange plastic and metal components. It folds backwards and forwards in the viewers' imaginative re-construction of its purpose: from being a trap or part of some arcane machine, it can also be seen as a shelter. With her characteristic indeterminacy, Tse's research pushes forward as she explores her connection to plastic: what is this ubiquitous substance and how has it influenced our thinking in terms of what is natural, what is artificial, what we consider permanent and what we see as disposable. It all adds up to visually compelling and wonderfully wacky sculptures (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

Shirley Tse, "Sink Like a Submarine," 2006, found
submarine parts, resin, brass, jade, 83 x 30 x 22".

Patsy Krebs, "Amduat II," 2007, watercolor on paper on panel, 18 x 80".

Patsy Krebs makes abstract paintings built of subtle bands of color, often invoking misty horizons or Rothko-esque poetic fields. From a distance, the quiet geometries look spare, even minimalist. Closer inspection reveals the layer upon layer of skilled and nuanced, oscillating colors which comprise each atmospheric band; optical tricks interject motion and time into otherwise still surfaces (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Fine Art, Santa Monica).

You may recall John Humble's beautiful color images after the Northridge earthquake showing the 10 Freeway cracked around La Cienega. Over his long career Humble has made Los Angeles his subject, not just the drama of it, like our quakes and shakes, but its ‘50s bungalows, its vast suburbs and isolated geometries of some of its more interesting monuments. Recently, with the developers and artists rushing to the LA River Project, Humble has added stunning and very different abstractions of the river in disuse, sitting quietly like a barrier dividing this sprawling county. These quite stunning chromogenic prints are aptly titled "A Place in the Sun. . . " The reference to our particular LA light--both strident and clogged--is very appropriate here (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).

"Psychobotany" installation view.
Aaron Gach is co-founder and spokesperson for the Bay Area based collective Center for Tactical Magic, a group dedicated to "an amalgam of disparate arts invoked for the purpose of actively addressing Power on individual, communal, and transnational fronts." Psychobotany: Revolutionary Breakthroughs in Human/Plant Communication, curated by Gach, brings together scientific and pseudo-scientific ways that some have sought to challenge the common belief that plants cannot possess characteristics such as shyness, emotional vulnerability, or the ability to lie. Gach is not interested so much in the particular science of the efforts, but in our own experience of and responses to these presentations. Works include “Vital Psigns,” the classic science experiment in which three identical tomato plants live or die based on our positive or negative thoughts; a small greenhouse filled with "shy" plants (Mimosa pudica) whose seismonastic movements intrigued even Charles Darwin;
examples from the 1976 performances that brought together John Lifton, Richard Lowenberg, Jim Wiseman, and Tom Zahuranec for the film Secret Life of Plants; and much more. The exhibit leaves the viewer wondering if plants may have something to say, after all, and what we may have missed by not listening more intently (Machine Project, Echo Park).

Anja Franke's installation, titled “Igloo/Ukendt”, might not be nearly so seductive if the weather was cold right now.  But with temperatures climbing, an Angelino is drawn to all efforts at a chill, be they real or counterfeit. The igloo here is one of woven industrial white felt and bamboo.  The structure is set upon small white rocks in the shaded narrow outdoor alcove of the space. Any sculptural igloo is subject to comparison to the igloos used famously by Arte Povera luminary Mario Merz. But while Merz used the half-hemispheric form to connote an ever-changing, nomadic, restless nature inherent in our contemporary experience, this Igloo seems more about the opposite, an oasis with protective covering for a momentary respite (Materials & Applications, Silver Lake).

Anja Franke, "Igloo/Ukendt", under construction,
2007, bamboo and industrial felt.

Li Zhensheng: During denunciations at an afternoon rally in Red Guard
Square, Wang Yilun (foreground), a Provincial Party Secretary, is accused
of being “a black gang element”. August 29, 1966, photograph.
Photographic negatives hidden away for decades after having been shot by the then young photographer Li Zhensheng captured the China of the 1960s and ‘70s at great personal risk during Mao’s so-called “Cultural Revolution.” Zhensheng captured rows of robotic athletes reciting Mao's  “Little Red Book.” We witness crowded public gatherings  where discredited comrades were forced to stand on stools, bent at the waist for hours wearing signs, masks and splattered with black paint to indicate their “departure” from the precepts of Mao.
Happily the photographer avoided censure or worse, and now these black and white shots (all corroborated by second sources for authenticity) recreate the chilling brave new world that was early communist China. If only Mao could see the Chanel stores and Coke dispensers today! (UCR/California Museum of Photography, Riverside)

Three concurrent exhibitions--Poetics of the Handmade, Richard Tuttle, and Alexandra Grant--work together. Perhaps it was curatorial insight or just pure luck, but the connections and dialogues among them museum makes the museum look better than it has in years. Grant is a young Los Angeles-based artist who works with language. Her text-based paintings and sculptures are clearly laborious. In the paintings, the text fills through bubbles that populate the brightly colored canvases. The words become the structure or the architectural support for the paintings. Because they are deliberately hard to read--most of the text is backwards--they hover between form and content. Grant also creates wire sculptures with these words.  She either scans them to create wallpaper, or assembles them into a chandelier-like sculpture that hangs and spins from the gallery's ceiling. Grant’s use of wire, and the delicate nature of these forms speak directly to New York veteran Tuttle. His deceptively simple objects pursue the intersection of drawing, painting and sculpture. The approximately 300 works on view (you read that correctly) trace the trajectory of five decades of his work, which helped reshape thinking about presentation and display. Finally, Poetics of the Handmade brings together the works of eight Latin American artists who work with everyday materials, transforming them through repetition into room-sized installations.

Alexandra Grant, “contender (after Michael
Joyce’s ‘contend,’ 2004),” 2005,
mixed media on paper, 126 x 80”.
Photo: Brian Forrest.
While each of these three exhibitions display their own merits and shortcomings, the relationships and ideas about display, materials, and the obsessive nature of art-making that they have in common makes for a genuine synergy (The Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown).

Israel, 1950s. Designer: Zvi Narkiss.
Produced by the State of Israel Tourist Department.
Both the power of graphic social realism to create an identity from an annihilated heritage, and its power to construct the territories of nationhood are beautifully sampled in The Art of Vintage Israeli Travel Posters. The more than 30 posters seen here were designed to not only promote tourism to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. They helped to create a national identity. For a scattered and decimated people coming together after the holocaust, this was an essential endeavor. The presentation here takes no sides--this is not presented as propaganda, nor as neutral realism. The posters are clear in their intent: gorgeous images of a beautiful land presented in the spirit of informative PR, complete with slogans and iconography (Skirball Cultural Center, West Los Angeles).