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July/August, 2008

Silfrido Ibara, "Selva #6," 2008, oil on canvas, 29 x 54 1/4".

Done is a tight, non-atmospheric magic realistic style, Silfrido Ibara's most impressive canvases feature dense, green proliferations of rain forests. In the stunning "Selva" (meaning "Jungle"),  trees are seen just at mid-trunk, almost as if you were a large cat padding through them. The trunks are tightly clustered together, rendered up-close like so many vertical bands of intense verdant green that you are about to enter. The detail is dizzying, as vines coil around trunks and as shrubbery around them all but buzzes with life. Like much art today, there is a subtext here of a planet in very precarious relationship to it's natural habitats. We see in Ibara what we are at this very moment losing and/or wasting (Latin American Masters, Beverly Hills).

Best known in the UK for his abstract paintings, David Somerville makes a switch here to Modern Expressionism along the lines of Matisse, offering up interior scenes with red walls, easels that could be windows, windows that could be paintings. All are bound together in a lyrical, flat, and highly whimsical use of intense Fauve color and free line. In one classic Modernist send up, we see what looks like the artist sitting with coffee as his model rests odalisque-like on the floor below (George Billis Gallery, Culver City).

David Somerville, "Artist",
2007, oil on canvas, 44 x 38".

French photographer Guillaume Zuili shows photographs that capture the radical global change taking place on the periphery of cities from rural to urban life styles. As climate change and a world economic pinch force more family farmers out of traditional land-based cultures all over the world, these photographs--showing run down farm environs juxtaposed to stark modern cityscapes--suggest that we may in our lifetime see farming as a way life simply disappear.  Between the  lines, the photos ask: when our food supply is handled by a few multinational corporations, were will these agrarian dwellers go, what does this inevitable change do to our ties to the earth, and how are these trends tied to issues of power and occupation? (Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood).

Guillaume Zuili, "Untitled (Prague)," 2003, silver fibert print, 30 x 40".

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, "Eddie Anderson; 21
Years Old; Houston, Texas; $20", 1990–92.
Philip-Lorca diCorcia is well known for his unique ability to orchestrate tight, crisp, seemingly staged photographs that are in fact taken on the mean streets, on the fly and feature sort of underbelly figures engaged in the day to day and the often socially marginal. A variety of the artist’s most famous series over decades are sampled. Of particular interest is the "Hustler" suite taken around the hotel in Hollywood where Janis Joplin hung out. These are young men who have come from America's vast cities looking for fame and fortune and end up just turning your every day trick for a few bucks in L.A.'s gay hub along Santa Monica Boulevard. DiCorcia captures these young men at night and the effect is poetic, pathetic and lovely at once.
Also included and viewed for the first time is an installation of 1,000 of the artist's Polaroid photographs, titled “Thousand.” This is diCorcia's most recent work, and it mitigates our idea of this artist as a maker of super polished photos that look absolutely planned. Here diCorcia shows a lighter, looser hand and we see he is indeed capable of the same depth in a far more personal diaristic approach (Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], West Hollywood).

August Sander insisted that “We can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do; we can read in his face whether he is happy or troubled." Test out Sander’s theory by deducing the occupation and mood of any of the 130 subjects on display from his ambitious and unfinished photographic project, intended as a comprehensive portrait of the German people, before reading the subtitles. This exhibition of selections from Sander’s documentation of the people of Germany begins around 1910 with depictions of stoic “earthbound” farmers who worked the land of his native Westerwald near Cologne. Before the Nazis confiscated negatives of subjects they claimed did not conform to the ideal Aryan type, Sander had photographed craftsmen, tradesmen, businessmen, soldiers, artists, educators and lawyers. The women depicted are defined mainly by their relationship to men. City people, including urban youth, artists and foreign workers strike more relaxed poses than members of rural families. All, however, are treated with respect, including the physically, mentally ill and dying of Weimer Germany, categorized by Sander as the “last people” (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).

Tomoko Sawada, “Bride”, 2007, 19.75" x 19.75", Lambda print, signed and editioned by the artist in ink on
label adhered to mount verso, printed under the direct supervision of the artist, mounted to
aluminum. In a limited edition of ten. From the collection of the artist.

Very little changes in Tomoko Sawada's “Bride” photographs, a series of diptychs hung as a large grid. Sawada explores tradition and fashion as well as the notion of an arranged marriage in her images of what could be considered the ideal wife. Rather than photographing others, Sawada is her own subject, dressing in costume for the images. This series consists of diptychs juxtaposing a modern and a traditional bride. The left image depicts a woman in a white robe with her head covered with a hood. The accompanying image, also shot in a studio against a deep red background shows a more modern bride in a fancy dress and veil. The subtext here is, rather too obviously, the idea of western freedom of choice versus the tradition of the arranged marriage. While the texture and design of the modern dress changes along with the hair style and makeup, the woman's expression remains unsmiling and neutral. Sawada repeatedly transforms herself (drawing, if a bit too closely, on the precedent of Cindy Sherman) into different persona, caricatures that at times are taken to the point of absurdity. What makes these pictures intriguingly unsettling is the woman’s consistent absence of expression (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica).

Pat O’Neill’s films and sculptures display an affinity for molded contours, smooth, lacquered surfaces and found objects. The artist makes a remarkable breakthrough from digital reality into actuality, transcending the virtual (film) and combining the two-dimensional environment with erotic biomorphism. Walls open into layered films combined with acacia, burls, pine, rose branches, and morning glories entwined into cast bronze sculptures. Triangular forms in sculptures dialogue with each other, the conversations subsuming nearly five decades of art making. A ladder built and used by his father in 1944 is enhanced with a film soundtrack as ornamentation. If O’Neill’s art calls upon his special effects background, he breaks open the Pandora’s Box of his present and future explorations of film, collage and sculpture, still layered, still refined, still magical (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

Pat O'Neill, "The Architect as a Bird," 2004, chromogenic
print mounted between sintra and plexiglas, 34 x 30".

Wayne Healy, "Dissonant Chords," 2005, acrylic on canvas, 43 x 55".
Pintores De Aztlan was organized over five years so as to introduce Chicano art more widely to Spanish and European viewers. Those artists we know well and have come to love were sampled in a comprehensive show that was on view at La Casa Encendida in Madrid. The late Carlos Almaraz, Wayne Healy, Patssi Valdez, Adan Hernandez and and other by now familiar and less well known Chicano/a contemporary artists were a hit with the Spainards.  They are on view here in an excerpted but nonetheless impressive version of the traveling show. Works we have not seen, that we know well and continue to marvel at--such as John Valadez’s “Wedding Shop” [1985]--remind us what a rich source of talent that this group of makers was, and that many continue to provide increasingly worldwide (Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica).

There is something slightly weird about a very skilled artist using that skill to copy existing archival visual culture: what is the point of a canvas that replicates a photo? Though this is something one really discourages young artists from doing, in the hands of the thoughtful and seasoned painter it can sometimes work. Lawrence Gipe pulls this method off by selecting archival sources like old Life Magazine images rich with meaning. That meaning is somehow rendered more poignant, higher pitched and vigorously mysterious when Gipe translates the surface to canvas and the size to huge (6 x 5-ish feet on average). The works are oil, but Gipe expertly mixes these oddly warm, purplish tones that ape the feel of old Magnum silver prints; the light here is so emphasized, and the scale so grand that aging Russian factories, ships ferrying immigrants to the new Israel in 1948, and Americans playing casual golf near oil rigs in the Middle East back in the Post War days when we thought resources were ours for the having, pack quite a more-than-rehash punch (Lora Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).

Lawrence Gipe, "Factory, U.S.S.R.,
1930," 2008, oil on canvas, 70 x 50".

Michael Alexis, "Epigram 14", ©2008,
Mixed media on canvas, 68” x 48”

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word syllabary as, “a series of written characters each one of which is used to repeat a syllable”. It is also the best word to define the current work shown by French-born, New York-based painter Michel Alexis. These eight new works are further advances into an artistic exploration that has dominated the past 20 years of Alexis’ work. The ambiguity that lies beneath our perceptions of writing and drawing, language and art, has been the catalyst for his large oil and mixed media pieces. While the errant lines that traverse the surface of his canvases may evoke the scrawls of Cy Twombly, and the textured paper cutouts in works like “Epigram 14” might bring to mind Matisse, syllabary maintains an aesthetic idiom that is all its own. In “Epigram 22” the vibrant red slices and graceful ink swirls establish a visual connection, while the brain stumbles in its need to create meaning. In the limbo between seeing and knowing, harmony and balance can find space. Alexis’ work challenges the viewer not to abandon perception, but to expand it (Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica).

The Puppet Show includes historical material, installations and video that take the use of puppets or dolls as characters or formal elements in narrative as well as abstract art. The installation uses shipping crates as containers for video. These wooden boxes are placed throughout the gallery, providing enclosed spaces to view the video. Although there is still sound bleed, the time-based work is successfully separated from the sculptures and installations. The artists include: Guy Ben-Ner, Nayland Blake, Louise Bourgeois, Maurizio Cattelan, Anne Chu, Nathalie Djurberg, Terence Gower, Dan Graham, Christian Jankowski, Mike Kelley, William Kentridge, Cindy Loehr, Annette Messager, Paul McCarthy, Matt Mullican, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim, Philippe Parreno and Rirkrit Tiravanija, Thomas Schütte, Doug Skinner and Michael Smith, Laurie Simmons, Kiki Smith, Survival Research Laboratory, Kara Walker, and Charlie White.  

Anne Chu, "Landscape Marionette II", 2003, wood,
fabric, wire, 31" x 65" x 24" , pedestal 4" x 71" x 70".
All of these artists directly and indirectly call up the prevalence of the puppet as subject and metaphor in  art through the ages, and particularly in contemporary art (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).

Todd Carpenter, "Lot", 2007, color photograph, 24" x 16"

At first, it is contrast rather than similarity which is most striking in the pairing of Todd Carpenter’s paintings and photographs. The photographs, mostly of Los Angeles urban scenes, are taken early or late in the day when the color of the light is tweaked and shadows are their longest. Asphalt, as in “Lot,” takes on a golden-orange hue; a group of four-story high palm trees assumes gigantic proportions as their shadows morph into one on the side of a multi-story building in “Cast;” even the blue of the sky is tinged with orange. In the paintings, Carpenter not only switches to a black-and-white palette, he more often than not switches subject matter as well.
His most successful paintings are of tree trunks, branches and other natural forms. Stripped to the essentials, they become almost abstract, although you never lose sight of the object they represent. As you shift focus from paint surface to image and back again, you return to the premise of the photographs--it’s all about the light (4 Walls Gallery, San Diego).

If you’ve ever lived through a remodel, Lael Corbin’s installation will evoke an intense response. Depending on your experience and your distance from it, you may recall the seemingly endless dust, disorder, and frustration. Or, if time has done its job at altering your perception, you may remember the thrill of anticipation and progress and the ultimate and ongoing gratification with the changes. But this is not life pretending to be art. Although some of the rooms utilize the remodeling framework fairly literally, some push beyond that boundary. The laundry room, with its elegant MDF sink, shelf, washer and dryer feels eerie, like an isolated basement space where you feel anxious when you stand at the sink with your back to the door.

Lael Corbin, "Untitled (Bathroom)," mixed
media installation, dimensions variable.
Like a house, where various spaces elicit specific responses, Corbin’s installation provides an antidote to the laundry room: the sawdust bear den under the stairs (Luis De Jesus Seminal Projects, San Diego).

"Kneeling Archer," Qin dynasy (221-206
B.C.), clay with pigment, 120 cm. high.
Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor is a treat that should not be missed. As China pitches a new identity from repressive regime to warm and fuzzy free market, more of its culture is hitting the west. This show is the  largest loan of the famous Guardian figures and other significant artifacts ever to travel to the U.S. from the tomb complex of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang (259–210 B.C.). We have all seen these guys on the Discovery Channel, life size clay defenders who would guard the Emperor in the afterlife. Touted as one of the most amazing archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, the First Emperor’s enormous burial site and post mortem palace complex included a replica of the Imperial compound and thousands of faux fighters. Besides a dozen of so of the stalwart still warriors, archival materials relating to the historical site, the culture and 100 sets of objects place into context an ancient and sophisticated civilization (Bowers Museum, Orange County).

This year’s C.O.L.A. 2008 Individual Artist Fellowships exhibition is, as always, a mixed bag as there is no curatorial idea that holds the selected artists work together. Each of the nine awards are given to mid-career artists, and the exhibition reflects work made during the grant year. Some take on something new and create site specific works for the exhibition; others continue with their ongoing body of work and present new pieces made during the grant’s time period. It is the strengths of the individual artists that contribute to the success of the group not only as a discreet exhibition, but as a reflection of L.A.’s aesthetic state of the union.  This year’s artists include: Judie Bamber, Erin Cosgrove, Joyce Dallal, Lewis Klahr, Suzanne Lacy, Timothy Nolan, Stas Orlovski, Louise Sandhouse and Alex Slade. They collectively work in diverse media, ranging from painting and photography, to installation and video (Municipal Art Gallery, Hollywood).

Joyce Dallal, "Descent," 2008, Installation: Japanese papers printed
with texts of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, paint, wire,
steel cable, paper clips, clothes pins, concrete, dimensions variable.

Lawrence Weiner, "One Quart Exterior Green
Enamel Thrown on a Brick Wall," 1968, size variable.

This cavernous space is the perfect theater for the staging of conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner’s retrospective. Temporary walls, designed to enhance the flow of words have been constructed to support the work of one of the conceptual artists who helped lead the shift away from the traditional art object in favor of an investigation of language as material in the late 1960’s. Weiner makes the process of reading and thinking about what words signify into a work of art. In the past, single works have emboldened gallery walls, but here there is room for a whole chorus of statements to interact with one another and the viewer who walks through the space, gazing  “As far as the eye can see.” Unencumbered by frames, the words chosen by Weiner are written directly on the walls in a variety of fonts, colors and sizes, chosen to heighten the effect of each particular message.
While his range of media includes works on paper, videos, books, posters, multiples, etc. housed mostly in an upstairs gallery room, gaze down from there for a fascinating overview of Weiner’s work, including the floor piece, “An accumulation of sufficient abrasion to remove enough of an opaque surface to let light through with more intensity” (Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Geffen Contemporary, Downtown).