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April, 2009

“Beyond” is a diverse retrospective of Dan Graham’s architectural models, photographs, film and video installations, conceptual designs for magazines and writings. The show opens with three of his pavilions constructed out of sleek metal and glass.  They require you to literally step inside of them and notice the perceptual shift that takes place. Graham’s calculated positioning of the glass parts allows for the viewer to see what’s behind them, and then gaze into infinite space. “Beyond” is interactive throughout, encouraging the viewer to pick up headphones hanging on the walls so as to listen to performance pieces, or sit on small floor pillows inside partially enclosed units and watch Graham’s videos.

Dan Graham, “Heart Pavilion,” 1991, Installed in “1991
Carnegie International,” Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.
Perhaps the most engaging installation, and the one that makes the greatest comment on technology is “Opposing Mirrors and Video Monitors on Time Delay” (1974).  You enter a room with mirrors on either end and two cameras facing in opposite directions. The viewer confronts their own image on one mirror and sees a video of themselves on the mirror behind. When you turn around to acknowledge the other camera, the delay occurs. You see yourself in the present while facing one camera, while seeing yourself in the past on the other. Don’t pass over the artist’s low tech take on the objective and subjective, “Roll.” Displayed back to back, the pair of grainy 1970 film clips capture an outsider’s view of the artist rolling down a hill in opposition to the jarring descent captured by Graham himself, camera in hand, body parts flying. It’s like glancing at job layoff statistics listed in the news compared to feeling the bottom falling out when you are issued a pink slip with your name on it. Also worthy of your attention are the bleak “Homes for America” spread, performance documentations, models of architectural interventions and the rollicking, hour long 80’s video, “Rock My Religion” (MOCA, Downtown).

Diane Calder/A. Moret

Roger Kuntz (1926-1975), "Blimp,” 40 x 50”, oil on canvas.
In 1961 Roger Kuntz found a concrete culvert in Laguna Beach. This serendipitous discovery confirmed what he already had been working on. Kuntz sought to pinpoint the intersection of representation and abstraction in painting, and the culvert seemed to contain both possibilities. Calling it “Middle Ground,” it became the basis of an artistic quest that continued for the rest of his short life. The “Freeway” series is composed of industrial structures: ramps, tunnels, pylons and concrete slabs. These subjects’ formal appearance represented the non-objective nature of abstraction, while their functionality became the real. His forte lay in rendering the interplay of light and shadow and investigating its resulting fields of color and shape. This survey argues that he could combine technique and aesthetic direction like few others. A 1962 painting, “Arroyo Seco” ranks among the best along those lines.
He veered away from his signature freeways to paint the interior of his beach house (“Interior of the Artist’s Home”), or set an abstracted figure into a garden setting. And when he was not channeling Neo-impressionists, as in the remarkable 1963-65 “Bathtub” series, he was making bronze sculptures of frolicking beachgoers or Yoga enthusiasts. He also found inspiration in the Goodyear Blimp (“Blimp”) and presented some equally remarkable views of tennis courts. What distinguishes him the most, though, is the series of figurative paintings that, in the context of the ‘50s and ‘60s, put off critics the most. The young artist was pegged as an up and coming major talent by many, including art gurus such as Walter Hopps. Kuntz was in the right place at the right time, and he produced paintings that were profound and prolific. But he walked away from the hubbub of Los Angeles, preferring the quieter life of Claremont and Laguna Beach. Sadly, he died at age 49. One can only speculate that perhaps having left the limelight, he also willingly sacrificed fame, which this revival exhibition suggests was his for the taking (Laguna Art Museum, Orange County).

Roberta Carasso/Daniella Walsh

The most direct route to the Getty Center from Japan cuts over the Pacific Ocean. However, Tales in Sprinkled Gold: Japanese Lacquer for European Collectors took a more circuitous path through London. This enticing show presents restored selections from the Victoria and Albert’s superb collection of Japanese lacquerware. It features the Mazarin Chest, an elaborate example of makie (lacquer art sprinkled with gold), fabricated in Kyoto for export to wealthy European collectors in the mid-17th century. Decorated with scenes from “The Tale of Genji,” the story of medieval courtly intrigue written by Lady Murasaki that is widely accepted as the world’s first novel, the oversized chest is accompanied by several smaller lacquered pieces, one possibly owned by Marie Antoinette. All were crafted in painstakingly elaborate processes involving the seasoning of pine or cypress wood for as long as 50 years, the building up and polishing of dozens of layers of toxic lacquer and its decoration with metals, shells and colored pigments, beautifully fashioned to commemorate Japanese life while appealing to Western tastes (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).


Francis Picabia, “Baigneurses,” c. 1935-37,
oil on panel, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8”.
The sphere of influence of Francis Picabia is visible in the semblance of his work to that of Picasso, Matisse, and Gauguin, and noted in the artists he counted among his friends: Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Stieglitz, and Andre Breton. His career spanned through the Impressionist, Cubist, Dada, and Surrealist decades, and his works are a whimsical nod at the styles of each. The drawing “Personage à la Scie” presents three figures in tribal garb that are given faces that look like the primitive masks found in Picasso’s “Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon.” The two bodies that have sea-sawed into each other in “Les deux Amies” are a nod to the romantic gesture of Matisse’s work. The range of selections here pays homage to Picabia’s versatility, complexity and influence (Patrick Painter Melrose Gallery, West Hollywood).


With not a single titled work in this abstract exhibition, Albert Contreras permits our subjectivity a chance to breathe and imagine in new paintings that create a tension between an organic sensibility and geometric diamond gridding. Raked “X”s move through the surface, as Contreras also layers acrylic lusciously on canvases in waves of candy-colored hues. Each work gleams with glittery under-paint as the thickly laid down, high-gloss medium undulates then is quickly disrupted by the sharp contrast of the white, shimmering grid. The viewer is trapped between wanting to both touch and consume the bejeweled aesthetics, unable to decide if intentional decorative kitsch is the main objective here,

Albert Contreras, “Untitled,” acrylic on canvas.

or if the white cube that the work sits in confers this perception--as is the case for so many contemporary artists. These paintings are fascinating, not only for their pure aesthetic pleasure, but for the fact that a seventy-five year old artist is painting with the panache of an art school grad student (Peter Mendenhall Gallery, West Hollywood).

Alexx Shaw

Watch teenagers’ reactions to Thomas Hirschhorn, they figure to be immediately drawn to his collaged “Tattoo” series. This stuff resembles nothing so much as a high school kid’s binder cover with its repeating skull and crossbones stickers and obsessive doodles in blue and red ink over collaged bodies. The unsuspecting viewer stands contemplating the six large squares arranged in a grid. Suddenly expressions morph from the initial interest to horror. They have certainly noticed the headless, mutilated body twisted in a field, and perhaps picked up on the repetitive tits and ass emerging from the background onslaught of visual information. Despite the distaste--or because of it—you cannot help but pull away, but are also compelled to scan the other images for more. Hirschhorn conjures and laments the glossy ease with which pop culture distracts us from seeing disturbing atrocities. This leaves the most penetrating impression in a group show that includes paintings by Lari Pittman and ceramic work by Andrew Lord (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).

Jeannie R. Lee

Dave Muller, installation view, 2009.

In the early 1990’s, one could visit Dave Muller’s downtown loft for one of his now infamous “Three-Day Weekends.” To the left was his private living space, to the right was a makeshift gallery; standing at the nexus between to two spaces was Muller’s record collection, with something perpetually spinning on a turntable. For “I Am The Walrus,” Muller brings together the public and private, showing his large-scale drawings of album covers and other personal ephemera. His first record purchase as well as houses from his childhood neighborhood make an appearance, and in the main room, images collected from his “private side” are paired up like exquisite corpses, making strange bedfellows of Jackson Pollock and Baja puffer fish souvenirs.

The large-scale works are arranged like giant dominoes, bringing your eye across the floor and up the walls, matching up bovine landscapes and Beatles ephemera (Blum & Poe Gallery, Culver City).

Michael Buitron

Tom Dowling’s exhibition of fifteen works defies categorization. He refers to them as hybrid paintings, shaped canvases, geometric shapes and photographic collages. In spite of the apparent simplicity of the works, they exert a powerful magnetism. They have their roots in the geometry of Piet Mondrian, ‘60s stripe paintings, minimalism and, further back, Russian Constructivism and the German Bauhaus. Paintings on paper and canvas/panel include older (1989) works, but the majority are current, and several, like “Still Life With Picture Frame” and “Mondrian’s Escape,” underwent two decade-long metamorphoses. He lets the elegance of geometry speak for itself. There is little to distract the senses and yet, if inclined to flights of fantasy, one can take cues from some of the titles such as “Roma” and “Positano,” which pay homage to cities in Italy he has visited. He refers to the tall linear constructions as “zips,” the term used by Barnett Newman in reference to the lines that traverse his canvases, but instead of keeping lines flat in the manner of his predecessors, Dowling adds texture by layering paint until some of the “zips” resemble tall candles in the making (At Space Gallery, Orange County).

Liz Goldner/DW

Tom Dowling, mixed media.

Sky Burchard, “Double Trigger,” 2009,
steel with patina, EPS foam, sign paint, 48" x 58" x 16".

Modeled after the linear geometric icons found in video games like “Super Mario,” the foam sculptures of Sky Burchard transport life size video game components into the real world. “All Year Round Falling in Love” displays meticulous skill made precious by the feeling that the foam is fragile to the touch. Each sculpture corresponds to a maquette in plexiglas which hangs on the adjacent gallery wall. Burchard juxtaposes the different intricate shapes of each sculpture to a feeling--solitude, intensity and isolation.  “Avoidance” is the only feeling not to be represented by a prototype. The implication in Burchard’s work is that in an alternate cyber-world there is a particular signage to accommodate a virtual existence just as there is one to denote existence in the real world (Circus Gallery, West Hollywood).


Vik Muniz, "After Ed Ruscha (Norm’s La Cienega on Fire)," 2008, Digital C-print, 48 x 95".

A show titled "Seeing is Believing" plays on the now old questions regarding originality, the cult of art stardom, and the meaning of repetition--the three pillars of post modernism. Vik Muniz, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, Richard Pettibone and Elaine Sturtevant "sample" each other as well as a variety of textbook artists in works that demand that we ask ourselves key questions about an artist's "historical" style as the definitive mark of her or his value. Muniz does a seductive little take-off on Ruscha's burning gas station; only his Pop disaster is a very abstracted Norm's restaurant with its own wry charm. Pettibone pushes the point by making a near perfect "Demoiselles D'Avignon" that we are amused by but never in awe of---tacking on the quip, "why is that?" His Warhol-esque "Marilyn" (from the famous movie still) is less of a direct copy and somehow therefore strikes us as more "art" than rip off. What infuses this show with life is that the quotations--Sturtevant's bright Andy-ish poppies, her Stella-esque lined geometries, Pettibone's "Black Bean" soup cans--are hung alongside vintage originals, like Ruscha’s still compelling ‘60s "Standard Station." The  conveyed here is that the progress of art actually has always rested on an active, fluid interchange of traditions. This idea is most striking in Muniz' very cool pointillistic, color swatched, carefully mapped chromogenic spin-off of a "transcendent" Rothko oil (Ikon Limited Fine Art, Santa Monica).

Jeanne Willette

Sigrid Sandstrom, "Untitled," 2009, acrlic on board, 18 x 24".

Sigrid Sandstrom’s acrylic paintings withstand a good amount of looking. In one of her untitled pieces, the pile of what appears to be collaged bits of torn and cut paper in the foreground anchor the eye, but the atmospheric background has, surprisingly, the same amount of presence--giving the sensation of an abstraction floating in a landscape. The word “floating” may lead to an appropriate analogy, for as much as these works depend upon an oscillation between the fore- and background, the tension between the two is not so much a struggle as it is a rhythmic balance. The fact that Sandstrom employs trompe l’oeil--all the elements are painted--is really beside the point (The Company, Chinatown).


In “You Thrill Me” photographer and video artist Eileen Cowin weaves sentimental love songs into vignettes that invite us to investigate her favorite binaries, fact verses fiction in public and private personal relationships. An attractive young blond, whose image is projected onto both sides of a large screen, sheds tears as she replays a televised love scene. The protagonist interacts with a series of four male actors, demonstrating her vulnerability in settings familiar to any movie fan. In Cowin’s skilled use of split screen staging, framing and cropping enrich the narrative, challenging us to separate truth from fiction. Sounds from this large, single channel video projection, “Sentimental Over You,” drift over to the other side of the gallery, coloring reactions to dual lines of eight video monitors hung at eye level.

Eileen Cowin, still from “Sentimental Over You,” 2008, split screen video.
With their barely animated head shots framed against blackened walls, relatives and acquaintances of the artist, male and female, at various stages of life, cycle through brief video loops, pausing at random to blow us a kiss (Pasadena City College Art Gallery, Pasadena).


Suburban life in the Simi valley apparently made Korean born artist Susie Pak feel like an alien. Upon reading the original text of “The Wizard of Oz,” Pak related to Dorothy’s displacement and the trying tale of the tin woodsman. The alienated Pak decided to step into Dorothy’s glittering shoes to investigate her own past and it’s relation to the woodsman’s quest. Pouring her heart out, Pak enhances her vividly painted, sherbet colored compositions with collage and sculptural elements worthy of a collection of artifacts guarded by a lover. The artist’s empathy and sense of humor refresh and enliven this body of original and personal work (LouWe Gallery, South Pasadena).


Susan Pak, "My Dark Past," 2009, plywood, mixed media, 36 x 36".

The works of American photographer George Tice express a fascination between two wholly separate modes of life, the urban and the rural. One gallery presents large black and white photographs of city spaces void of any remnants of human life. A Mobil gas station is photographed beneath strips of glaring florescent lights, while an oil well looms ominously overhead. An abandoned telephone booth is brightly lit on the side of an empty country road, while a carousel continues to operate despite the absence of children. Smaller works of the Amish country depict a flock of sheep concealed in a low fog, a lone horse grazing in vast acreage, and farmhands dutifully going about their chores. The dichotomy here is that the city space is an empty concrete wonderland, while the lonesome frontier is actually thriving with life (Peter Fetterman Gallery, Bergamot Station).


George Tice, “Petit's Mobil Station, Cherry Hill”.

Carlos and Jason Sanchez, color photograph.

The large-scale photographs of Carlos and Jason Sanchez examine the familial and the personal. The family fulfills traditional practices, with members consoling each other during times of loss. The individual however is left to navigate through the world alone when they seek to discover and unmask their own identity. The photographs navigate this through a Christening scene in which a mother dressed in sapphire blue garb resembling the Virgin Mary holds her child while he is blessed with holy water. What the parents and the priest fail to see, however, is a gaping bloody gash on the back of the child’s head. A masked figure admires his newly cut ski mask in a hand mirror; an estranged man walks in the woods over forgotten train tracks. The deep focus and rich colors employed in Sanchez’s photographs simply ask: what is our place in the world? (DNJ Gallery, West Hollywood)


Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have traveled the African continent for 30 years and in the process chronicled African culture as it is rarely seen. There are series educating viewers about rituals surrounding birth and death, weddings, funerals and communion with the spirits. The images are both didactic and breathtakingly beautiful. The exhibition is a very well designed amalgam of video clips, music, still photographs and pieces of African art from the Bowers’ permanent collection as well as a few loaned pieces. Photographs and videos chronicling the art of body painting and stills of Wodaabe male “charm dancers” are particularly engaging in the way they deftly defuse stereotypes of gender roles. In the case of the Wodaabes, men wear the fancy costumes and make-up to dance themselves into the affections of female judges. It is hard to resist the Nigerian funeral practice that allows the dead to depart stylishly in fantasy coffins resembling fish, cars, or in a brontosaurus no less. We also learn that Berber women, even though Muslim, only veil their faces for their weddings. Contrary to incessant news of menace and massacre in Africa, “Passages” offers a more realistic picture of the beauty and cultural wealth of the continent (Bowers Museum, Orange County).


Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher,
color photograph.

Rik van Glintenkamp, "The Questionable
Dr. Cook," 2008, collage, 24 x 20”.

Some of the names, Shackleton and Byrd, for example, are familiar; others, such as Dee and Frobisher, may not be. Not unless you’re a Polar exploration devotee, as Rik van Glintenkamp is. Both his passion and his expertise are evident in this exhibit on fifty Arctic and Antarctic explorers. The text and collages read like a book’s pages displayed on the walls. The text provides the facts. The collages explore the connections, including some amusing ones. What’s a torn image of James Bond doing in a collage on sixteenth century navigator Dr. John Dee? Dee, later a court astrologer and spy, was the first, signing his correspondences “007.” The exhibit will impart you with knowledge, and might also instill in you a bit of old-fashioned wanderlust (San Diego Mesa College Art Gallery, San Diego).

Judith Christensen

Argentinean conceptual artist Claudio Gallina makes a provocative installation that deals with childhood and memory called "Between Memory and Oblivion." In the way that Mike Kelly can invoke childhood's darkest corners by recreating its fetish objects, this South American brings a distinctly Latin poetry and magic to a recreation of a children's classroom filled with those little claustrophobic desks that evoke both fear and longing from any adult who sees them. The space is also replete with chalkboards, a hop scotch game and a proliferation of childlike drawings and video work that encourage that state of remembrance that can bring both discomfort and nostalgia.

Claudio Gallina, “Catarata,” 2008, acrylic and oil on linen, 78 3/4 x 39 1/2”.
There is a feeling reminiscent of Ernesto Pujol's work in its evocation of transience, things lost, and the odd property of past reality, namely that it exists as Proust told us: only in memory (Museum of Latin American Art [MoLAA], Long Beach).


Christie Reynolds, “Weapons of Mass
Destruction,” hand painted etching.

Bustiers made from clothespins, retro/futuristic leather capes, an evening gown made from crime scene isolation tape, woven what-is-its and an exquisite gown created from shredded paper that at first glance looks like newspaper, but is really assembled from cut-up bible pages. Made by Hiromi Tsuchiya and titled “Love from my Heart,” the dress might have caused consternation ten years ago when Santa Ana artist Connie Sasso suspended condoms in a jar filled with honey and gave local politicos apoplexy. Now, this entire exhibition shows that we have grown up and can indeed wrap ourselves in our faith or step outside religion altogether. Taken in by the title, one might expect from “Fashionistas,” frivolity or outright inanity along the lines of stuff that passes for fashion in the “real” world; be advised, there is none. Instead artists poke good-natured fun at the concept of  “beauty having a price” as in Yume’s painting titled “Fashionista.” There is also evidence of wit, solid craftsmanship and a bit of social messaging in the form of Sheila Klein’s elaborate aprons titled “Other Clothing.”

The pieces seemingly interact with the spate of ‘50s oriented films that address women’s roles as wives and homemakers. It also suggests that clothes can be aggrandizing, Potemkin-like facades. This clothes thing, as Liz Botkin’s charming photographs of little girls trying on adult shoes documents, starts early. It’s also part of the theater found in everyday life. Courtney Nearburg steers away from fashion per se by photographing a young woman in the guise of several male personae, including a used car salesman, gangster and trailer park manager. Then again, there is something to be said for no clothing at all, as seen in Michael Berkowitz’s sepia photographs of models clad in nothing but pearl lingerie and headdresses in the manner of old peep show photos. It’s all well put together and just fanciful good fun (OCCCA, Orange County).


The Good Life, California Watercolors 1930-1950 revisits a time when life was ostensibly simpler, meaning choices were either absent or, if available, fewer and cleaner cut than they seem today. The show features the usual stalwarts, Emil Kosa, Dong Kingman, Millard Sheets and Phil Dike along with lesser known talent such as Arthur Beaumont, Louis Macqouillard and a lone woman, Dorothy Sklar. The latter, represented by “Everybody’s Market,” does not exactly stand out as a painting but does offer an engaging study of life in the inner city as it was during that time. Sklar does not waste much time with technique, meaning exactitude, but zeroes in on the people surrounding a storefront, its window filled with a mountain of fresh watermelons and other produce. Sheets tops the charts here with “Symphony under the Stars, Hollywood Bowl” (1956), a painting that is not only technically superb but perfectly captures the atmosphere of an evening in a sparsely filled venue.

Rex Brandt (1914 -2000), “Newport Jetty,”
watercolor on paper, 17 1/2 x 21 1/2".
Then again, Kosa and Milford Zornes show us the California countryside and sections of Los Angeles as they saw them then. Amazingly, at least in the case of the L.A. scenes, little seems to have changed. Given the show’s time frame, it is fascinating how these artists offer a glimpse into a time (the Great Depression) that for many has set a precedent for what we are facing now. Were it only so romantic. But then, these artists had no intention of pontificating one way or another, much less to provide an ambience of romantic nostalgia. They recorded what they saw, or what they thought they had seen. Today, with everyone a pundit with or without a brush, camera or video outlet, that’s a relief (Irvine Museum, Orange County).


"GCAC Celebrates 10 Years!" Main Gallery
opening, March 7, 2009. Photo by Eric Stoner.
This “10th Anniversary Exhibition” features 42 works by 35 local, national and international artists, shown at the Grand Central Art Center over the last 10 years. Selections by Myron Conan Dyal, Thomas Kincade, Jim Jenkins, Charles Krafft, Shag, Jeffrey Vallance, Robert Williams and others hint at the sheer variety of aesthetic modalities that have passed through. The show also features highlights from the more than 200 exhibitions as documented in several videos. The Center is a partnership between CSU Fullerton and the City of Santa Ana. It opened its doors in February, 1999 with a mission to exhibit living local, national and international artists.
Its thrust has evolved to emphasize more emerging artists, many with provocative styles and messages, and to promote them to larger national and international art communities. This show is a visual feast, and fun to look at, calling to mind Williams’ comment, “Hail the voyeur, the only honest connoisseur!” (CSUF Grand Central Art Center, Orange County).


While Obama’s stimulus package primes the pump of our nation’s economy—including an extra fifty million for the NEA—the fruits of direct funding for artists during the last big economic downturn appear in “Seen: Landscapes of a Changing California, 1930-1970.” Besides the government commissioned paintings, “Seen” provides an overview of artists connected to the California Watercolor Society and the Chouinard Art Institute, where the artists both studied and taught. There are a small handful of idyllic landscapes in the show, but for the most part, New Deal era social realism prevails.

Jack Laycox, "The Pike," watercolor on paper.
A few scenes—like the pergolas along the Venice boardwalk—can still be seen, but for the most part the artists have captured the long-vanished streetscapes of Bunker Hill and the Long Beach Pike (Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach).