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March, 2009

Upon entering the exhibition “Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures,” one walks between archival photos of a Germany bombed to oblivion, pounded to a pulp, completely and utterly devastated. But once inside the gallery, there are signs of life--art has returned to Germany. Most of the artists in the first room are obscure--except for Hannah Höch and Willi Baumeister--and obviously out of practice, emerging as most were after more than a decade of Nazi suppression. The styles are borrowed or out of date; the paintings are small and dark, but proudly proclaim the avant-garde. But “Daughter of Hecate II” (1945) explodes in a celebration of exuberant and vivid color so joyously that it doesn’t matter that this is not a great painting.

"Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures" installation view, 1960s:
Works by Dieter Roth, Gunther Uecker, Nam June Paik, and Heinz Mack.
The artist, Ernst Wilhelm Nay, seems simply glad to be handling paint freely. Walking out of the Room of the 1940s, the room of poignantly bad art, one is relieved to be greeted by the new decade. “16. 12. 52” by Karl Otto Götz shows that Germany has caught up with the rest of the world: Ab Ex and Tachime have arrived. But of greater interest is a section of art from East Germany, which starkly states the difference between art that is free and art that is chained to ideology and yoked to propaganda. Entering the wonderful room devoted to Group Zero, Dieter Roth’s “Chocolate Lion Tower” (1969) is an amazing sweet smelling construction of chocolate daschunds, and a delicious counterpoint to Günther Uecker’s hard and spiky objects nailed within an inch of their lives. A small group of exquisite abstract works by Blinky Palermo serves as a reminder of who and what is missing. Only a passageway is devoted to Joseph Beuys, and Fluxus itself is given a too cursory treatment. Photography, also of vital importance in Germany, has an understated presence: a few Bechers and a couple of early Struths and Ruffs. Sculpture is completely absent. One misses Rebecca Horn’s performances, especially since the other major figures of her generation, Kiefer, Polke and Immendorf, are prominently and appropriately celebrated. That said, the show, which is just the right size, ends when the Berlin Wall fell, on a high note, with some beautiful art by Richter and Trokel.  It adds up to the season’s best show (LACMA, West Hollywood). [Note—Hunter Drohojowska-Philp’s upcoming ArtScene Visual Radio program will feature an interview with the exhibition’s two lead curators—Ed.]

Allen Ruppersberg, "Poems & Placemats," 2008, color photographs, acrylic paint/medium, spray paint, and collage on panel, 48 x 48".
The title of this compelling group show titled "Reading Standing Up" is an oblique reference to the canonical-as-Greenberg text by Roland Barthes. The point being made is that a work of art is a maze of personal and cultural signs into which an artist embeds a myriad of meanings, and from which the viewer extracts their own version from among open ended narratives. Some of the artists included in this show are the great granddaddies of work stressing this important, now well quoted point about the construction of meaning: John Baldesasari, Joseph Kosuth, Jeffrey Vallance. But one also feels in viewing this terrific selection of artists represented by good examples, that the theory is laced on the surface so as to legitimize already good art with the imprimatur of theory. The show works by refusing to conform, no disrespect to Barthes. We see everything from lyrical pure form (Roy Dowell) to pure concept art (Al Ruppersberg). Alexis Smith and Brenna Youngblood also contribute as much more than footnotes to "Death of the Author” (Margo Leavin Gallery, West Hollywood).

Friends and contemporaries Melissa Brown and Mat Brinkman exhibit their new works on paper. At first inspection, Brown’s playful manipulation of Technicolor discarded scratch lottery tickets, and Brinkman’s often frightening paintings of mutating monsters engage in separate dialogues with the viewer, but in nearly no conversation with each other. Brown’s calculated handling of discarded lotto tickets transforms trash into a kaleidoscopic wonderland of words, shapes, and colors. Lotto tickets indicate the possibility of money, but Brown has turned them into signs that promote the promise of “Big Bucks” and the “$1,000 Club.” Brinkman’s paintings are crudely pinned to the wall, the majority of which appear in a separate room saturated by a green light bulb, and trace how the artist creates a face. The works operate in sequence, beginning with a form nearly impossible to decode while competing with the glaring green light. The final images depict twisted, gnarled visages with sunken eyes. Both Brown and Brinkman examine the darkness that creeps within the loins of humanity--whether it’s our demented psychosis or the seduction of one of the greatest deadly sins: greed (M+B Fine Art, West Hollywood).

Melissa Brown, "Money Bees," 2009,
$1,933 in used scratch off tickets, 28 x 28".

Erin Cosgrove, "GR8 MENZ," 2009, cel-vinyl on one-
sided film with archival ink with liquid leaf, 48 x 36".
Erin Cosgrove’s exhibition “What Manner of Person Art Thou?” provides the viewer with a back story to her hour-long video by the same name constituting a separate showing at the Hammer Museum. We are introduced to a Henry Darger-esque recluse, on-line gamer, and casualty of a scurvy-induced junk food diet. The rear gallery gives us a short video on the foundational scroll--as well as the remaining segments--which take us from the Garden of Eden through the Apocalypse. Cosgrove translates the running commentary of the Bayeux Tapestry to the Pig Latin of “L337 Sp34k” (Leet Speak) the vernacular  of Generation Y chat rooms. The front gallery seduces us with large-scale animation cells of her polychronic universe, populated by mashups of perverse illuminated manuscript marginalia, showing us a contemporary Garden of Earthly Delights (Carl Berg Gallery, West Hollywood; Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

Mark Dutcher’s work is consistently bright, fun, and full of life; it tends to put a smile on your face. His new body of work is no exception. The sculptures and wall-works included here nearly pulsate with the artist’s bright, primary palette and fast, loose painting style. Glitter, feathers, and bits of torn canvas are added to the mix to great effect. The use of an X motif as a shape for sculpture or direction for paint adds a level of pathos to these otherwise playful works, which are strengthened by the added dimension (Steve Turner Contemporary, West Hollywood).

Mark Dutcher, "Sylvester (Do you want to funk?),"
2008, acrylic, oil, paintstick, feathers
and canvas on wood, 92 x 72 x 4".

Uri Nir, "Mommy," 2008, video still.

In his video installation titled “Mommy,” Uri Nir re-acquaints viewers with one of the earliest conventions of cinema, the match cut. Nir’s cinematic concerns recall Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s “Un Chien Andalou,” and Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera.” The match cut is rendered useless without the proper editing technique. Nir’s fast-paced sequences connect a mummy and a prop Pharaoh’s coffin suspended between the bare wooden beams of the artist’s studio. Gallons of sand flood into the mummy’s mouth while he struggles to continue breathing. Nir immediately cuts to the exterior of Pharaoh’s tomb, also receiving the sand. The image of the mummy repeats but the Pharaoh’s tomb is turned upside down, forcing the sand out. The soundtrack meant to strengthen the visual connection between objects sounds as though as an amateur were left to adjust the levels on the mixing board (LAXART, Culver City).

Patrick Hill, "Screen" (detail), 2009, wood, glass,
concrete, steel, epoxy, dye, ink, 81 x 82 x 108".

As the screens of our iPhone, HDTV, computer, etc. come to define what we see and know, fine art keeps shape-shifting and finding ways to refer to traditional art media in relation to these new ways we use and visualize the world. Patrick Hill comes at this inquiry via sculptures that all use big floor-bound beams painted matte black. They cannot help but call up for us tried and true things, such as urban architecture and the modernist grid writ real in 3-D. He adds to the four large sculptures handsome panes of glass that teeter precariously but elegantly. These add associations with the aforementioned screens, mirrors and windows. Over many of the extending parts, Hill has gruff concrete accretions, as well as  stained pink and erotic swaths of gooey canvas. These latter tell us that the hand of the artist also will never be undone by the virtual (David Kordansky Gallery, Culver City).

Patrick Henry College students won’t be waving pom-poms in the Rose Bowl any time soon. Instead, their goal is to lead the charge that will carry America back to God, fielding teams of conservative young Christians who can learn to score big and influence the direction of our country. Santa Monica-based photographer Jona Frank captures the students in a flat footed, frontal, visually insistent format we know from the digital-age-as-simulacra school of recent photography. But Frank works with a 4 X 5 camera, so that acuity is punched up to a level of near discomfort on life at this “Harvard for homeschoolers.” The formality, determination and reserve of its coeds as they aspire to “glorify God with their appearance” leaves you, on the one hand, wondering what all the fuss and rancorous division is behind the so-called culture wars. These are just kids. On the other hand, behind the squeaky clean surface can be read a "my way or the highway" existential zeal of the fanatic.

Jona Frank, "Justin Jenkins," 2009, color photograph.

The 28 color photographs of students and their families chosen from Frank’s book, “Right: Portraits from the Evangelical Ivy League,” are carefully positioned to underscore the artist’s sensitivity to the ability of sightlines, surroundings, gestures and attire to influence our response to her subjects (Sherry Frumkin Gallery, Santa Monica).

Marianne Mueller, "Dream-US-09: Untitled (Roter,
nasser, Torso (Man Ray)), 1997, C-print, 59 x 39.37".

Marianne Mueller’s photographs present bodies and locations that are dislocated, disconnected, and bare. Many of the photographs have been blown up to glossy poster-size and are pinned at odd heights on the gallery walls, presenting the viewer with an awkward vantage point and establishing a forced distance between the surveyor and the surveyed. Mueller expresses female vulnerability through the juxtaposition of black and white photographs of breasts, arms, and legs with an empty bathtub, and a vacant bed with sheets still creased from the night before. The body is anonymous because the eyes are never photographed, and thus a parallel is drawn between the empty vessel of the human form and the objects that surround her. Mueller even photographs Los Angeles through a voyeuristic lens, recalling places once visited and now occupied by strangers. She even photographs the exterior of the host gallery, and thereby positions herself as an artist in Los Angeles, on the outside trying to introduce the work to the inside (Kim Light/Lightbox, Culver City).

Mineo Mizuno, "Coexistence," installation view, 2009.

It’s not often that an exhibition of contemporary art could easily be mistaken for a meditation room or a Zen garden, at least not without a hint of irony. Mineo Mizuno accomplishes this with authenticity. Mizuno’s ovular ceramic spheres, each punctured with round holes that sprout multiple varieties of moss, dot the floor like small, vibrant islands. An elaborate system of tubes and pipes overhead provides intermittent mists that water the plants. The clay functions like earth, absorbing water to nourish the plants, while drops fall musically onto the lush, green moss, and slide down the smooth ceramic curves in this multidimensional installation (Samuel Freeman, Santa Monica).

James Rojas, "Santa Monica Off The Grid" (detail),
2009, mixed media, 30 x 48 x 96".

The group show Shangri L.A.: Architecture as a State of Flux explores Shangri Los Angeles, not to be confused with Shangri-la, an earthly paradise sequestered from the outside world. The main attraction of the show is James Rojas’ “Interactive 3D Model” a semi-circular tabletop on wheels made of entirely moveable parts. Household items like screws, Jenga blocks, Chinese dominos, and imitation glassware serve as the infrastructure of L.A. in model size. The piece is perfect for those who couldn’t bear to part with their Erector sets and Legos, or who just always wanted a hand at city planning. Rojas has mapped out the perimeters of Los Angeles beginning with Santa Monica Bay, characterized by blue shiny tape, and extending Eastbound to the Crescent.

Rojas is a project manager for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transport Authority, and has plans to create a metro line that will run from downtown to the beach. Although the Interactive Model looks different from when it was first constructed by Rojas, it reminds the viewer that no matter how much LA may change, a metro line will one day exist as a fixed element (18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica).

With a decidedly feminine slant, Rebekah Bogard imbues her cute doe-eyed bunny creatures and their intimate interactions with a large dose of sexuality. Pale pink and quite hairless, each coupled pair of ceramic animals is quite engrossed in their own private piece of relationship history, whether it be whispered somethings or an arched back of orgasmic ecstasy. The manga-like make-believe creatures have just barely enough detail to be considered animals. Their shiny pale porcelain skin and pink puckered anuses all serve to make us feel as though we are seeing more than we should. Effective as a unified installation, this show will lure you to venture further abroad to see Bogard’s concurrent show in East L.A. The body of work in the concurrent museum show, “Twilight,” was created during her divorce, and the endearing creatures populating the room reflect the sometimes impossibility of connecting with another. This show also links Bogard’s work from graduate school, heavily influenced from the natural world and more static, to her current stylized and bucolic installations.

Rebekah Bogard, "Botany of Desire," 2007,
earthware, underglaze, glaze, 26 x 19 x 10
Clearly envisioned as an installation, with the walls painted a deep teal to match the palette of the flora and fauna in the room, the scattered pairs and solo animals reveal the artist’s progressive interest in relationships (Sam Lee, Chinatown; East L.A. College’s Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles).

Arnaldo Roche, "Tell Me If I’m Swimming Upstream: Pre-Raphaelite Paradigm,
2005, oil on canvas 7' x 10' Courtesy of Walter Otero Gallery, Puerto Rico
Arnaldo Roche’s enormous paintings—some measuring 12 feet by 24 feet--are also huge in technique, brush strokes and historic references. Known as the pre-eminent Post-Expressionist painter in Puerto Rico, Roche’s thickly painted works pay homage to Van Gogh with large vibrant sunflowers. He also evokes Matisse, referencing the artist’s “Dance,” and Picasso’s blue period. Many pieces express Roche’s unresolved issues with the accidental death of his sister, killed by his own brother. Which is why he identifies with Van Gogh. Roche often employs the frottage technique, or rubbing against a textured surface.

He applies huge, tropical leaves to still wet paint, then removes them. He also wraps a canvas around an object, such as the artist’s car, or around a live person (as in “After the Tsunami”), then paints over that object. Roche’s work is deeply personal, vibrant and conceptual, telling stories beyond the apparent subject matter (Museum of Latin American Art [MoLAA], Long Beach).

There is tremendous depth to Russian-born Victoria Goro-Rapaport’s large scale etchings, but we only get to it in stages. At first we are simply impressed by her skill as a printmaker, stunned by the very evident labor of her lush blacks built from masses of dense line and detail. We are drawn close to these massive prints by their range of tone and the tender sensitivity of her soft, organic grounds. Impressive too is the inventive way she masterfully combines different printmaking techniques in a single image. But it is the black and white images themselves, filled with dynamic, disjunctive bodies huddling or writhing amid disturbing, symbolic terrains that eventually compel us to stand back. Suggestive of the engravings by Gustave Doré made for Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” these prints reference the kind of fantastic moral tales of sacrifice and loss found in Greek myths and biblical stories. It is this eternal, frustrated quest for ultimate meaning and redemption that the artist draws us into with her fabulous drawing and a grand scale that lifts the spirits. Yet ultimately we find only a disintegrating, dark world with humanity repeatedly undone and betrayed by organized religion, science, philosophy and it own desires. It’s a very Russian perspective (OT Gallery, Orange County).

Victoria Goro-Rapaport, "Theater in
the Woods," 2008, etching, 36 x 24".

Rita Blitt, "Mystery and Grandeur," 2004,
stainless steel, 61 x 45 x 10".

Rita Blitt introduces smaller than usual works crafted from bronze, wood and stainless steel as well as a selection of paintings that echo, albeit somewhat roughly, the fluid lines of her relief sculptures. “Mystery and Grandeur” is a stainless steel wall sculpture that, with its interplay of line and texture, brings to mind totems or iconography of ancient religion. It is the most dramatic piece among works that are otherwise distinguished by a gracefully flowing geometry reminiscent of dance movements. “Sacred Moment” embodies the latter and also gives this small but cogent show its name. Since dance forms a large part of Blitt’s inspiration, the gallery also airs a five minute video that shows Blitt working with a dance troupe. Painting on Mylar, Blitt creates lines echoing the dancers’ movement and vice-versa: Blitt’s independent inspiration choreographs the dancers. Pieces like “Sense of the Sublime” and “Silent Energy” contain the unique alchemy of simply drawn lines with the energy of physical movement that is the hallmark of Blitt’s body of work (Marion Meyer Contemporary, Orange County).

“Manzanar Pilgrimage” by Mark Kirchner consists of 75 black and white photographs of the Manzanar National Historic Landmark (Owens Valley, CA) taken from 1983 to 2008. The photos portray landscapes, people on pilgrimages and close-ups of man-made remains (such as traditional gardens) of the World War II Japanese Internment Camp. These are shot by a patient yet relentless photographer, intent on capturing the camp’s unfolding human drama. He portrays internment camp survivors, their children, supporters, spiritual sympathizers (such as modern-day Muslims, identifying with interred Japanese American citizens), ceremonial performers such as taiko drummers and Shinto preachers. The exhibition is also conceptual, as stories behind the photos go way beyond the visual, necessitating the telling of these stories in extensive wall panels.

Mark Kirchner, "Clearing Storm,
Manzanar Cemetery," 2007, photograph.
Kirchner explains, “The process of witnessing the pilgrimages over many years has given me the time to attempt a holistic photographic document. . .I have strived to communicate a human story” (Soka University, Founders Art Gallery, Orange County).

Carol K, Brown, "Passerby 81012,"
2008, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16".

Photography and painting mingle in Carol K. Brown’s artwork. Not only does she use both mediums; more interestingly, she injects photographic strategies into her acrylic paintings. As in her earlier “Pedestrian” paintings, Brown’s focus is the street. And once again, she presents her subjects, homeless people in this series, studio portrait-style. The subjects are not posed, but the backgrounds are sanitized, almost-white canvas. The only props are a bench, bags, or a cart. There are no streets, no sidewalks, no buildings—nothing to distract the viewer from looking directly at the subject. In “Passersby 81012” you notice details—the beard, the hat, the jacket—and realize the three, gray-haired homeless men are really one person, seen from three perspectives. Eliminating the subjects’ environment does something else, too. This technique imbues them with a powerful sense of isolation and alienation (Scott White Contemporary Art, San Diego).

Daniel Ruanova’s giant (ten feet tall and thirty feet long) metal sculpture more than fills the space available. Its projections, constructed from metal studs, ram into the wall, scraping away it’s smooth surface. Is it an oversized toy? A space vehicle? A weapon? It is the accompanying large painting, with “Security” embedded in the pattern of metal-like ribbons, that directs the viewer’s reading of the sculpture. The embedded pentagonal shapes are intentionally symbolic, not just structural. In the smaller gallery, Gustavo Velasquez’ constructions, made mostly from cast-off materials (used tea bags, old yarn, well-worn or charred wood), provide a contrast in size and sensibility.

Daniel Ruanova, "Defend: Security/Constructs
of People Fearing Society," 2008, steel sculpture.
The impersonal (cold metal) is replaced with materials with a human history. The sheets hanging in “Paper Trail” could be remnants of a printing job, with their ink outline of the printer’s plate. Despite the differences, a common thread runs through Ruanova’s and Velasquez’s artwork. Both artists address the border, a ubiquitous issue in San Diego (Luis de Jesus Seminal Projects, San Diego).

Susan Van Atta, untitled architectural rendering.

"Postmodern Calligraphies" is an object lesson in the breaking of the boundaries of fixed practice. Tim Griffith's photographs, Pedro Haberbosch's architectural drawings, landscape architecture by Susan Van Atta and Guillermo Gonzales meaningfully call attention to the intricate conversation between the natural and built environment. Griffith's photographs echo the show's theme via quiet juxtapositions between familiar sites and nostalgic, undecipherable ruins. The collaborative architectural installations by Van Atta and Gonzales move the eye in 3-D and make us consider the aesthetic and functional aspects of space. Pedro Haberbosch's exquisite drawings, take us back and forth in time as they recall the inspired doodling--part art, part science--of Leonardo. The show is mounted throughout the library, not so much as a display of discrete authored works, but as sequential evidence of each artist's creative process. The nice call and response that underlies their collective creativity is partly the product of astute hanging, and partly because of the underlying themes of space, time, imagination, interior vs. exterior, and the nature of memory (CSU Channel Islands, John Spoor Broome Library Gallery, Ventura County).

Martin Gunsaullus, "Untitled (April 2007)," 2007, ink,
acrylic, watercolor, pencil, china marker on paper, 15 x 11".

Martin Gunsaullus exhibits new paintings on wood and paper after a nearly two decade hiatus. Most of these intimately scaled and intense works contain images of figures--wait up--in crowded groups, but with their eyes closed, or hand-to-mouth as if to suppress a scream. The artist uses a loose, ruddy expressive style and tonality that conveys an essential human separateness. The faces of these gathered heads look a bit trapped and tormented; in collectives but isolated. These are powerful in the same way that a Kafka story grabs you--by empathy and dis-ease rather than by aesthetic pleasure (Western Project, Culver City).