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February, 2008

Among the most noteworthy of artist couples count the amazingly prolific potters Gertrude and Otto Natzler. They fled from Nazi Germany in 1938 and landed in Los Angeles, where they heightened awareness of functional objects as fine art. This survey concentrates primarily as a memorial to Otto, who died just this last April. The Natzler objects are noted for the way in which they were able to get the glaze and shape to look as if it was crafted by nature--two standing half circles can look like a pod fossil; coiled vessels can look like millennial old baskets covered and preserved in viscous primordial sludge. In all cases these natural looking surfaces are in fact a product of perfectly controlled glazing techniques using super high temperatures and complex chemistry. The suggestion of the forces of nature come equally from astute and artful clay handling. Gertrude handled the clay until her death in 1971, while Otto specialized in the glazing and firing, assuming both roles afterward. The balance between spontaneity and meticulous craft is what makes this pottery stand out (Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood).

Otto Natzler, “Cube with protruding top”, 1984,
Sang and Blue nocturne reduction glaze,
7" depth x 7" width x 7.75" height.

Lynn Aldrich, "Starting Over: Neo-Atlantis," 2008,
sponges, scrubbers, scouring pads, mop heads,
brushes, plumbing parts and wood, 62 x 92 x 62".
Lynn Aldrich's current exhibition, “All Nature Sings,” is a tour de force that displays her strongest sculptural skills. The title is borrowed from an early American, Protestant hymn in celebration of the wonder and bounty of God's creation. The celebration in Aldrich's work has to do with making something spectacular and beautiful out of the ordinary things around. Through juxtaposition and reconfiguration she transforms these objects into surprising and metaphorical entities. Whether it is coupling rain gutters with clear plastic tubes ("Quench"), or composing vast quantities of cleaning supplies, household implements and plumbing components, her quirky artworks add up to more that the sum of the parts. In particular "Starting Over (Neo-Atlantis)," a collection of sponges, scrubbers, scouring pads, mop heads, brushes, plumbing parts and wood, adds up to a fantastic vision. Part multicolored reef, part celebration of all things watery, this grand carbuncle of stuff emerging from the gallery floor is both sculpturally and conceptually captivating.
Aldrich's work has social as well as political overtones. The idea of recycling can’t help but be applied to her works. Yet their strength rests primarily on their formal beauty and precise construction (Carl Berg Gallery, West Hollywood).

Yamamoto Masao is known for making small, beautiful photos of landscapes and randomly peopled scenes that were often worked to look distressed and as if taken almost by accident. These are mounted unframed and attached directly to the wall in a scattered or freely associative flow, much the way we tack up mementos and snapshots in our private spaces. The photos convey the feeling of a quick thought, something you see as you happen by. This "ahh haa" quality is reinforced by spreading the installation across the three gallery rooms. It forces you to put the ideas, narratives and insights together for themselves. This lends it all a feeling of sudden insight. This belies Masao's impeccable vision and printing, which swings from the stunning, crisp and iconic (a handsome eagle looking at us straight on) to the poetic and ethereal (drooping trees wrapped in air) (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).

Masao Yamamoto, "Untitled #1511," photograph, 6 X 8".

Corina Gamma, "LA Leisures," #1, 2006. C-Print.
From the diary of a life in a Dream Society.
Corina Gamma shows photos and videos, but the photos are the stars here. It is odd, or maybe not so odd, that an artist from Switzerland would be so concerned with one of the archetypes of California middle class good life: The amusement park. Creating a feeling somewhere between ads that hawk family leisure and thrill-seeking "adventure" and that eerie vibe we get from the carnivalesque, Gamma hits an eccentric and fresh note with this most banal of subjects. She shoots square format images of isolated sections of the amusement rides. The results teeter between the really macabre and the playful. This marriage is accomplished by cropping a ride so that buckets seem suspended within but not linked to tangles of metal that become not a functional structure but mere design. She blanches out the backgrounds so we have no depth cues. This makes the crayon-California-It's a Small World colors stand out almost absurdly. Tiny people harnessed into these out of context contraptions yell, gesture and appear to float in undefined free fall (d.e.n., Culver City).

Bettina Hoffmann’s “Parallax” exhibition consists of two large video projections featuring slow, meditative camerawork in an elegiac look at ordinary people doing everyday things. Like a circular eye, Hoffman’s camera remains on her subject while it is constantly on the move. The result is a swooning, mysterious look at stillness. A two-part projection includes people simply standing, sitting, or lying down. The effect is to render posture as a sculptural endeavor. The more involved environments of a single projection, for example a bed and a dinner table, intimate an absent narrative (Kristi Engle Gallery, Northeast Los Angeles).

Bettina Hoffmann, "Momentum," still from 8.5 minute video, 2006.

Virginia Katz, “Force Fields-Theory I #2”,
2007, mixed media on paper, 22" X 30".

Janet Jenkins, "Cuckaloris-Green,"
2005, oil on panel, 30 x 24".

Virginia Katz's mixed-media works on paper look rather like satellite photos of places that don't exist or existed long ago. The many layers of hand-worked powders and washes, however, look back at art history with the same intensity that it dreams up the pseudo geographical. Traces of coastlines and vegetal growth inhabit her compositions with the same resiliency as memories of Jean Dubuffet's and Jean Fautier's texture studies of the 1950's. Along with her "Force Fields--Theory I" series, a few curious and beguiling string and paper collages fashioned from hanging brochure fragments map out her travels through the real geography of her life. Two different maps for two distinct regions of the imagination.
Janet Jenkin's gestural oil paintings draw on abstract patterns and reference notions of sequential movement, rendering these in deep vibrant colors. The patterns she paints run a gamut that stretches from race-car flame motifs such as the long licks of color in "amberlong," to the more mysterious interlacing of glyphs of "Cuckaloris-Green." This latter painting title gives a clue to how Jenkins views movement within the physically static tradition of oil painting. She is citing a "gobo," which is referred to in live action film as a "cuckaloris" or "cookie." The cukaloris is a graphic device for projecting a shadow pattern, such as foliage on branches, onto a scene. With this reference, Jenkins careens out of the immovability of painting’s traditional past, and veers into the abstract present (Jancar Gallery, Midtown).

A combination of Lynn Goldsmith’s well-known photography of rock icons together with her fanciful and experimental self-portraits, “Icons of Rock and the Imagination” provides an enjoyable glimpse into worlds on both sides of the camera. Famous black and white photographs of musicians like James Brown and Bruce Springsteen, as well as imaginative photo collages (these are reminiscent of the painterly style of Chuck Close) elaborate on Goldsmith’s celebrated ability to capture the person behind the rock legend. In contrast, the dreamy, amber-tinged look of her theatrical self portraits feature a costumed Goldsmith vamping as various roles inspired from fairy tales, imagination, or maybe just spending time around the fabled world of rock stardom (Frank Pictures Gallery, Santa Monica).

Lynn Goldsmith, "Feet of the Beatles, Miami Beach," 1964.

Lawrence Schiller, Color Photograph of Marilyn Monroe, 1962.
“Fifteen Minutes of Fame,” a small show titled after Andy Warhol’s pronouncement on the subject, features one of the multitudes of silk-screen prints of Marilyn Monroe (“Marilyn #28”) that have, by now, saturated public consciousness. However, two less known Warhol paintings titled “Physiological Diagram” and “Physiological Diagram (multiples)” bring to mind Henry Matisse’s nudes and hint at the pop-meister’s other persona as the multi-faceted artist. However, it is Lawrence Schiller’s mostly black and white still photographs of movie greats such as Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Katherine Ross on the set of their gargantuan hit film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and several portraits of Hollywood stars that are fascinating. A color shot features Alfred Hitchcock’s lugubrious mug reflected in the side-view mirror of a car driven by Tippi Hedren.
A black an white close-up of a haggard Betty Davis lost in thought and cigarette smoke reflect Schiller’s special talent for capturing the essence of his subjects. Even those who are not particularly taken in by the myth of Monroe will be intrigued by the series of shots taken of the actress frolicking in and by a pool. They reveal her melancholy core that the multitudes of promotional photographs churned out by the Hollywood machine managed to overlook (Rohrer Fine Art, Orange County).

Let us count the ways Kaari Upson manifests her obsessive involvement with “Larry” (not his real name), whose personal items Upson came upon and used as material for her installation. She invented a life for Larry, and imagined him as her lover, her father as well as her nemesis. She morphs her freshly painted oil portrait with his, slapping them together, face to face. She mounts her life sized stuffed puppet of Larry, surgically removing his head and positioning it over her own. She makes fetishes of snapshots and personal memorabilia, shoots videos and assembles documents. Even an analysis of Larry’s handwriting finds its way into the mounting stacks of files holding endless shards of information. There is more here than needed for any fanzine or CSI crime bust. See for yourself.

Kaari Upson, "Kiss," 2007, oil on panel, 36 x 24" each.
Delve through the residue of Upson’s intimate reconstruction as she fills in the gaps in Larry’s persona. While numerous artists have created personas and acted out fantasies, Upson not only imagines the life of another but how that life intersects her own (Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Angela White, "More Than Concrete," 2008, mixed media installation.
Tinkling, soothing sounds of stones and pebbles brush up against bits of glass and pottery. Angela White fills the gallery with these shards, suspended from the ceiling by strings, and attaches old turntables that are placed on pedestals throughout the gallery. The work undulates and spins. Its constant motion creates a an endearingly pleasant music of chance. It’s all delicately balanced and mechanically complex. In the darkened video gallery White presents a video of dust. A light shines into the space and a video camera captures the particles that float in front of the light. This ever changing projection illuminates the gallery wall, which looks like a celestial landscape.  “More Than Concrete” is ambitious in its scale yet intimate in experience, and is an exceptionally memorable debut solo show (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

Laurie Hassold’s intricate assemblages crafted from clay and various found objects are preternaturally beautiful manifestations of women’s existential tribulations. However, classifying Hassold’s work as feminist would be an oversimplification, since it also contains mythological elements of her own invention. What do we make of a circle of skeletal garden gnomes surrounding what was once a container for birth control pills? These are offbeat allusions to spiritual and physical evolution informed by an eye for beauty and top notch craftsmanship (Bert Green Fine Art, Downtown).

Laurie Hassold, "Bent Fork (The Beginning
of Hunger),"2007, wire, epoxie clay,
found objects, 13 x 12 x 5”.

Choi Jeong-Hwa, "Believe It of Not," 2006, installation
view at Ilmin Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea.
The space at REDCAT is a difficult gallery to fill. Its open wall invites viewers in, but the shows never seem contained. Choi Jeong-Hwa successfully fills the space with found objects and sculptures that he together with other artists created for the exhibition. The show creates an interesting juxtaposition to the Murakami show at MOCA in that both artists favor bright colors, and both are interested in where art, commerce and kitsch intersect. Choi is indeed infatuated with kitsch if this show is any indication, and he displays numerous 'found' objects--sculpted figures (many painted a bright red), busts, and even plastic palm trees--in the gallery.
One wall is pink, the other yellow, making the space glow. Two life sized statues of Korean policeman are placed at the entrance of the gallery, across from modernist-looking chairs that are both inviting and arresting to sit in. That Choi, who resides in Korea, takes full advantage of L.A.'s diversity is  visible in this compelling installation (Gallery at REDCAT, Downtown).

In a gorgeous departure, Sandeep Mukherjee switches from the lush exotic tones of earlier works--deep indigos, magentas, burnt rusts the color of Fall--to a palette that is more demanding because there is less there to be easily swept away by. The colors are here only black and white, in pigment which continues to be dripped, brushed and patted onto that slick vellum surface that this artist has so totally mastered. Instead of the earlier suggestions of looming and poetic vertical mountains, these works are much more subtle references to horizontal landscapes; simply divisions that ring of but never are land and air.  Mukherjee has not changed his technique of scoring the plastic vellum from behind to make barely seeable but literal ridges and pleats. The new subtlety and quiet of the colors, the new stillness of these horizons fighting against the very literal pleats we know him for turn space into something both rich with symbolism and energized by our senses (Pitzer Campus Galleries, Claremont).

Sandeep Mukherjee, pigment on vellum.

Biliana Popova, "Figure in Motion," 2005, oil & slab
build earthenware with rust patina finish, 14" x 24" x 16".
In Quintessential Clay five artists--Patsy Cox, Rick Maldanado, Porntip Sangvanich, Biliana Popova, and Fred Yokel--offer a new take on the question of transnational art and influence. Each artist creates work that is both stylistically diverse and technically crafted in a different manner. They are natives of Asia, Western and Eastern Europe, and all have traveled extensively absorbing and incorporating indigenous elements into their work. Each, as well, has known each other over the years, through exhibitions, group shows, and common events. Expressing great admiration for one another's work, they have come together to resculpt and rethink considered ideas about the Southern California clay movement (Cal Poly Pomona, Kellogg Art Gallery, Pomona).

Working together with artist Juan Thorp, Clifford Matlock selected some fellow alums from the Laguna College of Art and Design in Saving the Praey.  The artists explore together issues of power within the Catholic Church, as well as within the arts community and contemporary art business. There is sharp social commentary, with Thomas Stubbs taking on the rise of religious fundamentalism within the U.S. Working with vivid colors and precise books. Manny LeGaspe applies traditional Catholic iconography to christ-like figures placed on found objects. While the artists' cover a range of content and commentary, most do so in the context of established art historical traditions--realism, illusionism, narration, and figurative painting. Coming from common academic training and tackling the same issues, the variety of approaches brings the show together as a continuing exploration rather than definite statement (SCA Project Gallery, Pomona).

Karen Sullivan, installation view, 2008.
While the work of Karen Sullivan--a clay artist and sculptor--and Karen Green--who works with assemblage, sumi paint, and text--each stand on their own merits, together the artists’ works create a sense of "call and response" to each other. Displayed so that the two media are intermixed brings out elements within the other, heightening the visual pleasure. Sullivan's red spiked cups invite close viewing, yet they assert power and aggressiveness with their pronged surfaces. Green joyfully claims power over the depiction of historical and art historical figures, disrobing them, stripping them of their social standing. In both tactility and detail draw you in. The tone is sometimes whimsical and playful, sometimes disarming. Green's primarily black and white images are brightened by the juxtaposition with Sullivan's colorful work (Bunny Gunner, Pomona).

The Surface of Space features, among others, canvasses by Andy Moses, who launches his new series of luminous silver-hued paintings. Focused on large spirals, they are the closest to representation one will find here. Moses thus departs from the luminous stripes that evidenced his exploration of the convergence of natural elements. However, what makes this exhibit particularly noteworthy is the re-emergence of Orange County painter Dennis Ekstrom from a long, self-imposed hiatus from making art. His monochromatic canvasses, still distinguished by his ability to make paint surfaces crack in intriguing ways, also hold viewers’ attention due to his evolved use of color (Pharmaka Art, Downtown).

Dennis Ekstrom, "Main Street #2", acrylic
polymer on canvas, 20" x 24".

Guest curator Holly Myers describes Possible Impossible Dimension as "six artists who approach abstraction with a rigorous sense of spatial dynamics and an abiding concern--often absent in abstraction--for the relationship between the world they create in their work and the world outside their studio." Bari Ziperstein's sumptuous works appear to decide "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" in the way it addresses the gallery’s notable architectural personality. “Untitled (Chandelier)” incorporates her signature stark white geometric shapes with a found object, a brass chandelier in this case. Her Chandelier's cord journeys through the building's own chandelier, weaving an organic timeline through L.A. history. Chris Natrop is represented singularly by “Substructure Spring Drip,” a characteristic tape on cut paper work that grows into and out of a corner. Sparsely underpainted in areas with pink neon color, the work has a magical glow. Dorsey Dunn's sound work “A Sensation of Movement” asks the listener to walk through a series of tall black foam sculptures each with flowing sound, possibly of an airport or train station. Sound pieces often ask such things of their listeners, a general "what am I listening to?" The particulars of this piece, housed within the landmarked building, create a poignant reflection on history. The piece is as delicate and airy as its foam housing, and as weighty as time itself (Center for the Arts, East Rock, Northeast Los Angeles).

Southern California Art of the 1960s and 70’s hasn’t generated as much excitement as the battle over County Supervisor Warren Dorn’s attempt to restrict the public’s right to see installations by Ed Kienholz in 1966. A compromise was made at that time to show Back Seat Dodge ‘38 with the door closed, (unless an adult specifically requested to peek into the interior). The door to the Dodge is open today, although the installation of that work and several others in this show seems cramped. The exhibition does successfully underline the important role Southern California artist’s played in the “light and space,” minimalist and assemblage movements.

Edward Kienholz, "Back Seat Dodge '38," 1964
mixed media/assemblage/collage, 66 x 120 x 156".
It reintroduces viewers to stunning works including radiant acrylic paintings by Norman Zammitt. But what makes “Art of the 1960s and 70s” a must see show, now, are the implications of Trustee Eli Broad’s recent announcement that he will retain control of his collection of contemporary art. LACMA’s dream of drawing from Broad’s expected gift of contemporary works to produce shows that take up where this one leaves off, has been dashed (Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], West Hollywood).

Neil Farber, "It is With a Heavy Heart. . ." (detail), 2007,
colored inks, acrylic and gel-media on paper, 30 x 176".
New works by Neil Farber, a founding member of the Winnipeg based Royal Art Lodge, evidence a willingness to diverge and extend his own style, and that of his self-made tribe. In large drawings, globular heads stack in uneasy layers, reminiscent of an eerie archaeological dig. The figures are familiar, but the uncertain and seemingly perilous contexts, as well as hints of looming socio-political disaster, take Farber’s at times too cute imagery to a new and exciting level. The figures are often made with no more than a blob of paint with eyes, mouth and hair, but he is able to imbue these heads with distinct personalities.
Words integrated into some of the works are variously successful; the best of these take the graphic pattern of the brightly colored letters as both visual and literal subject, and intones the sadness evident throughout the exhibition (Richard Heller Gallery, Santa Monica).

If you can visualize a cross between Matisse's freedom and color, Cezanne's hints of structure, and Alice Neel's brutal honesty about the body, you have a feel for the works of Yi-Li Chin Ward. Chin-Ward takes one theme--the nude--and investigates it as pure color, fast moving gesture, and as a complex symbol of beauty and arousal. The breasts of these women are built of ellipses, like the exercises in art school life drawing; they are treated to emphasize that the body is just shape. But once that comes across, you realize that the artist charges and alters these images to also cue us that the female body is so much more than geometry.

Yi-Li Chin Ward, "Fourteen," acrylic and charcoal, 40 x 30".
The tries to fuse the long classical tradition of the nude and the expressionistic movements of Modernism by giving her bright unclad forms little details like glasses or the hint of the jagged roundness that comes with age. If you like figurative art and want to see an instinctive colorist, you will enjoy this  show. It is rightly called "Go Figure" (57 Underground, Pomona).