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June, 2008

One way art functions as a catalyst is by altering our perception of the familiar from habitual acceptance to inquisitive examination. Maya Lin’s landscapes do just that by taking well-known forms and turning them inside out. As visual creatures, we normally perceive inland seas, such as “Red Sea,” “Caspian Sea,” and “Black Sea,” as large surfaces, or as flat blue areas on a map. In her “Bodies of Water Series” (2006) Lin not only represents the liquid, i.e. water, as a solid, i.e. wood. She also presents the unseen--the whole underwater mass--rather than simply the usually-seen surface. Lin pushes this tendency further in “Water Line,” where Bouvet Island, the only visible land form in this area, becomes a minor part of the massive, room-sized topographic drawing of this mostly-underwater and normally invisible seascape.

Maya Lin, "2 x 4 Landscape," 2008, wood.
“2 x 4 Landscape,” by virtue of its scale (fifty thousand pieces of two-by-fours covering 2,400 square feet of gallery space), dominates the exhibit. Unlike the other works here, this one does not represent an actual place. Although it is orderly and geometric, composed of rows of rectangles, it evokes the sense of a natural, undulating hill, eliciting reflections about what is essential to landscape and addressing these issues via form and surface (Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego [MoCASD], San Diego).

Soo Kim, "Untitled," 2007, framed
hand cut C-Print, 31 x 31".
Soo Kim’s “Superheavies” is a suite of very unusual, technically and conceptually rich photographs. The most haunting appear to be strangely manipulated images of a nude or near nude body, possibly seen from above, moving through time lyrically, frame by frame. Kim has stopped and captured the fluid action of this distorted form via some mediated method of photo recording that barely suggests motion, continuity and objecthood, but gives no other cues of alignment. The figures are so vague as to defy any certain identification. You see what looks like an hourglass shape from above, what might be appendages moving softly in and out of axes as if in a in a dance, or some squatting meditation. These images draw on the artist’s interest in science, new physics and the recent discovery of new chemical elements called superheavies (due to their enormous atomic mass). In the way general relativity theory told us in 1910 that dense matter was energy, these sequential photos remind us that energy stops momentarily to form these mysterious “super heavy” events we regard as physical reality. Our understanding of these photos is intentionally complicated by the fact that they are hung alongside straightforward views of backlit trees reflected in the windows of a church (Sandroni.Rey, Culver City).

In one of the most ambitiously staged series of recent work by a contemporary photographer, Gregory Crewdson draws viewers into summer and winter settings in small town locations as common as those in any declining East coast community. He explodes the idea of even large-scale photography by pouring movie-style resources (think 30-men crews, snow and wind making machines, foggers, giant cranes, make-up artists, location scouts) into these lavish, nearly five by seven foot prints. Awaiting spectators are views of disquieting actions by individuals lost in thought or couples oblivious to their gaze. All of these unsettling photographs are part of a series called “Beneath the Roses.”

Gregory Crewdson, "Untitled", Summer 2006,
Archival Inkjet print, printed on Epson Premium Luster Paper,
58-1/2" x 89-1/2" framed, Edition of 6.
Although the accompanying coffee table book is comprehensive and enormous, it cannot convey the David Lynch-ian mood of an actual photo of a girl holding her wet panties, standing ankle-deep in the water just above a concrete dam behind two neighborhood houses; the book can never have the same impact as a photograph that’s as tall as you are. Working in film with a gigantic camera mounted in place, Crewdson often shoots hundreds of prints just when the twilight is at its best to augment the luminosity of his visions. Editing in digital afterward enhances the suffused painterly quality of each work, etching these scenes with melancholia (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).

Rachelle Rojany, "Right Hear," 2008,
metal, beads, fishing line, size variable.
We humans like to anthropomorphize.  It gives us comfort in the big scary world.  We dress our dogs, speak of the neck and shoulders of a particularly attractive vessel, and the best selling cars are the ones whose fronts look most like a human face.  No surprise that architecture displays this tendency as well. As Alain de Boton has said, “it speaks to us as reflections of individual psychology.” Rachelle Rojany continues her tradition of small and poignant sculptures that compound into a larger installation experience reflecting on the space they are in. The larger experience here is one of multi-sensory meditations on our own individual psychologies. There are ten parts to “Body of Work,” each incorporating body and sense differently. As the viewer approaches the gallery Rojany extends a welcoming hand, literally. “Handy Flag in Handy Holder” is a four foot flag of her hand. It’s odd, but beckoning, and happily silly, which prepares you for the goings on inside.  
 “Whoot on Whose Pedestal” is a sweet sound piece installed quietly in a corner mirror so that one is required to face the corner in order to hear it. “No Knows” invites the viewer to the viewer to crank a resin nose in and out in a nod to Pinocchio and the artistic telling of tall tales.  “Mileft” is a pair of leather feet boots that sit, lonely, by the front door like any shoes we’d be required to take off when entering a sacred place. Another gem is “Right Hear,” a metal ear with 100 feet of yellow glass beads that drape around the gallery. In the end it comes back to the visuals, though, with “Rocky Pedestal” and “Googleye on Rocking Pedestal.” The first is a delicate tower of rocks, the second a simple wooden pedestal with a curved base that rocks. When you push it, different eyes rotate back and forth. The ground is not firm. Life is rocky, at best. So sit down on “Bench Pedestal” and eat a “Mouth Cookie.”  Indulge for a moment before heading back out into that big scary world (Happy Lion, Downtown).

M.A. Peers has made paintings of massive canines that were funny yet incisive inquiries into the relationship of images and our pseudo science--begun with the Enlightenment--of classifying types. Almost arguing that mass media (the pictures on bags of the “perfect” Collie, in mags of the perfect chick) have become our science of types, Peers followed this dog work with another investigation: portraits of corporate execs and multi national “players,” from the likes of Ahmed Chalabi to the crooks who ran the disgraceful sham of Enron. Like studies in taxonomy, the portraits read like “evidence,” as you found yourself tracking the faces for signs, categories, or “breeds” of the corporate “animal.” For this show, Peers pushes her painterly skills to study and include master traditions of portrait and genre of the 18th century, then wryly tosses into this mix the opposing syntax of commodity driven styles from pop culture, promo ads and TV. What comes out the other end is a pretty fantastical compendium of yet another genus: the yuppie male. As the images unfold for our study of “contemporary masculinity,” Peers suggests with irony that this class and its various subtypes are both standing archetype and total fiction. What you end up seeing in these terrific hallucinatory paintings and works on paper is the very limited “picture dictionary” men choose from as they construct or define a self (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

M.A. Peers, "Found Yuppie in Bear,"
2008, oil on canvas, 72 1/4 x 56 1/4".

Andrea Cohen,  "Lucky Oasis", 2007,
styrofoam, wood, branches, foam, resin, plastic
string, pipe cleaners, packing peanuts, sand,
epoxy, origami paper, vinyl, popsicle sticks,
felt, wood pegs and acrylic, 85" x 27" x 33".
The organic harmoniously mixes with synthetic in Andrea Cohen’s newest work, entitled “Overlook.” The six pedestal and five freestanding pieces are the sculptural hybrids of fusing industrial materials, such as styrofoam and vinyl, together with natural elements like wood. Inspired by the gardens and landscape paintings of ancient China, Cohen’s sculptures possess the calculated fluidity inherent in Chinese art forms, while expressing the artist’s quirky sense of curiosity. In “Dragon’s Joy Garden,” styrofoam, tree branches, plastic, and popsicle sticks commingle in an amalgamation that strikes a happy balance between control and spontaneity. Orange plastic, reminiscent of a fruit roll-up snack, seems to trickle off the blue foam tiers like water in a fountain. Cohen’s talent for thoughtful juxtaposition, along with her optimistic playfulness makes for a show that titillates as well as teaches. In Cohen’s garden, labels like ancient and modern, or natural and synthetic coexist in symbiotic harmony, suggesting that when semantic limitations are overlooked, positive transformation can occur. Perhaps, hope springs eternal after all (Walter Maciel Gallery, Culver City)

Taking nature in general and patterns in plant life in particular as her starting point, Simone Lourenco cuts exceptionally elegant of shapes into her layered paper works. The exhibit is entitled “In Bloom;” and it is certainly a fecund thing, with dense colors and emotive swirls bursting forth in a glorious flurry of abstracted florals. It is a terrific thing to encounter a show that does not fear the experience of abundance, and navigates the slippery terrain of beauty with an understated confidence. Much as it is difficult to be truly comedic, honest artworks that engage the viewer in optimistic visions of hope are hard to come by and, when it works, deserving of our appreciation (Overtones, West Los Angeles).

Simone Lourenço, "Pink Blossoms", 2008,
cut paper, 19-1/2" x 26".

Photographer unknown, "Rudy Medina, Teresa Covarrubias and
Sid Medina," 1983, photograph. Courtesy of Teresa Covarrubias.
Having devoted its first year's exhibition calendar to highlighting both past and current artists connected to Claremont and the local colleges, this new exhibition, Vexing: Female Voices from East L.A. Punk, reveals some fresh aesthetic stretch. “Vexing” seeks to convey the rebellious youth spirit of then youthful Chicana artists who during the late 1970s and ‘80s made up a segment of the punk art and music scene. With attitude as sharp as their stillettos, their arched eyebrows, and black-white geometric clothes and graphics, such women as Exene Cervanka, Teresa Covarrubias, and the Bags had to break through a three-tiered patriarchal hold--home and tradition, the art world (the old boy network), and a music business which had not yet tapped into women’s rage and power.
Co-curators Pilar Tompkins and Colin Gunkel have brought together archival video and audio recordings, ephemera such as notebooks and song sheets, and performance photos which place you at the foot of the stage. Live video and listening stations for music are there to tap into the raw energy of these artists. To bring things up to date, performances by and material from contemporary female punk bands are also part of the mix (Claremont Museum of Art, Claremont).

Keith Puccinelli, "Face Plant," 2007.

Keith Puccinelli shows a remarkable, shocking and brutally beautiful suite of works which deal with issues of body, decay, illness, mortality and war. The show permits a bawdy, unedited confrontation with life’s harsh realities. You first walk through an installation that looks like the studio/workshop of a mad scientist, filled with casts of body parts, decaying dolls, hair, jars of fluids, knick-knacks collected and waiting to get resuscitated from debris to art. In the main gallery are stunning pen and ink drawings, in larger than life scale and finished with frenzied, masterful cross hatching. The nervous mark making goes with the subjects, which extend themes of abjection, the grotesque and how we confront these themes comfortably via the carnivalesque. At the very back of the gallery there is a curtain one draws back to step through, to find yourself between the legs and tu-tu of the massive circus fat lady. Puccinelli conveys that the body, its instincts (everything here bristles with sexuality), its fluids, its ravages of fate and war are oddly sacred and just as silly (Otis College, Ben Maltz Gallery, West Side).

There is a thread of social and spiritual history that winds it way through Gail Schneider’s very contemporary concrete and ceramic heads. A series of large (almost three feet tall), concrete heads are cast in subtle colors and possess an archaeological feel, as if they have been unearthed from a distant civilization. Smaller heads that comprise another series are set on top of tall, metal rods, which display them, bodiless as they are, at a naturalistic height. Even though the area below each one contains only the single pole, they assume a sense of bodily space. As such, they suggest a connection with ancestral talismanic figures. The very smallest heads, set on shelves, are fetish-like. Their size, smooth surface, variety of materials, finishes and glazes, and their shapes--

Gail Schneider, small heads.
which seem designed to fit the contours of your half-opened hand--give them a familiarity and intimacy that is visual, sensual and intellectual. There is a wonderful simplicity to these forms. They are clearly heads, but without any facial features. Yet their complexity in terms of scale, surface, color and variations in shape imbue them with a powerful array of associations and suggestive implications (Soka University, Founders Hall Art Gallery, Orange County).