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October, 2008

Dr. Betty Brown--CSUN Art Historian, long-time critic and author--joins forces with Jack Rutberg to mount a sumptuous pair of shows of works by Hans Burkhardt. The Swiss born abstract painter came to New York in 1924, studied at Cooper Union and spent a long stint learning from, exchanging with another famous expat, Arshile Gorky. Burkhardt processed at a lightning clip every  modern style and influence from Picasso to Kandinsky to Gorky, but in the end made work that was his own. A deeply empathic man who knew great struggle, Burkhardt had the courage to address hard subjects in a pre- and post-World War II America, squeamish then as now to confront head on anguish, war, human separateness and human intimacy. More striking, based on these selections drawn from the large collection Burkhardt left in the University’s keeping (where here taught for ten years), is the fact that he steadfastly attempted to both explore and convey these difficult and deep subjects via the language of Modernist abstraction.

Hans Burkhardt,
“Journey into the
Unknown," 1965, oil on canvas, 32 x 42”.
Formal skills are directed to powerful expressive ends--here he is pneumatic and turgid with life energy, there triangular, sharp and bellicose—that we also see modulated to achieve subtle and nuanced feelings such as pity and seduction. The excellent catalogue appends not just a look at this passionate and compassionate painter, but a provides a fresh critical view of American Modernism in general. The Rutberg gallery’s concurrent exhibition focuses on Burkhardt’s painting of the 1960’s, a period of maturity that fully combined the formal and expressive components of Abstract Expressionism with his impulse to express political feelings. His response to the Viet Nam War brings the personal and political together within the historical tradition of the vanitas theme (CSU Northridge, San Fernando Valley; Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

Tanya Batura, installation view at Western Project, 2008
Eight elegant clay sculptures comprise Tanya Batura’s new body of work. Arranged on simple, wooden pedestals, placed in a right angle shape within the space of the gallery, Batura’s smooth heads on truncated necks shine like enigmatic jewels. Each one is painted the same deep brownish black shade, rubbed to a smooth, shiny and decidedly inorganic surface, hence the show’s title, “Monochroma.” The postures, too, seem culled from science fiction more than nature. A neck, curved at an eerie angle, rises in a balletic arch in one work, while another features a head gazing serenely at the patterned hole where its missing torso would lie.
At once peaceful and disturbing, this new body of work capitalizes on Batura’s mastery at her craft, spinning tales of mystery and intrigue in contrast to the pathos and eroticism of her earlier works (Western Project, Culver City).

The fifteen ghostly portraits that line one wall seem to stare out at you as if directly from history. Indeed, although likely not recognizable to most viewers, the men featured in this installation by John Jurayj figured prominently in recent history; each played a role in the Lebanese civil war that raged through that nation from 1975-90. Including Yasser Arafat and Menachem Begin, the portraits begin with a digital image from which the eyes are burnt out. These are then printed in gunpowder onto mirrored Plexiglas, resulting in what look to be time-worn prints from which viewers can neither escape their own reflection, nor gaze into the subjects’ eyes.

John Jurayj, installation view at Walter Maciel Gallery, 2008.
Opposite, and reflected in the surfaces of the portraits, are Jurayj’s brightly colored and abstracted paintings of exploding buildings; the portraits add resonance to the brightly colored pictures of destruction. In the second room of the gallery, Maria E. Piñeres has skillfully embroidered multiple images of the same naked man repeated in a gorgeous array of color and pattern. The lone man’s silhouette morphs playfully and seductively in and out of abstraction with each minute stitch (Walter Maciel Gallery, Culver City).

Pipo Nguyen-Duy, "01-15-A-03-04," lightjet print mounted to Sintra, 30 x 40".
Albert Einstein once quipped that he didn’t know what the Third World War would be fought with, but the fourth would be fought with sticks and stones.  Modern war will decimate, but it will not annihilate. Vietnamese-born Pipo Nguyen-duy’s new body of photographs resonates with a similar sensibility. These large color lightjet prints (45” x 60” and 30” x 40”) of abandoned greenhouses allude to a history of once-flourishing agricultural enterprise; and by metaphor and implication a far larger one. Sadness and ruin are very much present. Nguyen-duy emigrated to America in 1975 at age thirteen (just days before the fall of Saigon), and not surprisingly loss has been present in much of Nguyen-duy’s previous projects.
All the same, in this series the spaces are teeming with rampant Nature. Decay and abandonment are easier narrative targets, but what makes these images so particularly effective is their ability to introduce Hope. These are full fairy tale narratives that infer that after a haunting Winter must come Spring (Sam Lee Gallery, Chinatown).

Jody Zellen’s interactive installation “The Blackest Spot” is at once lighthearted and serious. Various photographic images placed on the floor are activated by viewers’ footsteps to produce either a sound or an image. Each step induces applause, a change in the image projected on the wall, or the roar of a crowd. In spired by Elias Canetti’s masterwork of philosophical anthropology “Crowds and Power,” Zellen’s work addresses the issue of crowds, why they gather and what they feel like, a subject and experience that as readily brings to mind the levity of a circus or sporting event as the dread and gravitas of protest, war, or a gathering of people in protection or fear. This duality of emotion plays out in the excitable yet uncertain space that changes with each new participant (Fringe Exhibitions, Chinatown).

Jody Zellen, "The Blackest Spot," 2008, interactive installation.

Nancy Reddin Kienholz, "Jim Crow," 2008, lenticular (mixed media), 45 1/4 x 42 15/16".

Besides living with the huge imprint of her very famous late husband and collaborator, Nancy Reddin Kienholz has in fact maintained an active career as a solo painter and new media artist. Kienholz’s diversity and wry wit are central to a show of large scale printed images that use the Surrealist Dali trick of having the subject “shift” as your viewing angle changes (called “linticulars”). You have seen this in pop culture objects where you walk across a poster and Mona Lisa turns into an evil vampire. That slightly kitsch vibe is intentionally transplanted to serious and politically tinged works: Christ on the cross becoming Santa Claus makes us think of religion as folklore; bowls that morph into women wearing Muslim garb hit at gender and control obliquely (pun intended). The conversation with the viewer here is both formal, dynamic and socially loaded--we have a relationship with the two unmixed images that run from the ultra charged to the banal, and we are invited to confront the mixture of these diametric oppositions in perceptual, aesthetic, emotional and ideological ways (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).

Raymond Pettibon, "No Title (Somebody’s gotta
learn)," 1985, pen and ink on paper, 12 x 9”.
Raymond Pettibon was part of that irascible late ‘70s crop of UCLA fine art grads who responded to slick surface aesthetics of teachers like Robert Irwin with feverish drawings in comic book style lampooning everything from geopolitics to male sex drive to mass media. Late career work is better known these days, like Pettibon’s drawings on paper of blue abstracted waves, tiny surfers, or spoofs of Mickey Mouse with a phallic looking nose. This show features an array of vintage early works from the first decade of the artist’s career, installed in the loose leaf format of his early shows, and which enhances Pettibon’s intentional ties to illustration, zines and other “low” art pulp. You will see crowded, dense images of warmongering politicos done in thick, exacting ink with color accents, as well as spare, tongue-in-cheek line doodles of scruffy, long haired artist types crucified on a cross like the savior and the sacrificed. (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).

Milo Reice, "Tickletime for Michelangelo," 24 x 62 1/2".

Milo Reice is a consummate bricoleur. French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss introduced the term to assert that the mythmaker is “someone who works with his hands and uses devious means compared to those of a craftsman.” Builder and trickster, Reice addresses the myths of postmodern existence in artworks fabricated from the full gamut of urban material culture. Objects from the divine (a rosary) to the ridiculous (a rubber Halloween mask) are assembled to adorn heterogeneous images that range from the childlike (smeared scribbles) to fully matured (finely crafted renderings.) Reice’s “Pygmalion” triptych--ironically framed in PVC pipe and drywall bars--presents the classical myth as a scifi film noir unfolding in a nightmarish laboratory. A beautifully drawn Galatea writhes in sensual abandon atop a Frankenstein-esque contraption. Other devices echo the primitive robotics of, say, “The Day The Earth Stood Still.” And in the far corner, the artist’s black cat sleeps through it all. Sex, humor, film and literary references: these are the tools of the postmodern bricoleur. Reice uses them with vitality and mastery (Film Art LA, Hollywood).

A very fine three person show includes abstract paintings by Doug Edge that look like caricatures or cartoony diagrams of rock formations in open vistas. Best known for his sculpture, this show features quirky geometric orbs against blue sky backgrounds, all created from very textural media like plastic, resin, wood, and glass. More interesting still are ‘landscapes” by Kate Harding fashioned from earth toned recycled leather garments. Zippers are roads and horizons, seams and pockets are arbitrary barriers or topographical elevations marking this terrain from that. Among the three artists, the art historical quotes by former music mogul Bob Biggs were the most appealing. Ingre’s turbaned harem woman seen from the back is repeated several times in a series of canvases with slightly different backgrounds and color families. Each change in hue turns her skin from an icon of art history and seduction to a formal study. Similarly, Monet’s “Rouen Cathedral” reworked in the same off beat way flips all the lessons and concerns of textbook Impressionism on their head (Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica).

Bob Biggs, “Bather at Catherdral
Blue,” 2008, oil and mixed media
on canvas, 43 1/2 x 27 1/2”.

Linda Christensen, "Ladder," 2008,
oil on canvas, 12 x 12".

Watching the ease and grace of Olympic gymnasts and divers curing the recent Beijing games, Linda Christensen became inspired to begin an in-depth series of drawings then paintings capturing the singular female body in motion. While several of the figures here are seated, most gyrate, twirl and move with extreme energy and grace. This led her to revisit Degas’ dancers; and when she realized that each of her figures is like a flower, especially when she looked at her canvasses upside down (the body is the stem, the skirt is the flower), Christensen added the study of botany to her research combining the human and floral form. The results are a series of exuberant and colorful paintings, more gestural than previous work. And because she wanted to eliminate her own hand in the process, Christensen devised a technique where after completing a painting, she drew with an oil based ink on clear plastic. When the ink markings on the plastic and the oil paint on the canvas dried, Christiansen placed the plastic belly side down on the canvas and rubbed gently, creating a type of mark that looks like a new type of etching. More importantly, the dark marks heighten the sense of motion as the rubbed ink gives each figure a slightly blurred look of stop motion (Sue Greenwood Gallery, Orange County).

Enid Baxter Blader combines references to art history (Dutch still-life, bravura brushwork of Frank Duveneck), with characters and settings that surround her, all painted on dusty linen canvas with glue and canola oil. Baxter Blader sets up a lively tension, a push-pull effect, between her hazy images and the raw space on which she paints. Also on view is a recent collaboration with animator Andrew Donal, with original music scored by Baxter Blader (Link Contemporary, Claremont).

Enid Baxter Blader, "Flame #2,"
2006, ink on paper, 30 x 20".

Comprised of over ninety works, this retrospective highlights the work of innovative ceramicist Robert Sperry (1927-1998). Celebrated for his mastery of the technically demanding “crawl glaze,” Sperry’s signature works are his bold, black and white crackling ceramics. Free-standing works, platters, wall plaques, and monumental works such as “Arch” (1987) explore the collusion of natural forms and rigid geometry (American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona).

Robert Sperry, jar, ceramic.

Cecilia Z. Miguez’s introspective journey of dreaming, meditative and active women comes alive in this exhibition of twenty one sculptures of females, composed of bronze, wood, leather, crystal and found objects. In “La Calesita” a female figure is mounted on a carousel horse. If she is set in the fantasy of the Merry-Go-Round, her added appendage is also a metaphorical support for life’s journey. Small nudes sit and stand in the three open archways of “The Door,” literally a free-standing door which seems to divide two worlds, allowing the thirteen figures to gaze, discuss and decide on which side they will emerge. Continuing that narrative, a nude covered with painted diamond shapes weaves a web around herself in “Disappearing Act,” while another hides herself under a giant mushroom-like hat in “In My Own World.” These figures exert power and imagination to reach their moment of silence or solace. She also displays impressive artisanal skills. The patinas, woodwork, the hinges that move, the inlays of metal and glass consistently evoke a mastery of a time-honored sense of craftsmanship (Louis Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood).

Cecilia Z. Miguez, "La Calestia," 2008, bronze,
iron, wood, cement, 79 x 40 x 24 1/2".

Serban Savu, "Beyond the Trees," 2007, oil on canvas, 40 x 26".

This pairing of a representational and an abstract painter is particularly compelling for the two artists’ similar approach to the ideas of space, nothingness, and waiting. Tom Chamberlain’s absorbing monochromes are made from layer upon layer of color, built up to a rich black, smooth grey, or a vacant white. A pencil drawing of red, yellow, green, and blue lines--reminiscent of a small-scale Sol LeWitt--is more representative of Chamberlain’s process than the paintings, and offers a glimpse into his carefully made accretions of color. Next to these, Serban Savu’s dusky images of people, walking and playing in a park or sitting incongruously next to a building, take on added resonance, as if the depth of Chamberlain’s abstractions formed the thoughts of Savu’s subjects. Likewise, the representations of people partaking of familiar actions lend emotional substance to Chamberlain’s meditative canvases (Mihai Nicodim Gallery [formerly Kontainer], Chinatown).

Jesse Bercowetz, “Alibi,” 2008, Figure: Wood,
plaster, polystyrene, wire, stone, acrylic, ink, 56”
by 13” x 14”.  Wall: collage on paper, ink, acrylic,
pencil, wire, foam core, 70” x 56” x 5”.  Table: Wood,
plaster, wire, acrylic, ink, collage, stone, motor.

Encountering this show is like walking into a giant playground—though not one for kids.  The looming, gawky, whimsical construction “The Pale Memory of Man” takes over the gallery with the vibrant force of displacement. Seemingly bursting straight down from the gallery ceiling to fill the large space like a beached sea-monster, Jesse Bercowetz’s large, playful sculpture reaches its tentacle-like arms in all directions. With an equally kinder-friendly aesthetic, the work’s tar-like black surface is painted in quick, brushy strokes and dangles bits of metal and framed colored pictures like celebratory ornaments. These components fly out from a dark core, balanced precariously, hanging together by any means available. “The Pale Memory of Man” pairs the homemade feel and outsized energy of a child’s plaything with the menacing sensibility of an elephant—or more likely an oil rig--in the midst of an otherwise peaceful room. The intensity of the piece’s presence is somewhat offset by the dangling mobiles overhead, which you must duck your head to approach-- only to be thwarted by the mess of broken bottles covering the platform base, and the scythe shapes jutting out all over the place. Also on view is a patchwork painting strung together with wire, and vaguely shaped sculptures crowded into a corner as if an afterthought (Happy Lion Gallery, Chinatown).

Frank Chang's “Amazon River Transplant” is mostly comprised of a two large rough plywood constructed tables connected only by a length of thin clear plastic tubing.  On the taller table (which Chang calls the Amazon side) is a collection of healthy green plants, separated by a smaller "stream".  On the lower table (which Chang calls the Mohave side) are two dirt areas separated by a road which is continually being washed with water that has come from the taller table via the little clear tubing and a pump. The Mohave table was originally planted with cactus, but is growing grass as the exhibit continues. The exhibit as it appeared on opening night must have been more polemic, but now the Mohave table is leaking down one side.  It is quite literally pissing away its resources in a brown funky water that has seeped through all those plants and trees (the plywood) and is now run-off along the floor.  

Frank Chang, "Amazon River Transplant", 2008,
wood, water, pumps, tubing, rainforest, desert, books.
The gallery has no intentions of cleaning up the water, and plans to let the puddle grow and develop its own self until the show comes down.  This little leak is quite poignant and telling.  It will be worth seeing what happens (Sea and Space Explorations, Northeast Los Angeles).

Stephen J. Kaltenbach, "Time Capsule (Open
before my retrospective at the Tate
in London)", 2008, welded stainless steel.
Stephen J. Kaltenbach has been making "Time Capsules" since the 1960s.  The capsules themselves are simple forms, sealed tubes or boxes, made mostly from welded steel. They are engraved on the front with instructions of dates to open or mental constructs under which they can be opened ("open before my retrospective at the Tate in London") or rather flippant phrases ("nothing of great value" or "light weight").  Kaltenbach has steadfastly refused to say what is inside the capsules, if indeed there is anything inside. The whole project, most of Kaltenbach's artistic product, depends partially on the viewer's response to concealment and to the level of curiosity and desire created.  But mortality is also a strong theme. Kaltenbach, once a player in the 1960s NYC scene, chose a quiet life of teaching and has been overlooked for many years.  That he is now returning to intrigue a new generation of viewers interested in Conceptual Art all seems to be part of his overall plan.  He, like the rest of us, is himself a time capsule, closed off yet wondering what and when to reveal (Another Year in LA, Northeast Los Angeles).