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November, 2007

On the heels of the show on LA art of the ‘50s mounted by the Pompidou in Paris, here is our own local comprehensive exhibition tracing the vast contributions California artists made to modern art, culture and design in the mid 20th century. The title of the show borrows from a locally designed, super sharp Miles Davis album from that era, called aptly "The Birth of the Cool." As that title suggests, you will see a vast array of the urban and suburban moderne that hit LA as we caught up with Europe and the East Coast during the 1940s and ‘50s with respect to modernism in architecture, product design, graphic design and varied arts. Included are objects and images ranging from the paintings of local abstractionist Karl Benjamin; to chairs and other accoutrements imagined by the unsurpassably gifted Eames duo; to Julius Shulman’s photos of houses designed by visionary purists who landed locally, like Schindler. The venue  has depth and breadth, covering all aspects of material culture; we are thus reminded that even in the ‘50s we were no cultural backwater, but an open and experimental territory willing to sample many art ideas but ever demanding technical excellence and good taste (Orange County Museum Art [OCMA], Orange County).

Lorser Feitelson, "Dichotomic Organization,"
1959, oil on canvas, 60 x 60".
© Feitelson Arts Foundation

"Humor us" is a group exhibition of twenty Asian American artists with ties to Southern California who employ humor in their artistic practice. Guest curators Viet Le, Yong Soon Min, and Leta Ming have put together a compelling array of over one hundred artworks in a variety of media, which are consistently engaging and insightful. The approaches range from using humor in the form of absurdity, slapstick, or satire. Among the many highlights are Joseph Santarromana's video work "Malambing Thang." This collaboration with musician William Roper, in which both artists explore issues of race, assimilation and vulnerability, avails itself of tropes taken from cabaret and stand up humor to offset the pathos being explored. Sandra Low's pictorial exegesis of the seven vices effectively mixes high and low culture, historical and popular image banks with goofy humor and corrosive social critiques (Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, Hollywood).

Sandra Low, "Chastity," 2007, oil on canvas, wooden dowels,  59" x 24".
Courtesy of UBU Fine Arts

The dA Center decided to break with tradition with this collaborative exhibition, “Blurring the Line. . .Atzlan 5” presented together with the Downtown Center. Unlike past shows, this year the show includes works by non-Chicano/a artists whose works relate thematically, visually, and politically to Chicano art. Hallmarks of Chicano art since the 1970s are certainly part of the mix--images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, bold acid bright colors, active brushwork, low rider cars, and Mexican symbols. Additionally, there are still-lifes with the coloration of van Gogh and reinterpretations of the labels of canned goods in the manner of Pop Art. “Blurring the Line” successfully challenges viewers’ expectations of what Chicano/a art is and can be (dA Center for the Arts, and Cal Poly Pomona Downtown Center, Pomona).

Kristine Marx, still from “Serpentine”, 2007

“Serpentine” is a projected video work by Kristine Marx. It envelops the darkened space of the gallery in swirling black and white lines that overlap as they curve and straighten, gliding along the gallery wall opposite the door. Viewers traversing the space soon become part of the installation and although it doesn't induce vertigo, the projections seem to bend and warp the gallery's architectural structure. The programmatic abstract imagery of “ Serpentine” is clearly informed by Op Art, and is similarly achieved through use of a calculated series of permutations. Like a Jesus Rafael Soto sculpture, the line segments overlap and separate. They start out sparsely, then build to a dense, nearly illegible complexity.
What has changed over time is that this digital version of Op is not much effected by the Utopian tensions that motivated its historical predecessors. In the lower gallery, Elizabeth Simonson’s “Fast Forward” consists of two related works that show how perfection in calculation and fallibility in execution are an integral part of the condition for creating something beautiful. On the floor, “Whisper” consists of thousands of thin wires stretched across a gird of white panels. Each wire arches over the panels and creates a chaotic pattern, even though it is governed by an organizing principle: each wire end punctures the grid surface at increasing distances apart from the prior one. Over 4,000 wires actualize the system behind the work, acting in a sequential logic. More importantly, the beauty of this kind of activity (also visible in many natural phenomena) is both visually and conceptually satisfying. Accompanying “Whisper” is “Sweet,” a video that animates each sequence of “Whisper” by using stills generated from the color-coded drawings done by Simonson to make “Whisper.” Although the result is a kind of steady hypnotic addition of color and line that follows the same procedure, “Whisper” steals the thunder (Fringe Exhibitions, Downtown).

Desy Safán-Gerard is a psychoanalyst who paints, a musician who translates music to the visual, an artist who reacts to geography and events in her life which need expression. Her earlier totemic paintings harken back to her Chilean roots, where her textures are manipulated in homage to nature mingled with ritual. But she is best known for her small, intimate works that make the viewer experience her feelings and thoughts about music, life, nature and even the lowly oak leaf. Incorporating elements of surrealism, abstraction and expressionism in her line and textural surfaces, Safán-Gerard varies the mood and the modulation to create an intuitive abstraction. Her work is lyrical and poetic, which for the artist leads into dream motifs (Santa Monica College Gallery, Santa Monica).

Desy Safán-Gerard, "Shades of Vice and
Virtue", 2007, acrylic on raw canvas, 24"x 30".

Won Ju Lim, "Broken Landscape #1," 2007,
paint on canvas, silk pins, foam, 24 3/4 x 30 5/8 x 5 1/4".
Won Ju Lim provided one of the highlights of the “Ephemeral” thematic exhibition at the Claremont Museum (see last month’s C&R) with her “Elysian Field” installation. The emphasis of this solo show is on paintings that fracture into dozens of small pieces, while hulking, rectangular sculptures overflow with fluorescent ooze in this powerful exhibition. These landscapes call to mind a looming disaster, be it nuclear or environmental, and strike a perfect balance between humorous parody and serious commentary. Familiar materials, such as traditional paintings of idyllic landscapes and tiny train-set trees, are taken apart or otherwise eradicated by gloppy, colorful ooze.
Reminiscent of a child cutting the hair of a doll, the frenzied and playful destruction of common or mass-produced items provides a playful but troubling glimpse of a post-apocalyptic scenario (Patrick Painter Gallery, Santa Monica).

We all know Peter Shire for his functional and sculptural tea pots--some mad as the Hatter. This show sees Shire venturing into into steel and wire as materials from which he designs Crayola hued chairs that remind one of the designs of early Post Modern Italian architects and the Memphis Group, with which Shire is has been associated. One chair sports insect-like orange legs, the other a slick black back on a collapsible seat made from wildly toned cylinders. Of course you can't sample the wares, so we do not know if funny form follows function enough to make these wild objects comfy and usable. Easy on the eye and well conceived, they most certainly are (Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).

Peter Shire, "Seggiolino Del Soraz #3," 2007
steel and enamel, 41 1/4 x 18 x 20 1/2".

Francisco Zuniga, "Juchitecas de Pie," 1983,
crayon and pastel on white paper, 25 1/2 x 19 3/4".
To mount a show called "Woman as Icon" is to open up a huge can of late Feminist worms: Icon according to whom? Iconic of what? You get the picture. All that not withstanding, as Carole Duncan has argued the history of Modern art is the special terrain of white men looking at and mythologizing sexualized females. And there is no more accomplished Modernist than Francisco Zuniga. The good news is that because Zuniga stands outside the Western canon to an extent, his women are not frail classical or mass media eros nymphs. Captured in sepia ink, conte, pastels, wood and metal, this artist sees woman in all her power and inner/outer diversity. He gives us lumbering Earth emblems with limbs that look like trunks of stalwart trees. He is not beyond the Degas-esque nude seen from behind; and he is a master at lush, rotund self confident women kneeling or resting unconsciously in poses that allow flesh to move and squish to the forces of gravity--the way bodies actually work! (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

The wash and ink drawings by Rico LeBrun inspired by Dante's Inferno are not new. The artist completed them in 1961 and they are the subject of a sumptuous coffee table book. The new part is that we get to see the original works close and personal in an intimate space that lets you sit and contemplate the nuance and "touch" the book does not offer. What is most interesting about LeBrun's take of this often sampled Renaissance literary classic is that LeBrun's handling creates amorphous shapes, not quite discernable figures that play out a variety of sins depicted with such open ended intensity that we can relate them to failings and temptations in our own daily lives. It is hard to imagine Dante's sin of gluttony seriously landing anyone in the 9th ring of Hell in the age of the Big Mac, but when amazing limned shapes seem to carnivorously consume other shapes around them, the sin of power and excess that we all can cop to comes right through. With shapes whose appendages penetrate and seek, LeBrun suggests lust in a way that Dante, secular and sexy as he seemed in his day--could never achieve (Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City).

Rico Lebrun, "Untitled(after de Sade),"
1962, ink wash, 23 x 29 1/8”.

Becca Mann, "Untitled," 2007,
oil on canvas, 60 x 60".
Imagine the feeling you may have gotten if you saw the movie "The Piano:" an overtly tight,  zipped up and prim Christian world turned into something yearning and sensual via possibly unwanted contact with things exotic, faraway, free from norms. If it were possible  for a painting to accomplish what that film did in its lengthy narrative, Becca Mann's really stunning canvases do it. They seem to have been painted from nostalgic photos accidentally happened on, but because the images are so dreamy and eccentrically conceived they seem wholly fantastic. A sail boat of the sort that might have ferried pilgrims approaches from a distance looking so liquid, slick and strange it seems to approach from a mirrored world; an absolutely gorgeous and bizarre horse stands in snow saddled but without a rider; a woman dressed in "Scarlet Letter" period garb and Hester-like defiance sits reading on breakwater rocks apparently beached but strangely nonplused by her predicament. These images are smooth and vaporous, like you are looking through the haze of a séance or a dream.  The tiny image of a 19th-century soldier is a haunting little jewel (Roberts & Tilton Gallery, West Hollywood).

Nothing Moments” is a collaborative project conceived of and overseen by Steven Hull and Tami Demaree with Annie Buckley and Jon Sueda, and involving over 100 artists, writers and designers.  The project invited 37 artists to interpret short stories by 38 writers. The text and images were then assembled by 26 designers into 24 short books. As one might expect, there is a smorgasbord of styles. Tim Ebner's sumptuous animal portraits are stand-outs among the 400 drawings that also include the likes of Kristin Calabresse, Joe Biel, and Marnie Weber. The egalitarian design of the exhibition has all images framed identically in stark white frames. All of the images look out over teal blue pedestals acting as tables and chairs at which to read the assorted books placed thereon. This type of exhibit--part salon, part book club, part socialist meeting--will hopefully stir some impromptu discussions amongst its varied visitors. Getting strangers to talk may be the secret and intriguing goal (Steve Turner Contemporary, West Hollywood).

Tim Ebner, Untitled drawing from "Nothing Moments", 2007.

Brian Mallman, "Meetings 3,"
2007, graphite on board, 4' x 4'.
Brian Mallman's "Drawings" are simply and plainly comprised of graphite markings on mostly unvarnished wood panels. Just a few contour lines, a shaded surface, some scumbled patches; however direct his medium, he uses the relative neutrality of this approach to optimal results in his interpretations of "business" men. These "suits" interact in groups and are mainly sitting in portraiture pose. Although the attire depicted immediately situates these portraits in professional and political situations, the figures themselves are distorted in comical ways. Bodies are pushed together into flattened biomorphic blobs, multiple eyes are at once wistful and menacing, smiles congeal into frozen grotesque masks: something is amiss here. Mallman draws your attention on their postures, gestures and expressions to reveal how power transforms the user from within. Rather than point his finger from a distance at the obviousness of power plays and corruption, Mallman finds a strain of piety which retains a tone of optimism even as he warns of the dangers of hubris (Milo Gallery, West Hollywood).

Erin Marie Dunn's new paintings, titled "Being Alive," are quasi-abstract compositions that literally swirl off the surface of the paper to pulsate, glisten, gleam and glitter in your eyes. Drawing on her own imagination, images of mandalas and what looks a lot like "West Coast" abstraction, Dunn creates dense works in which minute microcosms are wed to sweeping baroque wafts of color. Her images are whimsical and offbeat and keep you guessing as to what may be found buried in the multitude of layers. Of particular note is her salient use of paper surfaces and extensive vocabulary of mark-making materials, including flocking and elements derived from psychedelia (Carl Berg Gallery, West Hollywood).

Erin Marie Dunn, "The Sun,"
2007, mixed media on paper.

Liliana Moro, "Underdog," 2007, bronze.
Liliana Moro's installation is presented in conjunction with the VII Annual Italian Language Week, themed "The Italian Language and the Sea." They include “Underdog,” a group of bronze sculptures consisting of a pack of five dogs. The artist uses classical motifs, the bronze to express the idea of strength and durability, and the dogs to express the tension between bestiality and domestication. The animals are placed directly on the gallery floor and through the series of actions depicted--fighting, surrendering, and lying there either dead or feigning death--her work raises questions about how our assumptions inform our view of aesthetics and social roles. Nearby is “A cat is a cat is a cat is a cat. . .,” a wall-based work made up of four needlepoint sections depicting--surprise!--cats (Italian Cultural Institute, West Los Angeles).

Some of the full color, oversized images in Luc Delahaye’s exhibition, Recent History, are not easy to view. They picture the dead, displaced and disenfranchised. A stoic but downtrodden assembly of the weary in Minsk, Belarus rally against restrictions of freedom of expression in a composition as compelling as any great Russian novel. The French photographer, who began his career as a photojournalist, visits Bosnia, Chad, Rwanda, Palestine and other places we read about in the news, collecting imagery that he weaves into quiet but mesmerizing, poetic compositions of ordinary people caught up in events with consequences that will take a long time to fully comprehend (The Getty Center, West Los Angeles).