Return to Articles


May, 2009

Sam Durant’s work in “This is Freedom?” operates on a social, historical, and political trajectory. The artist aligns archival photographs from the Aboriginal civil rights protests in Australia, Africa and Native American civil rights protests in the United States employing light boxes and drawings. In recontextualizing the handmade signs seen in these photographs, Durant’s light boxes are large scale, neon iterations of protesters past. “200 years of White Lies,” written in quivering black letters against a bold yellow backdrop indicate that the signs are now a part of the urban fabric and cannot be thrown away like the protest signs. The lettering style and colors are unique to each sign and their message--”Is this Freedom?”--looks as though a child might have written it. But the black letters that are swallowed by the white sign allude to the African American struggle for civil rights. Durant’s light boxes demand that they be injected back into the urban landscape. Perhaps the most universal among them reads, “Ask us what we want” (Blum and Poe, Culver City).
A. Moret

Sam Durant, "This is Freedom?" 2008

Thomas Lawson: 1977 - 1987," installation view

In his 1981 essay, “Last Exit: Painting,” Tom Lawson describes painting as the, “perfect camouflage,” a subversive way for artists to function in the marketplace while engaging in critical aesthetic activity. This exhibition provides us with a decade slice of Lawson’s oeuvre from that seminal era, when painting made a resurgence after a generation of minimal and conceptual dominance. In addition to Lawson’s paintings--which bear the weight of the art historical past (along with the push and pull of consumer culture)--Lawson’s working process is revealed in a suite of small scale drawings and collages. We see how felt marker on Xerox or spray paint on postcards transubstantiate into oil on canvas (David Kordansky Gallery, Culver City).
Michael Buitron

Walead Beshty, “Passages,” 2009, mixed media installation.

Extending the impact of his recently exhibited glass cubes, fabricated to line the interior of FedEx shipping crates and develop cracks in route between his studio and exhibition venues, Walead Beshty covers every inch of gallery, office and entry floor with large squares of mirrored shatterproof glass. Viewers become collaborators in his process as they step on the reflective surface, enlarging patterns of cracks in a game of chance beyond anything ever imagined by Marcel Duchamp. Reflected in the cracked mirrors, visitors and gallery interiors join with Beshty’s amalgamation of chance and predetermined rules, demonstrated in a series of large photographs printed from film exposed to airport x-ray machines. A slide show examining deserted shopping centers and a rooftop-mounted public billboard displaying a black and white star field image titled “Dust,” complete this compelling display of Beshty’s venture into the nature of public space and art in transition (LAXART, Culver City).
Diane Calder

Bicoastal artist Kim McCarty is showcased with images of her androgynous watercolor figures and flowers. Utilizing the medium in broad strokes and pale washes, the edges bloom like coral on the skin as the eye scans every inch of the bodies. The finely tuned hands, faces, and erogenous zones contrast with the radiating colors enveloping the sensuous curves of McCarty’s lines. The flowers melt and weep with the paint, appearing to drip off the paper before approaching abstraction. The content of the smaller images seems uncomfortable, as if they knew they were on display and the medium purposely travelled to one area in order to conceal what shouldn’t be seen (Kim Light/Lightbox, Culver City).
Alexx Shaw

Kim McCarty, "February 15, 2009," 2009,
watercolor on Arches paper, 60 x 44".

The works of Yi Chen in “Beaut-esque” present the viewer with a kaleidoscope of human and mammalian facial features that are mixed and matched regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. The result is Chen’s very own creations, amalgamated forms collected from fashion magazines. Perhaps Chen understood that the people presented in these magazines are not “real” anyway, just airbrushed and digital constructions that are then consumed by culture. The title is aptly chosen, as the paintings depict subjects with noses that are not in proportion to their wandering eyes or large lips. The figures are at once beautiful and grotesque, surreal and palpable. “Poolside” shows a couple with plastic bags around their hands, breathing through a plastic hose. Their tan complexion should make them a model of perfect health, but they are decaying just as their fruit is hermetically sealed in a plastic sheet. They are the Adam and Eve of a visually confused culture. “Portrait of an Incomplete Idol,” a Picasso-like profile of a woman dressed in a purple feather cocktail dress, is a perfect summation for this grouping of works.  Portions of the figure’s skin are painted in darker tones, inviting us into the quirky anatomy. Her enlarged lips are barely able to perch on her narrow face, one eye is extremely dilated and the other is concealed beneath a black eye (Honor Fraser, Culver City).

Yi Chen, "Portrait of an Incomplete Idol,"
2009, oil on canvas, 30 x 24".

Joe Bradley, "Like a Turkey Through Corn," 2009, installation view.

The minimalist and achingly raw canvases of Joe Bradley in “Like a Turkey Through Corn” feature stick figure renderings more likened to the hand of an elementary school student doodling on a notebook. Bradley’s linear “figures” composed on stained monochrome beige panels with nothing but a grease pencil signal his awareness and thoughtfulness in the delineation of the thing itself- be it a human form characterized by a circle for the head, and lines for the body and limbs, an accentuated grin, or a reversed Superman logo. For Bradley it seems that the artist represents the world not through the work displayed in the gallery, but what the representation signifies outside of the gallery. This semiotic pairing is understood when considering thatLike a Turkey Through Corn” is part of Bradley’s new series “Schmagoo,” derived from the Beat-era street slang for heroin. “Schmagoo” has a referent in the street culture and is also seen by Bradley as a “metaphor for the creative act” (Peres Projects, Culver City).

The title of this fifth biannual invitational exhibition is “Nine Lives: Visionary Artists from L.A.” and indeed, many of the artists create work that embodies fanciful speculations, transcends the physical world, and portrays a wider vision of awareness. The exhibition opens with Llyn Foulkes' "The Lost Frontier": a blackened room appears to open to a magical landscape that hovers somewhere between prehistory and a smog-crowned present-day Los Angeles. Inhabited by a rifle-toting pioneer woman with a Mickey Mouse head, a cave man, and a dessicated cadaver of what may be a horse, Foulkes’ neverland enchants viewers and draws us into fantasy. The installation functions as an engaging preface to the dozen or so additional Foulkes paintings in the next room, all of which resonate with his characteristic mix of absurd humor and imaginative distress. A few rooms away, Jeffrey Valance’s wall of kitsch and Kaari Upson’s Playboy Mansion-like grotto strike similarly visionary chords.

Llyn Foulkes, "The Lost Frontier,"
1997-2005, mixed media, 87 x 96 x 8".
Victoria Reynolds’ exquisite paintings of eviscerated flesh in frames are both Surrealist and Rococo. They exert a hypnotically seductive attraction, yet quite repulsive--in the best sense. Few of the other works here, however interesting, are well described as “visionary" (Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).
Betty Ann Brown

Richard Schur, painting.

The second show of the art collective TRANS, aptly titled “TRANSformal,” offers a peek at abstract painting from nine artists from Munich, San Francisco, Tokyo, and upstate New York. Despite the far flung locales, this group shares similar formal concerns with color and context. Nancy White’s petite steel abstractions barely rest within the idea of painting; painted squares of steel look like origami in process. Each slight fold beckons the mind to consider the possibilities, but no recognizable form appears. The hand-sized work is simply an open geometric shape, and frozen in its openness on the wall at eye level. In Richard Shur’s more conventionally sized paintings, a contemporary Mondrian is conjured. Taped squares of obliquely overlapping color jostle for space between cool expanses of unpainted linen (Pharmaka, Downtown).
Jeannie Lee

Phung Huynh, "Sweet and Sour Pork" (detail), 2008, acrylic and oil on canvas, 24 x 72".

When The Year of the Golden Pig dawned in 2007, reportedly millions of Chinese women were enthusiastically working towards having the good fortune of giving birth to a golden piglet: a child who would be blessed with lifelong prosperity. Phung Huynh, a mother herself, must have certainly known this when she painted “Sweet and Sour Pork” last year. The life-size sow stretches across a six-foot long, brilliantly orange canvas with a Mona Lisa smile on her face and back hooves flexing in contentment.  After all, she has a half dozen two-headed Chinaman babies alternately suckling her very pert teats and being naughty by pulling each other’s pigtails. This is disorienting imagery indeed, but the vibrant palette, deft craftsmanship, and tongue-in-cheek humor keep this work from tumbling into being merely grotesque (Sam Lee Gallery, Chinatown).

Ming dynasty gardens were designed as three-dimensional paintings, with architectural elements situated to frame carefully planned views. The location of this exhibition of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Weng Collection in the gallery immediately adjacent to a re-creation of a classic Ming garden, presents a unique opportunity for visitors to compare their stroll through that botanical haven with the experience of contemplating lovingly preserved, 12th to 17th century examples of calligraphy and painted depictions of Chinese landscapes. From a 53-foot long scroll tracing highlights of the Yangzi River’s course between a Tibetan plateau and the East China Sea to a less formal depiction of three hermits metaphorically represented by chrysanthemum, narcissus and plum branches, a good deal of respect is paid to nature and the past masters of art and poetry inspired by her. Even in “The Scholar’s Studio,” where visitors of all ages are encouraged to pick up a brush and try their hand at painting or calligraphy, copies of details from masterworks are displayed and signs suggest that learning by copying is essential, given that personal style develops only after perfecting the basics (Huntington Library, Pasadena).

Shen Zhou, 1427–1509, China, Ming dynasty,
"Xie An’s Excursion on the Eastern Mountain,"
1480, hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, 66 9/10 x 35".

David Simon, “The Lookout,”
1998, Forton, 31 x 10 x 19”.
It's a long way from "Der Freischutz" (an ancient German folktale), through Carl Maria von Weber's 19th-century opera of the same name and Goethe's classic play "Faust," to "The Black Rider," the contemporary, multi-media version of the story by William Burroughs that was then put to music by Tom Waits, and staged by Robert Wilson. Like millions of people before him, Los Angeles artist David Simon was completely captivated by this legendary dark tale: The downfall of a troubled young man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for love. Installed in a dark, barely lit maze which emulates the German black forest or a stage set, the 20 sculptures that comprise “Dark Forest” are loosely inspired by characters in "The Black Rider." With names like "The Watchman," "The Banjo Player," "The Ditchdigger," and "The Butterfly Hunter," these gray, traumatized, mostly nude figures are so realistic in physical detail you can count their ribs and muscles. Created from bronze and Forton (a durable mixture of resin, gypsum cement, and powdered pigment), then augmented by bits of glass, steel, and wood, each figure has an air of quiet desperation.  Several of these eerie sentinels wear a leather executioner’s hood, one man holds up a banjo, another woman holds butterfly nets. Their faces are devoid of emotion yet an undercurrent of tragedy is readily felt in their despairing poses. They are convincingly and dramatically articulated, yet there is a certain disconnect; the figures remain isolated and static (Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach).
Shirle Gottlieb / Kathy Zimmerer

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 repleate 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. There is a feeling reminiscent of Ernesto Pujol for 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).

Claudio Gallina, “Catarata,” 2008,
acrylic and oil on linen, 78 3/4 x 39 1/2”.

Zivana Gojanov, “Weightless,” 2009, oil on canvas, 60 x 60”.
A trio of artists, Zivana Gojanovic, Stig Einarson, Bruce Brainard, add up to a complex, yet elegant exhibit. Gojanovic grew up in Croatia in difficult circumstances, experienced war and disorientation, leading her to seek stability in life and art, while acknowledging suffering. Her large, figurative canvases incorporate balance through structured urban landscapes and multi-colored figures, many floating, covered with scraped, recycled paint. Repetitive symbols, strong colors and shapes evoke spirituality within chaos. Einarson’s large multi-media pieces are structured, abstract works, often executed in earth tones with conceptual elements. While explanations refer to Biblical, Viking and TV influences, the works convey serene chaos, or meditation in a painful world. Brainard’s relaxed ocean landscapes are of crashing waves against the shore, the horizon behind. Colors vary from pinks to blues to greens. Each work has one focal point, such as a sunset, seagull or boulder beyond the waves that provide formal counterpoint. (Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, Orange County).
Liz Goldner

Shih Chieh Huang, “EX-DD-06,” mixed media installation.

Shih Chieh Huang offers an installation/environment of sea creatures that inflate, come to life and sway gently through motion detectors. Jellyfish, sea horses, starfish hang from the ceiling or line the floors. Constructed from castoff plastic sheets and discarded bottles, held together with Tupperware and electronic parts, they are motorized, lit from within in luminous primary colors, and they produce beeping computer noises. Two dozen additional plastic bottles hang from the ceiling, swaying among the sea creatures. Floating gently within the black-walled gallery, lit by lights within the pieces and automatic night lights, the installation is an undersea fantasy world that is graced with a deeper message. The materials used to make the components represent cast-off garbage, which in massive quantities is gradually spoiling our planet’s oceans (Beall Center for Art & Technology, UC Irvine, Orange County).

Andy Moses, “Transmutation of Space 101,”
2009, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20".
It’s a ceaseless process: the genius of historical artists continually influences the creation of current art. Today’s artists extend historical precedent into realms of new contemporary possibilities. Andy Moses forges such a bond with the past. His hefty atmospheric concave and convex paintings reference the ethereal beauty of JW Turner and the universal elements of sky, still water, reflected light, or storm clouds. Moses also works like Jackson Pollack. Pushing paint, he works on the floor horizontally, watching the flow as the artist’s hands and gravity, rather than brushes, bring an image to life. From Mark Rothko there is the force of space gripping light and color, and the sense of observing an enormous expanse coming alive. Meticulously prepared and sanded to perfection, the very smooth surface interacts with his reflective paint of choice such that an image emerges which is at once abstract and a landscape. The shimmering surface becomes sky, water, land, desert, and even ice floes; the hybrid formal structure embraces both painting and sculpture (Peter Blake Gallery, Orange County).
Roberta Carasso

Take an object. Do something to it.  Do something else to it.” This famous directive from Jasper Johns was focused upon the humble light bulb for nearly twenty years, from 1958 to 1976. This traveling exhibition brings together, for the first time, all of them, re-made in many mediums.  On the surface the conceit--whether repeating the light bulb or honoring it with an entire show--sounds like a boring one, but this little show is compelling and engaging. The light bulb allows us to see in the dark and yet we, the sighted ones, never notice it. Johns calls the bulb to our attention and compels us to examine the elegant, economical shape: the conical swell modestly concealing its inner workings and the sudden tapering at the base with allows the climactic connection to an electric socket.

Jasper Johns, “Light Bulb I,” 1958, sculp-metal.

Although it is common to credit Duchamp with Johns’ interest in the everyday object, the neo-Dada artist did not, like his predecessor, work with Readymades. Johns’ light bulbs are hand-made replicas of a mass-produced object. His recreations are not anti-art gestures but an almost atavistic act of sympathetic magic. The first light bulb was done in steel-colored sculpt metal as a bas relief but hung like a painting. This toxic (and now banned) re-materialization was copied as a lithograph for a show at Rhode Island School of Design in 1969. In between, Johns re-produced the light bulb as actual-sized sculptures, including an English light bulb that washed up on a South Carolina beach. This 1972 bulb was subsequently displayed on a stand used for shells. The carefully crafted bulbs migrated into lithographs that complete the group lent by collectors as well as the artist himself. With the exception of two sculptures that are caramel-colored plaster and bronze, the exhibition is a monotone symphony in shades of grisaille. The soft, silvery tints give the everyday re-made Readymade an unexpected look of exquisitely executed elegance (San Diego MoCA, La Jolla).