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January, 2008

Jenny Okun, "Gaudi Cathedral, Barcelona, Spain," 2006, digitized photograph, 21 1/2 x 40".

Consisting of 175 large-scale prints, Jenny Okun’s new work is installed in a salon style grid covering the walls of the main gallery from floor to ceiling. Bouncing the viewer's gaze from the characteristic architectural abstractions that she makes by shooting a sequence of different exposures on the same extended negative to studies of nudes, both sculptural and living, Okun fills the carpeted room with lively colored splinters of light. Both by using the overlapping exposures to compose a fragmented but coherent single visual entity and through the measured deployment of digital technologies, she continues to make compelling pictures that parallel the act of perception. What the mind's eye really sees is much like the kaleidoscopic set of multifaceted aspects of a single image that she prints out. The almost psychedelic effects of the phantasmagoric array are intense on the senses and enticing to the intellect.
John Huggins' work with Polaroid transfer processing (done by transferring the emulsion from Polaroid color peel-apart film to a piece of paper) is central to his new work. This time however the small transfer images are translated into large prints where the grainy qualities typical of these images are exalted and hyperbolically accentuated.

John Huggins, “Aspen #8,”
archival pigment print, 40 x 30”.
The heavy fiber texture of the paper that they are printed on contributes to the pointillist effects of light dispersion. All of the works contain off center images of relatively small skiers or surfers. These fuzzy but recognizable figures are set in large, nearly monochromatic fields of whitish and white-yellowish slopes and waves. The sense that they convey is of the immensity and pervasiveness of nature, where humans have a small and precarious role (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).

Satoru Hoshino, “Beginning Form-met Spiral
05 1-1,” 2005, mixed black clay, 104 x 118 x 59”.
Satoru Hoshino is an older Japanese artist who makes his debut in L.A. with ziggurat-like vessels made in the age old method of coiling. His coils begin like small circles at the bottom and grow up and up, giving these ultimately delicate looking vessels an odd sense of imbalance. In the traditional technique the coils are smoothed and skill is judged by the invisibility of the process of building. For this artist, the play of the coils moving up and defying our sense of gravity is not just the means but the message. The repetitive, intense focus of hand work that we see in the stepped walls, as well as the dripped and pooling glazes that are controlled but look random, are methods from ancient Asia intended to honor concentration and craft. This is a tradition that Hoshino both masters and honors (Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).

No still photographs or straightforward descriptions of Clytie Alexander’s “Diaphans” can possibly convey the captivating hypnotic experience awaiting those who view this body of work firsthand. Alexander punctures 48” by 36” aluminum panels with swirling patterns of drill pressed dots. When coated front and back with acrylic paint of various hues, suspended several inches away from white walls, and then strategically lit, the rectangular planes enliven the gallery. Layers of paint hover over reflected color and translucent shadows. Blue, green, and yellow patterns dance, vibrating in space, reminding us how fascinating perfectly executed examinations of light and space can be (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica).

Clytie Alexander, “Diaphans 29, Red/Phtalo
Blue,” 2007, acrylic on aluminum, 48 x 34".

Tony DeLap, Everywhere and Nowhere," 2007,
acrylic on Canvas and Wood, 21'' x 21'' x 2.5''.
In California, the Minimalism that hit in the 1960s was less stark, more experimental and less cerebral then that produced by East Coast contemporaries. Tony Delap is one of the West Coast’s major exemplars of playful geometric reductivism. Most geometric art is based on Malevich's model of honoring the strictness of rectangle and the flat surface, but DeLap has always preferred to play with these expectations. In this show DeLap carves wall hung surfaces to move gradually inward and outward, but paints strictly rectilinear shapes on them, inverting the ideas that the frame is square and the image is free form. In other works the frame sits still and the shapes are organic, refusing to play by the gridded rules of most geometric art. Hard edged rectangles painted in acrylic interact with areas of canvas that have been worked to curl or rise ever so slightly. The goal is to get us to think about space and dimension both as art process and as real experience. The interaction between the spatial illusions and perceptions of real push-pull-edge and volume require us to look and perceive more closely, and to think about the difference between these two (Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica).

Karen Liebowitz shows paintings from her “Manifesting Prophesy Series,” in which she recasts biblical and mythical narratives, like salvation from doom and redemption, with female heroines and less than clear cut punch lines. Classically painted women gather in a deep cave-like space, maybe the first humans in a slightly tweaked version of God creating Adam first. She presents a confident rather than penitent female version of Noah perched on a rock as seas churn all around her. This funny version of  the biblical Deluge is currently looking less allegorical and more real by the day;

Karen Liebowitz, "The Waking of the Gods," 2006, oil on canvas, 102” x 168”.
let’s hope Liebowitz is right, and that when women play out these narratives we will actually learn something (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

Horace Bristol, “PBY Blister Gunner,
Rescue at Rabaul”, 1944.
The fact is that the rare few really master photographers never cease to please us. This is the case with the late Horace Bristol, who came to note with stunning images starting in the 1930s for the newly launched Life Magazine, and subsequently many others. He was part of Group f/64, which included Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange. Less known is the price Bristol paid and the toll his art took: covering Asia after WW II, he returned to find his wife had committed suicide. Distraught, Bristol burned all his work and gave up photography for nearly three decades. Later remarried and as healed as one can be from something like that, he began in the late 1980's and ‘90s to reconstruct his career from negatives that survived. These are the images on view, and they are stunning. Among them, a key group chronicles his collaboration with John Steinbeck in California's devastated Central Valley of the 1930's. Vintage images from the Bristol estate spanning the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s are on view. Probably most bizarre and gorgeous is a 1944 shot of a young WW II gunner roused from sleep by an attack who mans the guns butt naked. Other vintage shots include images from Japan, scenes of rural despair in the Oklahoma dust bowl, and some drop dead stunning studies in shape and light, like "Sixth Street Bridge" (Frank Pictures Gallery, Santa Monica).

The invading Manchus came to power in China in the middle of the 17th century, establishing the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911) and solidifying a system that divided the imperial bureaucracy into nine grades. All civil and military officials were required to wear rank badges, square or round emblems designed to signify their grade. Rank and Style: Power Dressing in China presents, for the first time in the United States, splendid examples on loan from the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore of embroidered silk tapestry badges designating various positions up and down the rank order. Particularly stunning are the variety of depictions of dragons, some surprisingly complex, associated with the auspicious attributes of the imperial family and the exquisitely designed cranes and colorful peacocks worn by civil officials (Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena).

Badge for a Censor with a Xiexhi (mythical animal), China, Ming dynasty,
15th c., silk brocade; Chris Hall Collection Trust, Image copyright of
Asian Civilisations Museum, National Heritage Board, Singapore.

The first of a series of upcoming exhibitions highlighting photographic works from the Getty’s permanent collection, In Focus: The Nude opens with an 1839 daguerreotype picturing plaster casts of nude sculptures. From there, the 28 other carefully selected, modestly sized works in this jewel box of a show are hung chronologically, coming full circle in Chuck Close’s 2001 tightly cropped collaboration with daguerreotypist Jerry Spagnoli. Innovations by Delacroix, Eakins, Degas, Stieglitz, Teske, Bravo etc. lead viewers through the history of the genre. Imogen Cunningham’s “Triangles” is an outstanding composition of forms in space, while Diane Arbus’, John Coplans’ and Joel Peter Witkin’s studies defy traditional expectations linking the nude to idealized beauty. And of course curator Paul Martineau’s adroit back-to-back positioning of Man Ray’s “Le Violin d’Ingres’s” opposite Edward Weston’s “Nude” was no accident (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).

We got to see Vija Celmins at the Hammer Museum last year, but there was a limit to the venue because of the size and number of works relative to available space; she has been producing her incandescent images of sand and sea for more than four decades and there is a lot to sample. You can see another dose in a current show titled "Oceans, Deserts and Galaxies." This is an exhibition of excellent and in some cases long unseen prints. They range from those made in the 1970s, including the very early and pivotal "ocean" print from June Wayne's Tamarind studio--an open band of grayish, rippling shore. It is one thing to see Celmins work her magic in paint--we are impressed by the hand skill. But when not distracted by that "mystique of the canvas,” and viewing these twenty printed works in black and white, we can clearly see the incredible subtly that Celmins can bring to large unvaried surfaces like water and air. When you see how well this skill transfers to the print medium you appreciate her overall body of work all the more (Cirrus Gallery, Downtown).

Vija Celmins, Desert, 1971, lithograph ed. 65, 22 x 29".

Claudia Parducci, “Shatter-5,” 2007.
In Big Bang, and Other Origins diverse works by Sydney Croskery, Inga Dorosz, Michael O'Malley, Claudia Parducci and Kim Scheonstadt all converge on how the unseen or unsee-able is imagined. Whether it is distant galactic systems or minute microscopic terrains, each artist explores techniques for envisioning that which is below or above the limits of our perception. In Kim Scheonstadt's "Lake Powell Series, Site Plan 2 (Blue)," the coalesced image is a combination of photographic fragments, digital residues and fictive (or remembered) personal narratives.  Saturated color photographs from her own family vacations are at the core of a shifting geography, animated by uncertainty and nostalgia.
Elsewhere humor is employed to mitigate anxiety. Inga Dorosz uses the beguiling nature of photography's promise of "truth" to dissemble about cosmic origins, as in "Nought Nowhere was Never Reached I," where everyday objects (in this case, potatoes) become a vehicle for expressing the sublime as the asteroid-like forms careen out of black space at the viewer (David Salow Gallery, Downtown).

Robert Mellor graduated from Claremont University and judging from this work he could have majored in illustration. Works get evocative titles like “Flourish,” and the acrylic on panel paintings, most smallish in size, are as formally detailed as those of a manuscript painter. Mellor takes natural things like feathers, and made-made things like fabric, isolates and arranges them, then renders them close-in with microscopic precision. “Flourish” is a crinkle of fabric that appears to be studded with tiny red beading. Because of the way Mellor translates and isolates the seen, it could also be a flower crawling with rich red insects. In “Call” there is the very close-in detail of some country fowl with its feathers displayed for mating--we see no bird though, just this wild, detailed, oddly ornate pattern. “Untitled, Oranges” is an explosion of fabric ruffles that might well be the rusted insides of a pine cone. “Urgent” is a baroque ribbon of coiled fabrics, each different in texture and rhythm, framed to look like pure pattern.

Robert Mellor, “Urgent,” 2007, acrylic
on canvas over panel, 53 x 66”.
“Brazen” is a tight knot of finely embroidered or beaded, deep blue silk that has been crumpled and observed to resemble the stamen of an exotic flower (Mary Goldman Gallery, Downtown).

Richard Deacon, "Dead Leg," 2007, oak and stainless steel, 8 x 28 x 9 feet.
Richard Deacon, in association with Matthew Perry, premieres a new large-scale sculpture, “Dead Leg.” Comprised of twisting elongated sections of oak and stainless steel couplings, the 8 foot high, 28 by 9 foot sculpture fills the entire first floor gallery. Characteristic of Deacon's work, diverse materials are combined into abstract, airy compositions where the overall sense of fluidity and grace belies the technical challenges posed by the material processes. The conjoined wood ribbons and metal splints seem to float through the space of the gallery, gathering in nodes and spinning into wonderfully deft curves.
Themes such as the organic vs. man-made or the liberated vs. the constrained are hinted at but ultimately the strength of this powerful and dynamic sculpture lies in how it escapes univocal definitions. Much like the complex three-dimensional drawing in space that it constitutes, it's fascination remains largely ineffable.  The exhibition also includes a series of wall-mounted, small-scale acrylic and plaster forms, which explore the traditional question of sculptural mass in a miniaturized and colorfully unpretentious way (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).

In “Amerback (blood junction suite)” Richard Godfrey continues to do what he has done well for over 25 years in the Los Angles art scene: Robert Motherwell-like swaths of black in broad brushy strokes that rest in or jut out of very soothing fields of modulated warm ambers. The size is not so huge as Motherwell’s, but the effect is the same--bold. The work is formally based, and its main interest is not any deep rhetorical message but in the principles of form, such as light and spatial perception. The dark, centrally placed abstract strokes can look like hints of ambiguous structures--a bridge silhouetted against the sky, the dark entry to a cave in red earth, a barrier blocking our entry--but this Rorschach game is not necessary to appreciate the careful layering of pigment and varnish, flat field and textured brushwork that make these paintings resonate (L2kontemporary, Downtown).

Richard Godfrey, “Alta”, 2007, oil & vanish on canvas, 18”x24”.

Melissa Kretschmer, "Plane Series #0405," 2007,
beeswax, graphite, paper on wood, 41 x 38".
Melissa Kretschmer’s work defies labels. As Rauschenberg coined the term Combines, Kretschmer’s combination of graphite line work, along with wood, paper and vellum planes held together by painted layers of beeswax could be described as Constructs, a cross between assemblage, relief sculpture and drawing. The beauty of Kretschmer’s work lies in the deft placement of geometric planes and the subtle interplay of varying hues of natural wood interspersed with black spaces and stark, charcoal gray lines. The process of building up and reducing top layers of the bee’s wax gives them both depth and a subtle luminosity, while graphite lines add unique character and provide a focal point. Even though the materials and compositions appear similar, one does not get an impression of production line repetitiveness. The interaction of light and shadow stimulates the imagination and gives each piece a life of its own (Ace Beverly Hills).

Is it high art or Saturday Night Live? The jury is still out. Is it imaginative? Absolutely. Worth a trip? Yes. In a send-up to our digitized, photo-shopped, facts-as-pure spin world, and as a nod to our completely pathological fascination with fame and surface--whether real or fabricated--photographer Alison Jackson uses mettre-en-scene props and tabloid look-alikes to stage the famous and infamous in situations that cause us pause, shock and humor. Seductive, utterly staged "moments" after the infamous "Happy Birthday Mr. President" tribute Marilyn gave Kennedy "capture" John's wandering hand graze over a voluptuous hip, "record" an intimate whisper that might have taken place in a flash frame.

Alison Jackson, “Bush Chokes on a
Pretzel,” 2005, chromogenic print.
The blond and the square jawed JFK ringer look so real in their grainy black and white simulation that these images might have been censored a decade ago. Today they make us laugh nervously: Camelot even in the ‘60s was a media fiction. A look-alike stand-in for our current President Bush sits in the oval office looking like Curious George sans the Man in the Yellow Hat, trying desperately to solve a Rubik’s Cube. This work cannot pretend to have the intellectual impact or conceptual underpinning of constructed scenes like Cindy Sherman's, by no means. As a more than obvious, no holds barred reminder that the polished images we live by cover up, exaggerate, invent the good, the bad and the ugly, and as a reminder that we live in world of simulacra about which we complain, but with which we collude, the show hits its mark (M+B Fine Art, West Hollywood).

Einar and Jamex de la Torre, “Que Me Vez?
(What are you looking at?)," 2007, blown
glass, mixed media, 48” x 48” x 8”.
As adolescents who came to the US from Mexico to grow into a mixed identity of Latin, Spanish Aztec and urban cool roots, the brothers Einar and Jamex de la Torre have been making art in a variety of media and voices that combine these mixed strains. The duo makes glass and mixed media objects that play with the idea of precious glass curios, ritual objects like totems, and free standing and wall bound fine art sculpture. Silly and masterful all at once, one work looks like the rounded cosmology discs of the Mayan calendar, but with iconographic and formal symbols like the skull or serpent altered to fit the wit and world of the 21st century. Other works are free standing objects like "New Jersey Naco," made of glistening glass to resemble jokingly and seriously Mayan ritual shafts commemorating the bats from famously fatal ballgames played in ancient Mesoamerica. The objects are covered with the weirdest grotesquely caricatured motifs--like a cartoony bleeding heart to nod at both Catholicism and the heart removed in sacrifice; and these comment on colonialism and our views of the "primitive" in smart and funny ways (Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City).

Anyone expecting yet another display of frothy cakes and confections rendered in mouthwatering colors from Wayne Thiebaud will be in for a pleasant surprise. This seven-decade retrospective, curated by Gene Cooper, art history professor emeritus at Cal State Long Beach, includes some rarely seen academic drawings and his unique renditions of the figure as seen in the large number of recently painted beach scenes. The latter is evidence is that Thiebaud has not lost his technical acumen and clarity of vision. At times it appears as if he has come full circle from his 1959 “Beach Boys,” a painting containing elements of abstract expressionism and the Bay Area Figurative movement, to the current rendition of people and pets frolicking on the beach. Half-a-century apart, figures are loosely brushed while backgrounds tantalize the imagination.

Wayne Thiebaud, "Beach Boys," 1959, oil on canvas.
There are, of course, the requisite renditions of cakes and pies, but the strength of this show lies in work that the public has rarely seen, such as several black and white cityscapes and landscapes that easily cross over from representation to abstraction and back again. Still, what remains constant is Thiebaud’s mastery of color, even in a comparatively monochromatic painting like “Dark Candy Apples,” which comes to life due to the strong brushwork. A smattering of portraits and a series of melancholy depictions of ballroom dancer’s dynamics (“Ball Room Trio IV”) add psychological depth to an otherwise fairly lighthearted but not lightweight exhibition. What Cooper has accomplished here is to re-present an artist who has been unjustly pigeonholed into variations of Pop-Art and eye candy (Laguna Art Museum, Orange County).

James Gobel, A Gentleman, 2000, felt, yarn,
acrylic, enamel and buttons on wood.
Portraiture is as old as art itself, so to expect anything earthshakingly new in the genre is an exercise in futility. Instead, About Face/Picturing Identity offers viewers an opportunity to study the human face and how contemporary artists render it in a time when classic painting (remember it was dead?) and drawing are again moving to the forefront. One of the best draftsmen here is Bill Vuksanovich whose portraits of children and young adults are nearly as realistic as photographs. Yet, the appeal of his work lies in his choice of subjects, neither “cute” nor conventionally beautiful, but instead somewhat quirky though still essentially ordinary people.  While everyone uses mediums like oil, pastel, and graphite to good advantage, the appeal of the more outstanding works lies in composition, cropping and posing. Steven Assael’s portrait of an African American punk rocker may look contemporary, but he has given it a timeless appearance by reverting back to the lighting and brushwork of Old Masters. Then again, Alan Feltus writes that he paints without subjects but draws from his own sources. Here, he appears to have channeled Paul Gauguin for his “Self-Portrait.”
Even though the portraits are, for the most part, highly realistic, there is still evidence of the human hand (and eye), and thus one is left to wonder how the subjects “really” look. In a few instances, one finds traces of social commentary, as in DJ Hall’s “P.S. Life,” which captures two young women looking like stereotypically carefree “California Girls” or “Real Housewives.” Others mine their cultural roots, as Lara Nguyen does in a well-executed charcoal drawing titled “Lift.” F. Scott Hess’ depiction of a pharmacist or physician at work will resonate with nearly everyone (Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach).

Widely acknowledged for designing the rainbow “Love” postage stamp in the 1980’s, Sister Corita Kent began producing brilliantly colored silk screen prints in the 1960’s, popularizing messages promoting faith, hope and joy. Sister Corita made spiritual dialogues accessible, weaving big block headline fonts, suggestive of Market Basket ads, through handwritten snatches of poetry and philosophies for living. What makes this exhibition of nearly two dozen Corita serigraphs more than a nostalgia trip for aging activists or an uplifting experience for viewers of all ages are the accretions and twists in meaning and intention recent events have layered over her decades-old headlines.

Sister Corita Kent, “With Love to the Everyday Mirale,” 1987, serigraph.
Who knew how relevant Corita’s 1968 quote of Camus’ plea, “I should be able to love my country and still love justice” would be today? Or what we would make of the ex-nun’s 1984 assertion, “We can create life” (LouWe Gallery, Pasadena).

Our picture of the polar regions comes from stories of a frozen wasteland, of explorers losing frozen feet and fingers--the stuff of cinema. This invented view of the scary ice caps may well contribute to our fluffing off the serious danger of global warming--it is just all too far away to be real to us.  Antarctica involves three artists who actually went to the area and shot photos not of National Geographic clichés but of the frozen lands as real places in time and history, with living bungalows in the South Pole, and vast poetic glaciers. The images by Joyce Campbell, Ann Noble and Connie Samaras are stunning, and make the reality of what we may lose quite immediate and very tragic (Pitzer Campus Galleries, Claremont).

Joyce Campbell, from “Last Light” series,
2006, silver gelatin, dimensions variable.