Return to Articles


March, 2008

Feminist score keeping need only count to four when tabulating the number of woman showing at BCAM’s debut installation [See also “LACMA: Transformed?” elsewhere in this issue—Ed.]. However, running concurrently with the Broad’s opening, “Women in the City” examines work by Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler and Cindy Sherman, installed at over 50 LA locations, including LACMA West. The opportunity to confront Holzer’s provocative slogans and phrases in Spanish as well as English is facilitated by the LA Weekly. Devotees of Sherman’s deservedly admired work at BCAM can pilgrimage to her first public project, “Untitled Film Stills (1977-80),” displayed on billboards in the heart of Hollywood. Perhaps some enterprising art grad, disguised as Sherman, can dialog with a second audience, film fans confused by the displacement of their usual fare.

Barbara Kruger, "Plenty," 2008, billboard installed
at LACMA West; part of "Women in the City".
Kruger’s video billboard, “Plenty,” topping LACMA West, turns its back on BCAM promotions, Baldessari’s wry banners, Irwin’s towering palms and Burden’s battalion of lamp posts, all positioned on Wilshire Boulevard. Kruger counsels to any audience approaching from 6th Street that there is no need to augment their lips or breasts or consume more stuff. They already have--plenty. Lawler’s audio installation, “Birdcalls,” first issued in 1972 to mock inequities between the sexes in art market representation, is positioned near the Huntington Library Art Collection and Botanical Garden’s lily pond, rebuffing allegations that feminists have no sense of humor (Multiple locations throughout the Los Angeles area.  Visit for the particulars).

Sam Francis, "Silver Field," 1973, original lithograph, 26 x 34 1/2".
There is a two-sided response to Sam Francis. On the one had he brought the then advanced experiments of abstraction to the West Coast, where we had been—thanks to Hollywood and the pulp beauty mags--seduced by the literality of realism. Francis proved tenacious in the face of the increasing reaction against the gesture.  And he received worldwide recognition while doing so. But the one trick style (not at all easy in fact) of splatters and sprays of colored paint also earned Francis the label of an artist stuck in a marketable formula. One imagines that there is not a person in Los Angeles who has not seen Francis’ dots of color. Fewer of us have seen the black and white works done in paint and as prints, which are perhaps the most subtle that the artist did. Here he does not depend on the allure of color, the ease of the predictable, but creates rhythms and moods with the nuances of pooling and dotting in monochrome.
Here one sees better the skill that actually underlies the colorful work of an artist that deserves this second look (Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

Aaron Smith is a consummate classical painter who references "Art Through the Ages," but with a twist. The paintings in this current show seem to draw from snippets of Baroque art--that hyperbolic, excessive style that simultaneously lauded God and the men who cast Him as male. There is just enough conceptual extrapolation here to keep the masterful technique interesting as ever. The works are drawn from sculptural sources, but translated into whip cream thick, brilliantly colored impastoes. The drama and intense expression is divorced from Counter-Reformation narratives, so that the bearded, suffering men express good ole’ angst of the generic human kind--not a lament of Luther but of misery, mystery and loss for no reason in particular. This is really stunning, and in many ways quite funny. Smith adds still lifes painted in the same thick, gooey handling, equally divorced of the original religious symbolism. It all looks theatrical, transcendent and pointless at once (Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City).

Aaron Smith, "King," 2008, oil on panel, 40 x 30".

Farrah Karapetian, "Shipping Container," drawing.
It is quintessentially post modern to fuse a variety of genres, to engage the body kinesthetically, to co-mingle private and public spaces, and to challenge or at least peel back the meaning of institutions that deal in the commerce of art. This is most successfully accomplished in a very spare yet clever way by Farrah Karapetian, who uses the object of the gallery shipping crate as her vehicle for these investigations. She has built a steel armature to the dimensions of the gallery’s standard shipping container re-cast in a size that engages and interacts with the viewer’s body. Suspended in this ultra-minimal metal structure (that is dwelling, container, installation, wall, and pictorial surface all at once) are photographs taken by the artist, and which have been “tagged” with light exposure  by graffiti artists Jabber and Failure--names that ironically remind us of some of the results of  less successful projects of this sort (Sandroni.Rey, Culver City).

New sculptures, photographs, and works on paper thoughtfully explore the theme of transformation in Dan Webb’s beautifully carved wood, whimsically cut paper, and cast bronze. Webb’s mastery of materials is evident throughout. The predominant image is that of a dandelion, representing the ubiquity of growth and change. Like the disparity of an impermanent flower cast in bronze, the contrast of material and content provides food for thought throughout. One particularly strong example is a glossy head carved out of rough wood. This seemingly melting face sits atop the original piece of wood from which it was carved (Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Downtown).

Dan Webb, "Night Dandy".

Mitchell Johnson, "Bornholm," 2007, oil on linen, 38 x 58".
It is hard to pull off an Elmer Bischoff sort of look these days without appearing quaint, but Mitchell Johnson manages this. He did not in fact study in the Bay Area but at places like Parsons, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, yet the artist is apparently connected enough to the rolling hills of what could be New England that he convincingly presents bird's eye views of the countryside, of farms and wood houses constructed of puzzle pieces of color (one senses an appreciation of Cezanne in "Truro"). In fact, this is a departure or a tangent for an artist who normally creates abstract work built up of geometric color.
What makes this series interesting is the way in which images lace together a brushy, poetic kind of geometry in paint that does not settle in the eye for depictions of nature. Quick, sharp lines and cubes fix farm houses and structures firmly in time. The result is something authentic and felt (especially "Bornholm"). It does not look like forced or corny gestural realism; there is structure enough that you trust this vision comes from disciplined looking, thought and training (Terence Rogers Fine Art, Santa Monica).

Judith Foosaner, "Glandular Fever," charcoal on paper on canvas, 42 x 96".

We have watched Judith Foosaner make light tendrils of organic line with huge amounts of white paper or surface between them--floating like ribbons of energy or thought. Like a John Cage score where silence is sound, those older works made us imagine that the absence of marks was as important, communicative and structural as the laying down of pigment. One admires Foosaner for pushing a formula that she had mastered so completely. In these current works, the lines have become fuller and harder edged; the motion is less balletic, the shapes more skeined  and energetic. Her shapes in paint are denser and the whole matrix looks closer to action painting, where we still follow the hand with our eye but the trajectory is far more complex. Before she relied on the poetry of her ephermeal lines, now she has hit an excellent tension between things unraveling and things tightly coming together (Lora Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).

Disorderly Conduct: Recent Art in Tumultuous Times is not merely about protest art centered on politics but also on the malfeasances of icons such as Martha Stewart, modern-day madmen like Ted Kaczynski (Daniel Joseph Martinez’s “The House that America Built”), and other social and environmental issues that have dominated the news.  Ultra-talented Pearl C. Hsiung takes on environmental issues in paintings are so seductively beautiful that one might, at superficial glance, miss their toxic message (“Tidal Wretch” and “Deep Peep/Oculus Infinitus”). Even confirmed video phobes will remain riveted to Mike Kelley’s irreverent “Gospel Rocket” where a (presumably) Christian rock band performs and teen-agers go through antics on a video screen placed behind rocket-like projectiles.

Pearl C. Hsiung, Deep Peep/Oculus Infinitus, 2006,
enamel on canvas; Collection of Paul and Lilly Merage
Rodney McMillian’s untitled video addresses appropriation and outright rip-offs in music by singing “The Way We Were” and “Try To Remember” in clown face. Anyone who has had prolonged contact with teen-agers will watch Martin Kersel’s video “Pink Constellation” while remembering, with a clown’s laughter, that indeed they are that crazy. Karen Finley weighs in with several drawings of Condoleeza Rice’s persona and one of a stealth bomber dropping “eyes.” Finley’s work is the only overt reference to the war in Iraq. A whole host of social and cultural absurdities are skewered with intelligence and humor (Orange County Museum of Art [OCMA], Orange County).

Wynne Greenwood, "Quiet in Forming", 2008, sculpture: plaster, gauze,
wire, paint; single channel video (looped); sculpture: 26 x 29 x 23".
Merging the durability of monolithic statues and the playful sense of a circus, Wynne Greenwood’s video and sculpture installation has a light, refreshing outlook. Greenwood, also a performer in a girl band, filmed a music video in the space as part of this exhibition; but perhaps the artist’s background has influenced more than the stage set aspect of the exhibition. The graceful movements and expressive features of Greenwood’s plaster figures seem to derive as much from the act of performance as from that of molding and shaping material. One pleasingly spare boulder-like head is a screen for a fanciful projection, allowing painted-on eyes to seemingly open and close with the video image (Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City).

Bill Viola’s work "Emergence" is the latest part of his long "Passion" series. Though critics have called the series overwrought, there is something really compelling about about the way Viola is able to place ancient biblical, mythic subtexts like grief, loss and hope in a contemporary context. In “Emergence,” two women sit by a well as a  pale young man slowly rises to the surface. The woman lift him from the water and lay him to rest on the ground. The video is based on a 15th-century “Pietà” by Masolino, and it raises interesting ideas about post modernism and inter-textual dialogue between very unrelated genres. Besides that, there is a way in which it strikes a very powerful chord that is so timely in our war ravaged world (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).

Bill Viola, still from "Emergence," 2002, video.
Photo: Kira Perov

Mike Disfarmer, "Untitled, Heber Springs,"
1930, 3.5 x 5.5 inch vintage gelatin silver print.
It is hard to imagine how one can view, talk about or appreciate the works of Mike Disfarmer without noting his flat footed objectivity and relationship to photographers like Irving Sander. It is true that the Arkansas-raised, late discovered photographer (he died in the 1930s, not coming to serious note until the ‘70s) captured a moment just prior to and just entering the dust bowl days of farming. Its hardships may be why he shed his real name for the name “Disfarmer,” as in “not of the land.” And it is true that of the 50 drop dead stunning photographs seen here there are many that have the reportorial pathos of Dorothea Lange. But the very essence of this eccentric loner was to bring an often voyeuristic and even prurient vibe to his pairings of odd couples.
This we sense in toddler twins dressed in 1920s era woolens, in two women who could as easily be sisters--one born lady like, the other rough ‘n tumble--as they could be lesbian partners posing as if for a nuptial portrait of their union. They do not touch, yet they touch absolutely in this quirky and amazing vintage photo. It leaves the doors of imagination full-flung and wide (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica).

A 44-foot-long timeline encapsulates and celebrates the 25-year history of the Museum of Photographic Arts, one of only two significant Southern California museums specializing in photography.  “Measured Time: MoPA at 25” serves as an introduction to the larger exhibition of more than 130 photographs culled from the thousands in the permanent collection, “The Photographer’s Eye: A Way of Seeing”. Curator Carol McCusker utilized the five categories in John Szarkowski’s landmark book, “The Photographer’s Eye,” to organize the exhibit.  In “The Thing Itself,” two images are juxtaposed and accompanied with a Szarkowski quote in which he wonders “. . . how much our pleasure and sense of enlargement comes from the thing pointed to and how much from the pattern created by the pointer.” The boat in Eugène Atget’s “Etand de Corot, Ville d’ Avray” (1909) and the abandoned car in Larry Clark’s untitled image (1943) are each situated centrally within a natural environment.

Eikoh Hosoe, "Man and Woman #20," 1960, Gelatin silver print.
Compositionally similar, but distinct with regard to mood and tone, the two images, along with the quote, provide the viewer with a sense of the photographer’s decision-making process in creating that particular image. Here, as in the other categories (The Detail, The Frame, Time, and Vantage Point), Szarkowski’s insights provide a vantage point from which to reflect on how you see the images (Museum of Photographic Arts [MOPA], San Diego).

Walter Goldfarb, "The Fall of the King II," 2003,
charcoal and tempera on canvas, 78 5/8 x 125 7/8".

“D+Delirium” introduces Brazilian artist Walter Goldfarb, who makes art that appeals to the intellect as well as to the senses.  His Jewish heritage and history, German composer Richard Wagner, sixties’ psychedelia, and some old masters all provide points of departure that speak of remembrances, atonement and, alas, vulnerability to corruption. In the psychedelic series he uses tattoo motifs currently favored by his Brazilian contemporaries as inspiration for tie-dyed paintings (“A Passion in the Lysergic Garden III”). Luminous and treated with subtly change color, his “Lysergic Rose” series puts a fresh twist on designs that have been done to death by lesser talent.
In the market for appropriation? Goldfarb delivers. While reproducing well-known paintings such as Jan van Eyck's “The Arnolfini Marriage” and Michelangelo’s “Last Supper,” he adds subtle touches that make the works his own. At other times he merely borrows a masterpiece’s theme which he then transposes into narrative or symbology of his own invention. Goldfarb is vexed and intrigued by women’s changing roles, evidenced in “Rapunzel and the Manipulator’s Milk after Vermeer and Cornelius van Haarlen.” The piece consists of the image of a milkmaid pouring “milk,” crafted from thick, hand-twisted strands of fiber onto the ground, where it reverses itself upward, flowing into a grisaille painting showing men in various stages of choleric discomfiture. The a sly humor makes one wonder whose side he’s really on. To get the most out of this show, one needs an appreciation of history, patience and an appreciation for parody--and that “real men” do their own embroidery (The Museum of Latin American Art [MoLAA], Long Beach).

More and more, artists are taking up the cause of global warming.  Lothar Schmitz is an artist and a physicist. He shows a group of recent site specific installations featuring miniaturized three-dimensional synthetic and simulated landscapes that combine natural substances–-minerals, salts, earth, moss, sulfur--with artificial materials such as synthetic plants and trees, acrylic domes, and Astroturf. These obvious but poignant investigations into the possibility of a peace treaty between the natural and the man made are augmented by a large salt flat in the center court gallery, and a multi-channel video installation called “Biomorph” that raises our awareness of the lives of plant cells (CSU Long Beach, University Art Museum, Long Beach).

Lothar Schmitz, "Survival Strategies," 2008, polyester resin,
acrylic glass, artificial plants and trees, moss, variable dimensions.

Michael Asher, installation view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2008.
Photograph: Bruce Morr
Not far from the site where architect Frank Gehry aroused ire, exposing the sculptural beauty and energy of skeletal framing in the deconstructivist reworking of his residence, conceptual artist Michael Asher has erected his own maze of metal and wooden studs, marking the presence of every temporary exhibition installed by the Santa Monica Museum over the last twenty years. Viewers are invited to squeeze their way through Asher’s labyrinth, floor plans in hand. This active engagement in the transposition of information between two- and three-dimensional systems sharpens visual acuity.
As you explore Asher’s fascinating institutional critique, probing former sites of work installed by artists including Kerry James Marshall, Mary Kelly, George Herms, Elenore Antin, Fred Wilson, and others, the opportunities to question the museum’s role in defining cultural values are impossible to overlook (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Two solo exhibitions are powerfully packed with insight, creativity, and reflection. Megan Williams includes energetic, cartoon-like paintings together with wall drawings. The simplicity of the majority of Williams’ works balances the lively swirl of gestural lines with just the right amount of information to convey the content of each image without sacrificing the freedom of her loose style. For example, a pink wad of gum rendered on raw canvas is surrounded by pale, grey hands so that painted fingers pull at strings of gooey, pink gum that ease seamlessly from canvas to wall. Jessica Minkley’s promising first solo exhibition includes sculptures and collages created from found objects that resonate with the odd complex of familiarity and uncertainty that shapes memories and daydreams alike (Carl Berg Gallery, West Hollywood).

Megan Williams, "Girl Power," 2008
oil and charcoal on linen, 9 x 14".

Millard Sheets, "Landscape with Barn," 1926, oil on canvas.
The roster of exhibitions during the museum's inaugural year have sought to portray the history, diversity, and importance of the artwork created within the region. Truth be told, it’s a mix of civic boosterism and art history. “First Generation: Art in Claremont, 1907-1957” focuses on art created during the first fifty years of the city's incorporation. Presented are such prominent local painters as Milford Zornes (still painting at 100 years old; see the February, 2008 issue) and Millard Sheets. The novel curatorial twist comes through the artwork created by artists who came to Scripps and Pomona temporarily in order to teach, infusing new visions into the area, as well as art students who trained at the colleges and then ventured outwards (Claremont Museum of Art, Claremont).

Experimental art had to start somewhere to get where it is and it started with one of the first schools for modernism, The Art Students' League (borrowing the east coast school of the same name). A Seed of Modernism: The Art Students League of Los Angeles, 1906-53 illuminates two important, yet often overlooked, trends in 20th century American art. Regionalism, which was not a term limited only to the midwest. And the multiplicity of modernisms, which questions that monolithic term. Here artists like Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Lorser Feitelson were students, teachers and Directors in the late 1920s through the ‘30s. The school was opened in 1906 to teach what seemed "modern" to America then--mostly impressionistic still lifes and outdoor scenes that are quite excellent to viewers whose taste runs in that direction. What is most interesting is that in the 1920s, when diversity to persons of Asian decent was otherwise unheard of, Japanese American painters like Benji Okubo and Hideo Date taught and worked there. Their skill stands out, and they helped infuse Asian embellishments and aesthetic thinking to West Coast modernism. A couple hundred works by important teachers like these plus many archival photos show that L.A. was on its way toward embracing modernism and all races of artists early on (Pasadena Museum of California Art).

Mabel Alvarez, "Self-Portrait,"
1923, oil on canvas.