Return to Articles


September, 2007

To accompany the showing of Edouard Manet's “Bar of the Folies-Bèrger,” the Getty digs deep into its magnificent collection of modern drawings. There are some of the most delightful, rare 19th century drawings of women--clothed and in the buff--by the likes of Toulouse Lautrec and Gustave Courbet, and a red and brown ink work by Van Gogh of a country fellow named Joseph Roulin. There are street scenes, portraits of artists, mythological allegories by Eugene Delacroix, and a Tahitian face by Paul Gauguin. It’s all installed to give a frame of reference to the complex and exploding cultural environment in which Manet lived. Paul Seurat, that intensely gifted mathematician of an artist, gets the tightest grid of conté pencil lines to perfectly limn the energy and status of a proper young women strolling with her cane. 

Edouard Manet, "Bar at the Folies-Bèrger", 1882, oil on canvas.
It succeeds in highlighting the exposed chest and absence of agency we feel from the working girl barmaid in the neighboring gallery.

Visitors making their way through the Center’s entrance hall are amazed to see that grand space transformed by six huge semi-translucent balloons floating aloft in Tim Hawkinson’s biomorphic "Uberorgan." Hawkinson’s handmade installation delights the crowds, pumping out musical scores every hour on the hour through twelve horns, each keyed to a different note. More wondrous treasures reconfigured by Hawkinson into the small but magical “Zoopsia” lurk elsewhere, in the Terrace Level of the West Pavilion. Those that play with the mutation of body parts include a sculpture incorporating rows of rowing human figures that take on the appearance of a dinosaur’s vertebrae; a bat constructed mainly from black plastic Radio Shack bags; and a photographic collage of a shocking pink octopus whose tentacles, it turns out, are lined with the artist’s own puckered lips (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).

The identity of two Herculaneum Women, whose images were carved in marble by Roman sculptors some time between 30 BC and 65 AD, remains a mystery. Modeled after earlier Greek works that could have represented goddesses, priestess, muses or idealized female citizens, they were held captive until 1711 in the flow of volcanic debris that covered Herculaneum to a depth of thirty feet after Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Supporting materials, including an 18th century French engraving that pictures the facade of the theater at Herculaneum, where the sculptures were discovered, and a German print depicting their installation in the Marble Gallery at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, document their history as collector’s items until they became the focus of the antiquities galleries in Dresden. The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen’s loan of the two Herculaneum Women to the Getty Villa, where they look very much at home, enables visitors to examine the handsome figures close enough to spy vestiges of paint on the hemline of one beautifully draped garment (Getty Villa, West Side).

"“Christ Child of Huanca (Niño Jesús de Huanca),” Peru,
c. 1600–1610, polychromed wood with gilding, 32 1/2 x
16 3/4 x 15 1/2", Church of San Pedro, Lima, Peru.
Ignored for the most part by the art historical canon in the United States, The Arts in Latin America: 1492-1820 affords a splendid introduction to over 300 years of interrelationships between Europe and what we now call the Americas. These altarpieces, decorative art (i.e. silver, inlaid furniture, folding screens) sculpture and painting reflect the obvious presence of imperial powers (Spain, Portugal), and their insistence on imposing Christianity through colonization. Didactic without being weighed down by pedantic detail, the show touches on sensitive material such as the mixing of races and classes as well as the economic and creative forces that conspired to form a unique aesthetic. The decorative arts as seen here display an ingenious blend of aesthetics and artisanship. The design and workmanship in some ceremonial garments worn by Catholic priests is awe-inspiring. Immigrants also brought influences from Asia and from elsewhere in Europe than the Iberian Peninsula.
(Some artifacts and decorative household items were imported from China and Japan via the Philippines.) Still the overpowering presence of European aesthetics encouraged new interpretations, particularly of the Baroque, by American artists and artisans. Gilded curvilinear lines abound, in wood sculpture, in frames, and often on the embellished surfaces of the splendid Bolivian and Ecuadorian Archangel paintings. A challenging view of fluidity under duress, this exhibition reveals as well the subtle differences between experimentation and acquisition, particularly through the contrast between the Andean painters and the Mannerist appropriations of Mexicans Cristóbal de Villalpando and José Juarez (LACMA, West Hollywood).

Woods Davy might be thought of as among the first "green" Post Modern artists. In fact, he comes from a long tradition of post ‘60s artists like John Cage, who either directly or just by their practical sensibility, engage Eastern or Zen notions of oneness with nature, organic systems of change as engines of art composition, non-disruptive respect for natural materials in unaltered states, and the fashioning of objects that are not your typical museum pedestal works. Of course, like all contemporary art with lofty aims, these end up in fancy galleries, but indeed exist there in a different, more meditative way. The polish and shapes are hewn by the elements, but Davy assembles them into the most lyrical airborne arcs. Davy’s stones as complimented perfectly with photos of the Pacific Coast near Vancouver by Richard Ehrlich. Craggy, gorgeous seas and shorelines printed in the almost rough, soft focus of archival prints set up the other side and mood of nature we know--the Western Romantic view of nature wild and unleashed. Nice combo! (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).

Woods Davy, "Cantamar," 2007
stone, 86 x 52 x 28 inches.

Florian Maier-Aichen, “The factory that
works," 2007, C-print, 29 x 37 inches.
There is something off and unsettling in Florian Maier-Aichen's photographs. Often shot from above and afar, they depict the landscape and the cityscape as familiar, but also as uncanny. For example, the white line that cuts into the red rocks in "Above June Lake" makes it appear to be a landscape from another world. All of Maier-Aichen's images are based in a photographed reality. Its what happens after the shot is processed that sets Maier-Aichen's work apart. The works are digitally manipulated, leaving enough of the original to evoke recognition. The red landscape that surrounds the ski area trails in "Above June Mountain" has been shifted from the original green. Similarly in "The Factory that Works" one can't help but wonder why one smokestack billows smoke while the other does not. The answer is Photoshop. Photoshop has changed the way we picture the world, and has done away with the idea of a true representation or reality.
No photographic image made in the twenty-first century can be assumed to be pure, as digital tweaking can now play a part in all aspects of photographic production. What makes Maier-Aichen's work stand out is his skill in these manipulations, and the choices he makes in what to shoot, and how to transform his imagery (Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown).

Allison Cortson paints with dust, and in her skilled hand the ephemeral powdery stuff limns the most precise scenes of people in quotidian, non-monumental behaviors--reading, sitting. Cortson also extends her more typical images of figures to depicting the landscape. Here, scenes of open nature are also made from that particulate matter that we usually clean or sweep away. A landscape represented of the very matter from which it is made is a tiered, complicated concept, different from say Ruscha painting in catsup to tell us everything is potentially art (there is an awareness of this discourse, to be sure). This work seems to also and more prominently call our attention to expansion and compression, to the tiniest point masses that once dispersed in vast space and then congealed into stars, dirt, bodies, all the things around us. In an analogue to that process, Cortson directs, dilutes, gathers, and guides the dust to make it into something else, something large, recognizable, seemingly permanent--but that also has the quality of being about to evaporate.

Allison Cortson, “Milan, Hiroki
and their Dust,” 2007, dust, pigment.
This is evident in a gorgeous work of a college dorm room or apartment where a woman reads and a roommate lies beside her casually checking text messages. In making images of people and landscape out of the very "stuff" of the adage "dust to dust," she is able to wrest a shocking degree of nuanced shape and color from this limited palette and demanding material. She then raises these funny and profound science/life questions about existence, about what we are, what we're made of, how transient tangible reality really is. We are even invited to consider, by virtue of a process in which pigment looks as if it is about to float away, the nature of the vast spaces between the particulate matter that makes up everything in the cosmos (there are also works inspired by particle acceleration experiments, so it's no critical stretch to invoke the physics-metaphysics subtext so smartly tucked into this work) (Happy Lion Gallery, Downtown).

to come
For the exhibition Touched: Artists & Social Engagement, curator Noel Korten took on the difficult task of drawing on a pre-existing group of artists who, other than being contemporary artists in LA and having taught at the Center, had no other meaningful connection. What he was able to do was to forge a poetic nexus based upon their mutual commitment to their individual artistic passions. He then placed each artist in proximity of peers whose work has stylistic or formal similarities, thus emulating how they interact within the art world anyway. Each is represented by a few works, all of which function as a conversation about how artists strive to address change in the world through the visualization of their ideas. Given the theme, it is not surprising that some of the works are polemical--Edgar Arceneaux’ "The Burning Bush." Others are more personal--Mark Niblock-Smith’s "First Date"--and yet others are more elliptically poetic--Lynne Berman’s "Sarajevo." Overall, enough works are visually captivating and capable of generating resonance on issues central to public dialogue today (Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena).

Queen for a Day and. . .The Big King Show! is an invitational by artist/curator/educator Marcella Swett that includes over 60 regional and national women artists, ten of their male colleagues, and a select few examples of art created by the children Swett teaches. It adds up to a joyous romp of explosive color. A work not to miss is Esther Petschar’s restful diptych, “Diego and Frieda in a Container,” in which the iconic Mexican artist couple is enveloped by the wings of a butterfly. Brightly colored, with tight brushwork verging at points on pointillism, Petschar’s painting is both thoughtful and thought provoking. Joan Weldon’s campy tribute to screen Queen Joan Crawford consists of a framed publicity photograph jangling from a wire hanger, the type we later learned she despised for her children to use.

Esther Petschar, "Diego Frida in a Container".
Weldon has sentenced Crawford to a new level of hell, left hanging by her stained posthumous image rather than her crafted studio image. Notions of public versus private personas, and the ability to control each are raised in this work. Swett dived into childhood memories in her painting, “Dream,” where a floppy Pippi Longstocking (a heroine to young girls as the first female character in a book who was physically strong and mischievous) is surrounded by colorful circles and bubbles. Swett captures the character’s girlish play (dA Center for the Arts, Pomona).

Rick Griffin, “Pacific Vibrations,” original art
for poster, 1969, oil on masonite, 43 x 29”
Heart and Torch: Rick Griffin’s Transcendence takes us back 40 years, to the notorious Summer of Love when San Francisco became Mecca to all that was young and hip. An icon of the counterculture, Griffin expressed the era’s bright aspects along with its dark side. This survey follows Griffin’s path from the ‘60s to his death in 1991, from his beginnings as a surfer and cartoon artist (the irascible character Murphy became a staple of “Surfer” magazine), to designer of psychedelic rock posters, and finally to his conversion to born-again Christianity. The segment devoted to his post-conversion period is perhaps the deepest and most thought provoking, since it shows how he adapted the cultural references he absorbed during the San Francisco heydays to traditional biblical themes. Curators Greg Escalante and Doug Harvey deftly steer away from nostalgia, exposing Griffin instead as an influential cultural force and an immensely talented and insightful artist, rather than merely a character from what was once called “the underground” (Laguna Art Museum, Orange County).

Light but engaging fare, Passionate Visions is comprised of three California Impressionist/Plein Air painters and one unabashedly decorative artist, Jessie Arms Botke, whose paintings of exotic birds set against a golden, Chinoiserie --like background are a simply enchanting, timeless treat for the eye. One might think that William Wendt can no longer look new, but this particular selection of paintings, with its predominantly green palette, is fresh and even relevant. Wendt appears to have taken inspiration from the father of modernism, Paul Cézanne, squaring off shapes while intensifying brushstrokes or simplifying them without sacrificing significant detail.  Also worth rediscovering is Arthur Rider, whose flat planes and sun-drenched palette here present him in a neo-expressionist vein. While paintings like “The Spanish Boat” and “Bringing in the Boat” recall a vanishing southern Europe, one can rediscover an equally historic Mexico through small gems like the pencil drawing titled “Morning in Taxco.”

Arthur G. Rider (1886 -1975), "Bringing in the
Boats," oil on Canvas, 44 x 50 inches.
In the midst of this comparative wealth, Albert De Rome’s plein air paintings are drab. For the artist, though, painting was not only a labor of love but a necessity of life. Unable to sell his work due to contractual clauses following a near-fatal car crash, he kept on producing landscapes such as “Summer” and “Bird Rock,” and giving them to friends and admirers (Irvine Museum, Orange County).

Richard Wright, No title, 2006, gold
leaf on glass, variable dimensions.
It’s easy to miss Richard Wright’s artwork, given that it is twenty feet above eye-level. Glimpsed in your peripheral vision, the one painting could be a reflection of the red trolley flashing by just outside the gallery. But once you focus on it, you begin to also notice the surrounding elements--e.g., the color and shape of the windows, the horizontal columns of silver ducting above your head, the large doors. Each monochromatic painting consists of multiples of a single kind of mark, gold-leaf lines or red, hill-shaped forms, arranged in a moiré-like pattern. As your eye moves through it, the image undulates, encouraging your vision to shift from the work to the space it inhabits. One not-to-be-missed view that delights the eye and nose: looking through Ernesto Neto’s aromatic orbs of clove, turmeric, cumin and ginger to the arched window with Wright’s gold-leaf fingerprint and, on the wall behind, fifty-four feet of flowing red marks (Wright’s two untitled pieces, 2006) (San Diego MoCA, Downtown, San Diego).

The single form in Alexandre Arrechea’s large watercolor ”Cornfield” is similar to a tiny triangle of maize in the 1930 engraving “The Graineries” by Lepoldo Méndez. By transforming the rounded corn kernels into rectangles with a porthole or lens in the center, Arrechea modernizes this iconic image from one that refers to an agrarian setting to one that reflects the contemporary industrialized/technological milieu. This exhibit blends historical pieces from the museum’s collection with artwork created in response to it. Perception is a dominant theme. A pale spider web in the background of Diego Rivera’s “Mandrágora” (1939) becomes the main event in Arrechea’s “Arena.” In the stands, fourteen tiny monitors display images from the museum’s security cameras. Viewers of “Arena” engage in multiple levels of observation: you watch the video that refers to Rivera’s painting, then turn to look at the original painting. And as you voyeuristically watch other museum visitors, you start to wonder who is observing you (San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego).

Alexandre Arrechea, "Cornfield,"
2007, watercolor on paper.