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November, 2008

It is hard not to nod to thirty years of dealing and showing the mainstays of California Modernism. 30th Anniversary Exhibition deserves more than a nod, but rather a long look. Given that we re-evaluated LA art in Paris last year, as we come to recognize the impact of international Modernists in Los Angeles, it is really something to go to a compendium show that culls highpoints from three decades of work by artists comprising a hub of an avant garde across California over the last half-century. There are some remarkable abstractions on view by Lorser Feitelson, stunning realism by Joyce Treiman, works by our assemblage grande dame, Betye Saar and her gender counterpart George Herms. Seeing signature works like Ab Ex figures from Nathan Oliveira, precise geometries by Karl Benjamin, rare color explorations by Stanton Macdonald Wright, Lee Mullican and Claire Falkenstein gathered all in one gallery show is surprisingly not overwhelming, even in this smaller than museum space. It is instead a reassuring reminder of the richness and intellectual depth of creative experiments in California. If you’ve harbored any lingering thought of L.A. as some hippy dippy backwater to the "real" art on the East Coast, this revue should divest you of that cliché for good. (Tobey C. Moss Gallery, West Hollywood).

Helen Lundeberg, "Interior with
Painting," 1960, oil on canvas, 50 x 40".

Haim Steinbach, "Mr. Peanut," 2008, 57 x 43 1/4 x 25 1/2".
In a lucky marriage of two artists' artists (who illustrate well Ruscha's formula for good art: first Huh? Then Wow! Bad art: first Wow! And then Huh?), Haim Steinbach trolled Mike Kelley's home for objects to set on his familiar shelves in "Special Project: Mr. Peanut." Not only is Steinbach in fine form, liberally punctuating the show with super-sized, black "Kongs," but simply seeing a selection of objects from Kelley's home, office, and studio is itself immensely gratifying. Lined up almost symmetrically on a smooth black mantel, each porcelain or rubber curiosity is the center of ever-expanding nuance and meaning as the viewer's eye sizes up its neighbor. The grinning boy sauntering off with his cock slung over his shoulder  ("Make love, not war") makes the viewer look with entirely different perspective at the plump rabbit in bowler hat (Overduin and Kite, Hollywood).

It is enough that the subjects of James Gobel are so very eccentric and so on-point as the 21st century peels apart every permutation of censored sexual identity. You would be interested already looking at very portly, happily hairy, openly gay men conceived and executed in that sharp flat, absolutely believable hand of neo-realism. Add to that bundle of fascination that these "bear" gay types are made from--get this--inlaid felt and yarn and one's jaw sort of drops. The content conflates all these battling associations--colorfully dressed, unapologetically massive gay men sitting on porch stoops, for instance, in pretty little flop flops watering flowers (and coincidentally holding a bottle of coke just at their crotch in an erect and angled position). The girly materials and the expert control over them also mixes the masculine and feminine. Muscular realist canvases, long the terrain of straight males, are made from the techniques of amateur women's craft. The end result is quite hilarious--fresh at its best, predictable at its worst. At the very least, Gobol forces us to face our discomfort with ourselves as real sexual beings, even though we do not fit the media abstraction of eros (Steve Turner Contemporary, West Hollywood).

James Gobel, "Don't Got to Worry You're
Locked in Tight Darling," 2008, felt, yarn
and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60".

Annie Buckley's digital prints are large-scale works that fuse human and plant forms to produce evocative and humorous juxtapositions. In each work Buckley collages fragments of images taken of varying types of local trees (palm, jacaranda, cedar, lemon, sycamore), which she carefully reassembles as expansive representations. In place of where the trunk would be is the figure of a woman. These figures (in pants and in skirts) serve as the support for the crown that emanates from her body. The large scale prints are suspended from metal armatures, which allows them to move like leaves blowing in the wind. Buckley allows her digital manipulations to be obvious so that the works can be seen for what they are (Carl Berg Gallery, West Hollywood).

Annie Buckley, "Varina Jacaranda," 2008,
digital photograph collage (edition of 3), 84 x 42".

"Pss/Pss" is the title of Pauline Stella Sanchez’  current exhibition. She brings together video, sculpture and photographic imagery that is simultaneously fact and fiction. While Sanchez uses art and art historical references in her works, this installation allows entropy to take over and chaos to reign. But the chaos is, as is typical with Sanchez, controlled. The main gallery features sculptures that appear to be architectural models for caved-in buildings, perhaps exhibition spaces that have been destroyed. Each of the sculptures is presented on a lazy-susan which is placed on top of a white pedestal. The pristine surface is interrupted by drips of yellow paint and the casual addition of a photograph. A line of the photographic images extends along the wall of the second room, and reveals the artist in different locations making photographs of artworks.

Pauline Stella Sanchez, "Head/bust series: My Head Stuck no Struck no TRAPPED as a Constructivist theatre stage. . .#3 with stoned face and two holes
on neck like Lucy," 2008, poplar wood, balsa wood, mask latex, lazy susan
hardward, acrylic and cartoon color, cinema notes and metaphors, some victories
over the sun, no victori3es on the sun, and a sun over a victory, 8 x 23 1/2 x 26 1/2"
The space in which these were shot often results in her reflection entering the image. The installation feels empty and full simultaneously. Each work has its own raison d'etre, yet seems to be completed by the dialogue with the others. A video loop is presented in the back room. It is a visual poem that includes some of the exhibited photographs, and comes across as the Rosette Stone to an evocative but cryptic installation (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

Woods Davy, Studio Installation, 2008.

Ernst Scheidegger, "Alberto Giacometti
in His Studio," 1960, photograph.

Woods Davy personifies rocks. He collects large scale bolders and puts them together in such a way as to resemble people gathered in groups having a conversation. His animated sculptures defy gravity and inspire awe. That they are on view with Ernst Scheidegger's photographs of Giacometti, which allow one to see Davy's work in a new light. The forms become more anthropomorphic when seen in relation to Giacometti's sculptural figures. If you want to believe again in the old Modernist idea of the impassioned visionary working for art's sake, don’t miss the compelling black and white gelatin silver prints of the surrealist sculptor feverishly at work in his studio by his friend, photographer Ernst Scheidegger. Even if you do not know this fact you can feel it profoundly in these photos. Giacometti seems completely unaware of and unchanged by the camera's  presence. In photo after photo the wiry sculptor in this electric salt 'n pepper afro is captured pinching down clay maquettes for those remarkable works we know as his signature. The sheer transport on the artist's face as his nimble fingers press and pull, shape and misshape clay into odd human forms seems evidence enough that we are witnessing the inspired genius at work. Some of the works are recent prints taken from archival negatives, presumably with permission from the artist's estate. Whether vintage or just pulled off the burning and dodging light table yesterday, these intimate views of the sculptor at work are magical. (Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica).

Liza Ryan's photographic and video work is subtle and quiet. Often it seems as if nothing is happening, or if it is, it is a subtle gesture or the changes to grass blowing in a field. Ryan translates close and careful observation into photographs as well as in video installations. Three video works command the vast gallery space. "Sight Unseen" is a short loop with two projections, each filling a wall and meeting in the corner. On one side a young girl runs through the grass on an expansive field, on the other is a bird in flight. Whether projected or displayed on monitors, the videos explore the relationship between man and nature.

Liza Ryan, "Sight Unseen," 2008, 8mm film
transferred to video, running time: 2 minutes.
The still images pinpoint a specific place and time in the time based works that serves as a record of that event. The imagery is formally compelling, while also given a brief narrative structure (Griffin, Santa Monica).

Barbara Grover, photograph from the series "Refuge(e): With the Darfuri of Iridimi".

We are accustomed to representations of refugees from Darfur that, however well meaning, subsume the very real people there under these seeping abstractions of downtrodden victims with flies around their eyes. Such attempts at altruism are one dimensional and fail to impress us with the fact that the individuals undergoing these hardships and horrors are essentially like us. Only when we really see this might we be outraged and mobilized. Gorgeous color photographs that are neither overly sentimental nor sensational by Barbara Grover capture simple moments in the sun burnt pastel tones of arid desert dotted with the colorful hues of hand dyed textiles.
A mother nuzzles her infant tenderly as any mother might, while a barren stone slab just beyond reminds the viewer that this is not Kansas, Dorothy, let alone our local mall. Women walking in in this same sun-seared terrain with baskets on their heads are apprehensive yet graceful. A blissed out child unfurls a black swath of fabric overhead like a kite or a sail. It is a moment of oblivious child's play that refuses to concede to the region and its ravages. Grover has done photojournalism for the likes of “Time” magazine, and the crisp, clean look of these flat footed yet painfully human images attest to that lineage (Sherry Frumkin Gallery, Santa Monica).

Unleashed like Peter Pan’s unruly shadow, Park Sung-Tae’s aluminum screen, raised relief stallions buck across the wall, the unwoven screening wire creating startlingly realistic waving horse manes and tails. The horses are stylistically similar to the equine figures depicted in traditional Korean ink brush paintings and are quite arresting, especially when presented in a long horizontal acrylic box as the one to the right of the door. The images of human figures demand more contemplation, even if they don’t catch the eye as quickly as the writhing shapes of the horses. The largest work (all are untitled) is comprised of nearly a dozen ghostly apparitions suspended from the floor to the ceiling by gossamer fishing line and hooks.

Park Sung-Tae, 2008, screening wire.
The shadows cast on the wall merge with the substance of the physical forms, creating a lingering tension between what is and what is not material (PYO Gallery LA, Downtown).

Josh Dorman, "Aware River: Rhino" (detail), 2007,
antique maps and paper on wood panel, 20 x 16".

Josh Dorman uses maps and images from old textbooks as the basis for intricate collages. The works are extremely detailed and read like stream of consciousness creations. Dorman carefully arranges disparate maps to the surface of a panel using their lines as the framework for his additions. Often he adds watercolor marks, coloring in different sections of the original, directing the viewer's eye from place to place within the composition. Along the way he adds images of people, animals and fragments of text that come from varying sources to create quasi-narratives that stem from his imagination. Creatures inhabit landscapes and buildings, they travel in pairs as well as herds as they make their way through a fantasy land superimposed on the original graphic topographies (George Billis Gallery, Culver City).

The Passerby Museum, installation view, 2008.

The Passerby Museum, jointly curated by Maria Alos and Nicholas Dumit Estevez, was actually begun in New York City in 2002. Alos and Estevez have presented their work internationally--Claremont is the only venue in California. At each stop the pair invite ordinary folks, especially people who might not visit an art museum, to turn over personal objects for display, very often what is in their pockets. Its current manifestation includes over 3,000 objects, including a portion collected just for this display. Each object is equal in value to the other. Alos and Estevez's collaboration with the general public questions the assumed hierarchy of cultures and its creations, the schism between high and popular culture, while exposing and challenging the authority of art museums and their curators (Claremont Museum of Art, Claremont).

Dia de los Muretos (Day of the Dead), a survey curated by Oscar Magallanes,  presents thirty-five years of posters, prints, graphics and works-on-paper created by members of  East Los Angeles' Self-Help Graphics collective. The symbols of the Day of the Dead such as decorated candy skulls, candles, skeletal figures, altars, and paper flowers will be familiar to visitors, yet the range of techniques, style, and forms are varied, unique and often inspired (Galeria Rustica, Pomona).

Chris Gwaltney paints in a lush style, a combination of abstraction with hints of figures. It is a Magic Realism where the atmosphere of richly painted, scumbled vivid colors, drips and painterly flow embrace ambiguous people who seem to move towards us or move away in a dream-like ambiance. Rapid gestural strokes convey great energy. Gwaltney’s paintings are open ended, the style is free and unfinished and allows the viewer to fill in the essence of each story. The images, which call to mind those of the Bay Area Figuratives of half a century ago, are held tight by large, free, brushstrokes that move the eye into the picture, “a work in progress.” The series is about Gwaltney’s relationship with his father and his son. His elderly father has become more needy, while his son ascends to manhood. Gwaltney finds himself sandwiched in between. In the handsome series of oil and alkyd canvases the artist conveys, through the different figures and how they are positioned, the way in which roles have become reversed. The baby who needed him now does not; the father who he depended on now needs him the most. A shift in roles in the cycle of life translates youth transformed to old age, looking back at old age when young, and how, at every stage of life, there is always some form of interdependency (Peter Blake Gallery, Orange County).

Chris Gwaltney, "Mean, Manly, Anger'd,"
oil/alkyd on canvas, 80 x 60".

Nick Gerhard, "Endless Bummer 1, 2, & 3," digital print, 17 x 11".

A raft of Southern California printmakers dig enthusiastically from the Left, Right and Center of current political issues. Guest curated by Patrick Merrill to be a dialogue of diverse voices and opinions, they weigh in visually on everything from the war, torture, incompetence and greed in government, to condemnations of abortion and environmental destruction. Not all the pieces are as pissed off as you might expect, given the political season and the country’s economic condition. There is a tender pathos to Nick Gerhard’s “Endless Bummer” series of a totemic surfboard, firing guns and disabled vets.  Others, like Leslie Sokolow’s “2000” with its fuzzy blue and red Llinticular screen map of the U.S. that keeps morphing Florida from red to blue and back again, put a biting humor in their commentary. This close to the election it’s good to see we haven’t lost our sense of humor, nor our sense of outrage (O.T. Gallery, Orange County).  

The sfumato portraits immediately call Rembrandt to mind, not to mention contemporary Odd Nerdrum, and Ray Donley even goes so far at times to put his models in period costume. Goth portentiousness hangs heavy over the proceedings.  What throws you is that one moment we’re looking at an image straight out of the 17th century, the next its a 1940’s vintage horror or film noir, and then it lands us in the present.  More than any other show this month this one celebrates Halloween without having to yell “boo!” (Sarah Bain Gallery, Orange County).

Ray Donley, "Figure with Mask
and Yellow Cap," oil on can vas, 24 x 18".

Catherine Ledner shows works from her second conceptual photo book "Animal House."  She fashions or finds these 3-D toy-like composite, surreal animals that are simultaneously silly and sinister, with mildly bovine heads and birdlike feet. These are photographed in ultra slick color images that mix the serious gloss of the "art photo" with content that is pure fun (Tinlark Gallery, Hollywood).

Catherine Ledner, "Vulture," C-print, 40 x 32".

Maybe because we are in crisis mode as a planet, Ab Ex and free expression are definitely making a comeback. Amy Sillman shows twenty-three works on paper that look like visual notes to oneself. Layers are first printed on paper, colors are then worked over haphazardly yet rhythmically with hand applied gouache, and all manner of chalk and pencil marking. Scribbled notes in the margins, color patches, vague references to figuration give these the feel of freely associative thoughts, visual play or pictorial thinking (Susanne Vielmetter Projects, Culver City).

Amy Sillman, "Untitled (#1)," 2008, gouache,
chalk and pencil on etching on paper, 34 x 28".

In celebration of Robbie Conal’s career comes this monumental (for a gallery) retrospective of his work. The timing is apt as we approach this  all-important Presidential election and Conal remains best known for his satirical political posters we used to find plastered all over town. Highlighting his classical education and Renaissance-like technique, this overview stretches back to the 1970s, traces his ghostly paintings based on baseball pitchers, samples his charcoal-on-canvas drawings and also includes the accomplished and lush oil paintings that are the prototypes for those signature agit prop posters (Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica).

Robbie Conal, "Fireballer," 2006,
mixed media, 44 x 36".