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December, 2007

The small plaster models of empty architectural spaces that James Turrell designs as proposed sites for viewing of his light projects are part ancient temple, part planetarium, and a playful mix of reverence and movie-based architectural imagineering. They form an insightful approach to the cloistered quiet of the museum’s three installation rooms. In the two “End Around” rooms his carefully calibrated LED light effects behind plexiglas beg us to slow down and immerse ourselves in noticing gradual change of colors that feel like the shifting of the seasons more than hours of the day.

James Turrell, Ganzfeld, “End Around”.
But in the edge-eroded Ganzfeld room he purposefully knocks us off kilter as empty space becomes a radiant, near tangible substance. We hesitantly walk into the light and expect to breathe it in (Pomona College Museum of Art, Pomona).

Gordon Matta Clark, installation view, “You Are the Measure,”
at MOCA Grand Avenue, 2007, photo by Brian Forrest.
While most art aficionados are aware of the late Gordon Matta Clark’s famous split buildings, the history behind his work, including one wildly creative and tirelessly productive decade in which the artist completed most of his works, are less widely known. Matta Clark’s fusion of art and social commentary went so far as to include a communal restaurant for artists and numerous works documenting the destruction of homes and other buildings. With a laborer’s skill and a poet’s sensibility, Matta Clark rendered demolition a powerful visual metaphor for social change armed with camera, chainsaw, and vision.
“You are the Measure” spans many works in which Matta Clark presciently addressed an increasingly relevant relationship between the built environment and social/political structures with both candor and artistry (The Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown).

Felicity Powell, Ansel Krut, and Saskia and Hannah Krut-Powell are members of a family of artists who live and work in London. For "Crystal Ship: A Family of Artists Looking For Arcadia," the multi-generational group has installed video projections, sculpture, wax relief on black glass and paintings in the Farmlab galleries. Connected by a sense of playfulness and of exploration, the works vary in focus and in sensibility, although a somewhat surreal atmosphere abounds in it all. Particularly beautiful are the small, haunting wax medallions of heads sculpted by Felicity Powell on the backs of mirrors.

Felicity Powell, ”Crystal Ship”, 2007, film still.
The installation of Saskia and Hannah Krut-Powell's small-scale figurative sculptures in a cardboard box castle is also enchanting and direct. This family of art makers, ranging in age from ten to forty-eight, set out on their metaphorical crystal ship and return with works that, beyond any other consideration, are of an unexpected and delicate magic (Farmlab, Downtown).

Erica Lee Wheelock, “Slime In The Ice
Machine," 2007 ink on paper, 18 x 24".
Erica Lee Wheelock’s swirling, isolated landscapes are composed of traditional elements--mountains and fields, buildings and roads, rivers and lakes--but combined with a dizzy, Escher-like logic and studded with curious additions, such as a mushroom pizza or a Christmas tree. They add up to self-contained fantasy-scapes that seem to float on the page under their own uncertain terms. Rendered in intricate ink lines on white paper, the drawings resemble doodles taken to the extreme, in which an unnamed anxiety about the state of the world melds with the incessant need to put pen to paper. It all adds up to a unique portrayal of the imaginary places of the mind haunted by reality (Sam Lee Gallery, Downtown).

Appealing cookie cutter malls and housing developments of cute identical homes sprawling like Monopoly game boards retain a cheerful presence in Mildred Kouzel’s latest collage paintings. Always interested in critique and the social fracturing of the urban landscape, these new works present their point with a sense of wry humor that somehow elicits both smiles and shakes of the head over the stiff regimentation of clean cut, SoCal architecture and the ubiquitously sterile landscape of cement and asphalt that surrounds it (57 Underground, Pomona).

Mildred Kouzel, "Globe V",
mixed media on wood, 18" x 24".

John Humble, "View South, 1300 Block of Channing Street,"
October 30, 2005, Chromogenic Dye Coupler Print, 48 x 60".
John Humble has been around for a long time chronicling Los Angeles through its high points and low points. Some of the best images on view capture his iconic vision in intensely colored C-Prints of the Santa Monica Freeway after the Northridge earthquake. He manages to make everything he shoots--aging facades, gnarled concrete, electrical poles over traffic--look beautiful. Here he presents more shots of that Los Angeles we love to hate. Old train cars downtown look like colorful wood toys, and the Los Angeles River, blanketed in what looks like fog (or more characteristically smog!), recedes into the background like a flat triangle of abstract shape (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica).

Traveler and photographer Ann Summa traversed the globe taking photographs until she landed in L.A. in the late ‘70s to discover the budding punk band scene. Wilder than the bush of Africa where she had been the previous decades, this sub-culture of ‘80s music and transgression became the subject of  a suite of photos shown here and curated by Kristine McKenna (who may be reliving her own pre-hip journalist youth with this endeavor). Shot in monochrome tones and often with a kind of long exposure that makes images hazy and active, the format replicates as much as records the vibration, high energy angst, spikey haired, pierced and anarchistic world. As our youth today can barely muster a trip to the voting booth, these teeth-gnashing rockers caught back in the day as they belt it out, strum, drum, and rage against the machine seem warmly nostalgic, oddly alive (Track 16, Santa Monica).

Ann Summa, photograph.

Wendy Richmond, "Public Space, Work,"
2007, cellphone video loop still image.
Cell phones are relatively new on the timeline of human history, yet the idea of creating artwork by shooting cell phone video footage in public spaces already seems clichéd. Wendy Richmond rises above this stigma to create a compelling set of images in “Public Privacy.”  Surreptitiously capturing images of strangers in airports, malls, on the subway, and at the beach, Richmond draws on our natural voyeuristic tendencies to initially attract us. But it is more than voyeurism that on which further engagement depends as we examine these small moving images. The division into grids, the overlapping of time sequences in the juxtaposed grids, the choice of scenes--from the minimalist imagery in “Museum” to the dynamic scenes in “Street”--and the interaction of the subjects and their environment, work together to elicit a dialogue between the artwork and the viewer about how we as individuals go about inhabiting the space we share (Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego).

Steven LaRose's "Portraits of Landscapes from the Uncanny Mist," a new series of paintings and works on paper, highlight his work with controlling pictorial chance. In these artfully contrived 'mindscapes,' the artist drips, splashes, blots and blows ink and paint across his surfaces until he achieves the kind of vortex he is looking for. Favoring a bright palette of colors, the play of familiar connotations of a landscape pitted against the non-representational impulses and acrobatic circumnavigation of his paint handling. While he may be searching for a precise location for the sublime and the ineffable, it looks like LaRose, in the course of it, is having a great time (Kristi Engle Gallery, Eagle Rock).

Steven LaRose, to come

Hannelore Baron made collages that brilliantly parodied the constraints of gender, the politics of sex and the brutality of politics. In 1938 she was able to escape Nazi Germany and relocate to Riverdale in the Bronx, where she eventually built a studio and devoted herself to art. This show features mature works from the 1960s to the ‘80s that reflect on personal and collective history. Wire, bric a brac, and delicate washes invoke less of the witty irony of her youth, instead deeply intoning on the brutality of war, the dangers of nationalism and a tender celebration of hope (Manny Silverman Gallery, West Hollywood).

Hannelore Baron, "Untitled," 1981,
mixed media collage, 7 x 6 3/8".

What is surprising in Steven Assael’s current body of work is that the best and most technically and psychologically assiduous images are on the small side, generally 12 to 30 inches, and emphasize simple graphite on paper. The images of nude females run the gamut from seemingly standard to highly staged. "Sheila Reclining Wearing a Mask" falls in the forced bizarre category, which is not to say it fails. Here we see a lithe nude woman, her elbows propped casually behind her on the surface she upon which she reclines. Her face is hidden behind a mask that sends out spiny fibers, giving the model’s head the look of porcupine quills, animal-like but non-specific. The jostle between her svelte body and the surprising headgear engages and shocks. Even in the more standard nudes, such as a girl drawn from behind, undressed but for sun glasses, there is a visual twist caused by the elegance of Asseal's hand and eye skill competing with oddities tossed in or observed. This female with sunglasses bends away from the picture plane to reveal weirdly protruding and bumpy vertebrae rising above buttocks that spread softly, fluidly. The imposed tensions between polished craft and curiosities of the body is what enriches these works (Forum Gallery, West Hollywood).

Steven Assael, "Casandra and Segu," 2007
graphite and black crayon on paper, 20 x 19 1/2".

Francis Alys, still from "When Faith Moves Mountains," video, 2002 .
Five hundred laborers scoop up sand, working side by side in a line that inches its way over the parched dunes adjacent to Lima, Peru.  Bent over their shovels, the volunteer workers contribute to the construction of a social allegory.
The viewer comes face to face with their efforts in the video, photographic and written documentation of Francis Alys’ performance, “When Faith Moves Mountains” (2002). Along with a dozen or so other insightful works and supportive drawings, paintings, and sculptural models, Alys’ exhibition “Politics of Rehearsal” investigates repetition and the constant deferral of resolution, conveying his examination of change and the role of rehearsal in artistic and cultural production with compelling immediacy (Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

The work of Dario Escobar, Bia Gayotto, Haruko Tanaka and Sandra Tucci in "Silence and Echo" is united primarily by poetic intent rather than by artistic technique. Patterns of repetition and reiteration are used by most of these artists to address the contradictory ideas of hearing no sounds and/or experiencing the effects of echoes. Gayotto's series of photographs, “The Towers Apartments," illuminates this paradox. The viewer imagines all the myriad of sounds and activities that take place behind the illuminated apartment windows. But there are no sounds and no manifest activities coming out of the frozen grid of lights in the dark. You can't stop thinking about what is going on behind those panes. In Tanaka's video, "California Telephone," it is the game of telephone that is used as a metaphor for the transmission of information through a loosely poetic nexus.

Haruko Tanaka, “California Telephone" (still),
2003, 16mm, b&w, sync sound, 3 minutes.
One person whispers a phrase to the next and so on, until the original phrase is no longer recognizable. It’s an apt analogy for how significance is structured in the visual arts, and all the more poignant given the multi-cultural countenances of those whispering (Santa Monica Art Studios, Arena 1 Galley, Santa Monica).

Nicole Eisenman
, “Deep Sea Diver,
2007, oil on canvas, 82" x 65".
The press release for Nicole Eisenman’s exhibition, entitled “A Show Born of Fear,” consists of a sketch featuring four interlocking circles named for ‘Heroes,’ ‘Los Angeles History,’ ‘European History,’ and ‘Midlife Crisis,’ with the words “THIS EXPLAINS EVERYTHING” in caps across the top. The drawing serves as an inviting introduction to an exhibition which foregrounds Eisenman’s onging excavation of and riff on European art history, but with a new and poignant edge. One of the strongest works in this lively, if somewhat uneven, group of paintings and monoprints is “Deep Sea Diver,” in which a man stands before a thin strip of turquoise sea in an oversized diving suit, head and hands bare, staring bravely ahead as if nothing could save him from an unwanted fate. References abound, but Eisenman’s humor and pathos topple historicism with characteristic wit—as well as a healthy helping of melancholy (Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City).

Sue de Beer takes up the philosophy and ideologies of early 20th Century socialist philosopher and revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, and the architect and founding head of the Bauhaus Walter Gropius. Both of these figures shared the idea that Modernism--in design, art and social action--had to have a political goal; they both aligned themselves and their creative practice with Modernism's original injunction that Modern art must be related to egalitarian social change. In "Permanent Revolution”, De Beer channels this ethos just indirectly enough to be smart and nuanced in a room installation that includes sculpted objects, along with a video work that swings from the profound to the playful (Sandroni.Rey, Culver City).

Sue de Beer, "Permanent Revolution, Gavin Russom,"
2007, C-print mounted on aluminum, 30 x 40 ".

David DiMichele, “Ice Melting”, photograph.
Just when you think that photographers have reached the end of a well-spring and can’t possibly find new ways to use their cameras, New Forms of Photography proves that photographic inventions are still being made. This group show includes work by Sabine Dehnel, David DiMichele, Todd Gray, Mathew May, Kyungi Shin and Rudy Vega.
They explore, in their individual ways, possibilities that reach out to other art forms and incorporate the essence of painting, drawing, and sculpture into the photographic process.  Dehnel turns her colored C-print images into painting-like prints by using lots of color and elaborate sets. DiMichele builds sculptural objects in small boxes, but when photographed and enlarged they become a startling expression of enormous scale. Gray combines photography and three-dimensional forms--a photograph on one side, the rear end of a horse on another--by juxtaposing dimensions in humorous ways. May layers together rectangular bits of photographs as he builds a panorama of a vast Dutch waterfront piece by piece. Shin transforms groups of people into anonymous patterns by meticulously cutting out each figure and turning the scene into a drawing rather than a photograph. Vega strips the image to its bare essential so that it becomes much like an abstract, minimal drawing or painting (98ten Fine Art, Orange County).

Francisco Toledo was born in 1940 and represents in many ways Mexico’s post-socialist re-engagement with European traditions of the Renaissance and Modernism. This show surveys five decades of graphic work, from etchings to lithos to wood cuts. They serve to reinforce what his paintings convey, that Toledo loves line much the way Ingres did, and can get it to do what he wishes whether he is incising metal or moving paint. In an etching like "Going Home From Work" he makes the surface look at one moment like a light charcoal drawing, in another almost like a photo negative. The subject of "Going Home From Work" (like many of the works on view) also shows that Toledo was not completely removed from socialism and politics in his heart: it is an image of a large and elegant, National Geographic-perfect elephant toiling to pull a log from ropes around his neck (Latin American Masters, Beverly Hills).

Francisco Toledo, "Gazing Bats," 2002
oil & encaustic on wood, 11 x 13 3/4".

Morton Bartlett, "Girl Crying," ca. 1955/2006
chromogenic print mounted on 4-ply museum
board, framed 28 1/4 x 20’’, edition of 10.
Morton Bartlett was a self taught artist who was for the most part unknown until his death at 83 in 1992. One really has to wonder what was going on in his head when in his twenties this artist spent months and months constructing anatomically correct, fully clothed sculptures of children resembling wax figurines or china dolls. Bartlett studied anatomy books and fashion magazines, and hand sewed all clothing, fashioned all of the props, etc. Little girls sit and read (with their knees suggestively raised up to expose their thighs), preen and make faces toward us. After taking months to create each sculpture, he photographed the objects to produce highly polished staged images. He only worked from his twenties to his fifties, then packed everything away. He never knew he would be exhibited and critiqued; antiques and outsider art dealer Marion Harris purchased and first exhibited the figures in 1994. Then, only this year, Bartlett’s original color slides were discovered. We see here one rare sculpture and seventeen really eerie color photos taken from the slides (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

In a little gem of a show, titled “She Takes These Pictures of His Wife Silhouetted on a Hillside” Israeli born, Los Angeles based artist Elad Lassry frames his singular take on the conventions of family and professional portrait photography. Lassry re-presents imagery, including a prize winning ‘70s magazine cover of a baby squirming in his mother’s outstretched arms, and a composition featuring actor Anthony Perkins getting down. Alongside these appropriations, Lassry shows portraits he has shot of hired actors, and including one of a California king snake, and another of a colorful professional flamingo. Lassry’s untitled super 16mm film loops nearby focus on the moves of two dancers rehearsing. Paired with the still photographs, the film reinforces Lassry’s concern with focus, placement, movement and duration. Issues the photographer may well have initially confronted as an undergrad in film school continue to enrich the production of images that have evolved their own unique character (Cherry and Martin, West Los Angeles).

Elad Lassry, “Chilean Flamingo, 90028,"
2007, C-print, 14 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches.

William Kentridge, "Tide Table," 2003-2004
Single-channel 35 mm hand-drawn animated
film, transferred to video color, sound; 8:00 min.
Some artists embrace new media fully, eschewing existing media; others integrate the old with the new. Animated Painting illustrates this phenomenon for computer-based animated  art. William Kentridge’s film “Tide Table” (2005) marries the new technology and the age-old practice of drawing by hand, forming a perfect  union where each enhances the strengths of the other. His methodology, recording his marks and erasures, allows vestiges of previous images to remain as the narrative progresses, producing a multi-layered sequence. The influence of commercial graphics is strong in pieces that rely more heavily on the new media, as does “Motion Barn” (2006) by Barnstormers, a loose collective of  approximately thirty artists. Sebastian Diaz Morales’ haunting black-and-white film “Ring” (2006-2007), projected on four large panels, reminds us that like the symbiotic relationship between seeing and remembering, the connection  between the new computer media and traditional art media is complex, one in which each influences the other (San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego).

Some sounds resonate through the museum in Soundwaves: The Art of Sampling, but less than one would expect. Most pieces are soundless, leading the viewer to ask: “Can artwork that is silent engage us in a conversation about sound?” Although not the question the exhibit sets out to ask, as it becomes the dominant one it forces us to think about the nature of sound. Color, movement, sound and shape coalesce as bowls and glasses gently collide in the slowly swirling water in blue plastic pools in Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s installation, “Untitled (series #3)” (2001).   Motion is also paramount in “Jump,” a video by T. Kelly Mason and Diana Thater (2004). Teenagers mesmerize us with their skillful and rhythmic rope jumping--singly, in pairs or in triplets--in time to a Bob Dylan song. Does this mean our experience of sound is, essentially, more active than an experience that is simply visual? As primarily visual beings (assuming this sense is intact), do we experience sound primarily within a context rather than in isolation? (Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego).

Celeste Boursier-Mougenot, "Untitled
(series #3)," 2001, 3 inflatable plastic pools,
3 pumps, water, 93 assorted bowls, 21 stem
glasses, 3 immersion heaters, clorox,
variable dimensions. Photo: Pablo Mason.

"Ladies Worship Krishna and Radha," India,
Rajasthan, c. 1900, opaque watercolor
and gold on paper, 13-3/4 x 9-3/4"
The Norton Simon Museum draws exclusively on its own excellent collection of Hindu art to present a charming and informative show called the Tales of the Blue Lord. Including amazingly drawn and pigmented pages from the “Gitagoivinda” showing the blue-faced boy Krishna, the Lord of the title, as well as Chola period bronzes and--this is fantastic--a carved wall from a temple, we gain a sense of the deep Indian devotion to of one of the most intriguing of deities. Krishna, the name of which means the dark one, is loved because this god shape-shifts form from sensual lover, to naughty boy, to musician, to destroyer of demons. This is a lovely and coherent trove of very fine and very sacred objects (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena).

Perhaps most fascinating about the expansive “Reflecting Antiquity: Modern Glass Inspired by Ancient Rome” is the multiplicity and sophistication of fragile works that have survived the ages. For example, one stunning blown Roman glass vessel from about 200 AD holds another tiny one carefully fitted inside it. A similar piece, made in the 1800’s, is positioned next to the Roman one that inspired its design. The very presence of the millenia-old glass demonstrates the odd manner in which capricious nature assists history. It is well known that the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD buried and quick-froze organic artifacts, from bone to jewelry. In the early 18th Century Pompeii and Herculaneum were uncovered, and the modern world was confronted with the sophistication, craft, and indeed an open window onto the culture of the of the Greco-Roman world. Throughout this meticulously researched exhibition, curators Karol Wight of the Getty and David Whitehouse of the Corning Museum of Glass present modern pieces next to the ancient masterworks that inspired them. The later artisans copied and elaborated on classical accoutrements, surface design, visual motifs and glazing techniques. If you know the original Roman sources (and there is great public information on that here) you see that the "copy" is an object that may look back, but still cannot help but be modern and unique (Getty Villa, West Side).