Return to Articles


July/August, 2009

Michael C. McMillen, “Asylum,” 2009, mixed media installation.

“Celestial Ash” features the work of four artists indebted to the introspective and idiosyncratic work of American Surrealist Joseph Cornell. The exhibition opens with one of Cornell’s signature assemblages--a shallow box of distressed white wood framing a reproduction of a Renaissance portrait--and continues with related sculptures by Exene Cervneka (the lead vocalist of the punk group X), Matjames, Michael C. McMillen and Gail Greenfield Randall. Brilliantly curated by Kristine McKenna, “Celestial Ash” ranges from tiny wall pieces (some of Matjames’ works are only four inches tall) to “The Asylum of Lost Thoughts,” a room-sized installation by McMillen. The theater-like room includes several antique chairs, a bronze bedframe topped with two cement pillows, and a projected film wryly composed of vintage footage edited into the artist’s often humorous imagery. Both Cervenka and Randall arrange materials of personal significance--both natural and manufactured--in shadowboxes that, like Cornell’s, recall the accretion of memorabilia in altars piled with Christian relics. The exhibition demonstrates the always nostalgic and sometimes haunting power of what French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss referred to as artistic bricolage: the process of collecting and recombining significant objects to comment on the multivalent resonances of material culture (Craft and Folk Art Museum, Miracle Mile).
Betty Ann Brown

Fans of music visionaries Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and Sparklehorse (Mark Linkous), eager to hear cuts from their completed but unreleased (for contractual reasons with label EMI) album, “Dark Night of the Soul,” outnumber the usual art crowd perusing this show. They shuffle around the gallery, swept from one grouping of David Lynch’s fifty photographs to the next in response to a light that shines down on the photos relating to the track that’s currently being played. As you might guess from the album’s title, the pictures Lynch produced in response to the music range from “dark” to “dark and surrealistic.” Cops use a garden hose to spray water on a guy in his briefs. An oversized human head is served as the main course at a family dinner. Each grouping of four photographs tells a story of shared images and masterful artistry. The rich color and deep focus of “Untitled (Little Girl #3)” shows a

David Lynch, "Untitled," 2009, digital print mounted on aluminum.
charcoal grill burning with orange flames dancing against a sunken tropical sky and emerald blue water. The tranquil dance of a girl dancing the hula becomes obscured against the flames and lost beyond the sea. Just like the pair of dice staged on a shag green rug in the second room of the gallery, in Lynch’s interpretation of “Dark Night of the Soul,” you never know what you’re going to get (Michael Kohn Gallery, West Hollywood).
Diane Calder and A. Moret

Daniel Ruanova, "TERROR-IST," 2009, acrylic on canvas, 52" x 61".
Tijuana-based artist Daniel Ruanova has been exposed to the reality of violence along the border of his country and the US. Ruanova makes sculptures of melted plastic toy guns and other appropriated found objects that look as if they may be superhero doll parts and images of pretend violence from comics and other pulp sources. The result is abstract forms that jumble and collage half recognizable 3-D references to all the ways we celebrate violence as play, violence as entrainment both in drug dominated cultures and in so called advanced ones. Because much of his materials come from Pop culture, there is a sense of playfulness on a first read, and then a kind of dread when we realize how early in life we begin this intense relationship with destruction for its own sake (Couturier Gallery, Beverly/La Brea).
Marlena Donohue

“WoW: Emergent Media Phenomenon” may be the first museum show displaying art from and inspired by an online computer game, “World of Warcraft.” The game’s creators, Blizzard Entertainment, claim that eleven million people subscribe to the game monthly, adding that the exhibition is as much about popular culture as art. The works are art pieces based on popular characters and scenes within the game, giclees of computer-generated artworks, and fan art--paintings, drawings and installations inspired by the games. The most painterly of these are three 72 x 48 inch oils of statuesque characters by Jorg Dubin. While the show manifests slick computerized imagery, the characters and settings are often derived from old sci-fi flicks, comic books and Star War-like scenes. On the lower level, assistants use computers to teach players to protect and help the wounded characters from the virtual ravages of the game, an interesting conceptual twist (Laguna Art Museum, Orange County).
Liz Goldner

Yayoi Kusama, "Flowers That Bloom at Midnight M2," 2009,
fiberglass-reinforced plastic, metal and all-weather urethane
paint, 71 1/4 x 71 1/4 x 105 1/2 inches.
Photo by Douglas M. Parker Studio
Even Yayoi Kusama’s trademark dots in vivid red, bouncing along the entry corridor wall, are insufficient to prepare viewers for the exhilarating “Alice in Wonderland” meets the “Little Shop of Horrors” sensation awaiting them once they turn the corner into the main gallery. A fabricated garden composed of full-bodied, fiberglass reinforced plastic sculptures tower up to sixteen feet above the floor. Brightly patterned flowers, leaves and stems arch into space, vying for attention with five densely textured paintings built up with overlapping loops of color that are positioned on the surrounding walls. One more painting hangs in the small side gallery. Glimpses of its painted surface play off endlessly inside a mirrored sculptural cube entitled “Passing Winter,” elevated on a glass base. Circles perforate each side of the mirrored cube, offering a vision of infinity to those curious enough to peer inside. Although smaller and more portable than Kusama’s famed reflective walk-in installations, it’s packed with the power to mesmerize (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).

Long before Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, he was known as “Barry” on the Occidental campus during the 1980’s. Lisa Jack’s series of black and white photographs fortuitously taken at the time, and titled here “Barack Obama the Freshman,” provide an intimate portrait of the future politician, chain smoking cigarettes, flashing his signature grin, leaning within a narrow frame of a hallow and hiding beneath the brim of a straw hat. The exhibition not only revels in the fact that these photographs were taken long before the subject achieved ultimate celebrity, but allows the viewer to witness the duration of a photo session. In the first grouping of photographs Barry seems apprehensive, uncertain how to position himself or where to direct his gaze. In subsequent pictures it appears that his dynamism takes over--his grin widens, he removes his bomber jacket and begins to directly confront the lens of Jack’s camera. We witness a transformation from a passive to an active subject. But are the photographs only valuable because we actively seek an intimate knowledge of a now fabled politician’s past, because “Barry” Obama works as a subject for student portraiture, or are Lisa Jack’s photographs actually inventive? (M+B Gallery, West Hollywood)

Lisa Jack, "Barack Obama, Occidental
College, No. 15," 1980, gelatin silver print.

Michael Goldberg, “Jacob’s Ladder XV,”
1989, oil on canvas, 68 x 70 1/2”.
Michael Goldberg shared that intense New York melting pot with folks like Lee Krasner and Mark Rothko, and like many of those artists lived at a high pitch and tooled a very sophisticated Abstract Expressionist style. Goldberg’s thickly layered, strident squiggles, stripes, and calligraphic marks were painted with none of the webby transparency we find in his non-representational and figurative peers. After some time in a mental institution during the 1960s and the requisite multiple marriages, Goldberg settled into a teaching post in New York, a home in Italy and a mature career that produced some inner calm and rich work. This high caliber survey indicates that Goldberg is one of those second tier Ab Ex’ers deserving of a closer look (Manny Silverman Gallery, West Hollywood).
Marlena Dononhue

And you thought no painters ever come out of CalArts--wrong. CalArts alum Monique van Genderen shows very convincing abstract works that remind one of, say, Miro at his loosest, sparest and most evocative. The artist leaves a good portion of each work unmarked and uncolored, such that amoeba-like, tendril-decorated shapes float in or plant themselves firmly upon the open picture plane. The subtle expressive relationships so created arc right back to that lineage of artists able to invoke the quirkily human and the deeply poetic using just organic shapes, dark lines and soft hues (Happy Lion, Downtown).

Monique van Genderen, “Untitled,”
2009, oil, enamel, alkyd on wood, 72 x 48”.

Carrie Yury, "Untitled (Respect Your Mother)," 2006, pigment prints on Sintra.

For all the exposed skin we see in Carrie Yury’s current photography, one might expect to see some tits and ass, but nothing gives. Each portrait--for although we never see a face, these are clearly portraits and quietly intimate ones at that--is a diptych: two photographs of the same body are spliced together to create a landscape of flesh, but heads are always turned away. While sometimes the two halves fashion a tantalizingly long, naked torso, the bottom half is always wearing panties. No question, you will wonder who these women are and how they live. These investigations into the female “nude” reveal nothing, but promise much (Sam Lee Gallery, Chinatown).
Jeannie R. Lee

Scott McFarland, “Quality Photo Lab, 1300 Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles,” 2008, injet print, 58 x 111 1/2”.

At first glance, two of the largest photographs in Scott McFarland’s intriguing show, inkjet prints of an emptied penguin pool at the London Zoo, look quite similar. But as soon as you recognize that architect Berthold Lubetkin’s 1934 structure curves as if seen from a unique point of view in McFarland’s black and white rendition, you’re on to something interesting. The Canadian photographer’s investigation of relationships between digital photography’s crafted illusions and the artificial “nature” found in built environments such as zoos and gardens is fascinating. McFarlane arches the position of his camera while shooting multiple views of the elliptically shaped penguin confine. Then he skillfully combines the segments digitally, further distorting the modernist building’s profile, moving beyond documentation of one specific moment in time. Meticulously stitching together images taken one after another, McFarland makes these photographs worth more than a second look (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).

Rinehart Herbst (Todd Rinehart and Catherine
Herbst), "Potential Architectures," 2009,
aluminum, digital prints, baltic birch model.
Photo: Pablo Mason
Process, not product is the focus of “Mix: Nine San Diego Architects and Designers.” In addition to presenting completed projects, the plans, models, photographs, videos, wall panels and sculptural forms reveal how proposals emerge. They also address the social and economic conditions which shape the development of the ideas and forms. Lloyd Russell's “Abacus Mass Model,” a giant, floor-to-ceiling counting tool, consists of dozens of permutations of miniature architectural components. These same components are configured and reconfigured in “Animated Abacus,” a hypnotic animated film. These pieces have the playfulness of a child’s building system and includes an accompanying instruction video. Sebastián Mariscal's dramatic tunnel entrance into his project space serves as a reminder: architects excel at manipulating space. His tunnel directs you both physically and visually. Only upon leaving the space do you experience its full, subtle but powerful impact (MoCA San Diego Downtown, San Diego).
Judith Christensen

At precisely the time of year when those sensitive to seasonal changes in light are most likely to experience total bliss, Frank Ryan’s keenly nuanced exhibition of paintings, “Circadian Rhythm,” intensifies the high. Over a dozen modestly sized works document shadows and areas of luminosity traversing the rumpled sheets of the young UCLA MFA grad’s unmade bed. Experienced from a variety of vantage points, the intimate cropped images suggest self-portraits, chronicling Ryan’s imprint on mattress, pillows and blankets on selected days from 2/1/09 through 3/12/09. More complex and challenging are five captivating life sized canvases. One with a mesmerizing, out of focus foreground entices viewers towards reading a bedroom scene as a domesticated homage to Dan Flavin’s fluorescence. Natural and artificial light vie, revealing the whole range of Ryan’s power to sculpt and color with paint, chasing away despondency more effectively than any full spectrum lamp on the market (Walter Maciel Gallery, Culver City).

Frank Ryan, no title

Mark Mothersbaugh, untitled from "Postcard Diaries."
Mark Mothersbaugh is devolving. While he still plays and composes music, the keyboardist of the 80’s post-punk bank Devo has always been more of a conceptual artist than simply a musician. His latest show, “Postcard Diaries: WE MUST REPEAT,” bears witness to his prolific production; there are just a few dozen examples of the 30,000+ postcard-sized images that he has been creating daily as a visual diary for years. And although these prints and paintings have an R. Crumb-style appeal (and Murakami-style marketing know-how), Mothersbaugh impresses most with his new projects: namely, his rugs.
His custom-made rugs take old and new imagery and create visually engaging and irresistibly tactile works that are produced in editions of “P.” That’s right, Mothersbaugh is still making us scratch our heads and chuckle (Irvine Fine Arts Center, Orange County).

Hiroshi Watanabe was born in Japan, trained in photography, came to tinseltown to make TV commercials and apparently realized that art still called him. This suite of color photos titled “Ideology in Paradise” (a good little oxymoron) is a collection that includes shots of nicely obedient Asian children in indigenous and official school uniforms standing ever so neatly, and creating these human grids of colorful disciplined bodies. On the one hand the images encapsulate all our clichés of the “controlled” Asian. What is interesting though is that as we engage a much more nuanced global environment where Chinese capitalists roil in excess and North Korea looks quite rabid, these images percolate with a kind of irony rather than coming through as a record of the West’s vision of the Confucian East (Kopeikin Gallery, West Hollywood).

Hiroshi Watanabe, no title, photograph.

The C.O.L.A. 2009 exhibition features mid-career artists who have well-established oeuvres. Some of the art rises to the occasion, some is an acquired taste and a few offer welcome surprises. A video installation by Maureen Selwood falls into the latter territory. Good video art is hard to come by. Selwood, who learned her craft working with Philip Glass, combined filmmaking, using black and white footage of anonymous modern Rome, with animation and original music. The result is a stunning and absorbing lament of the tragedies over which we have no control. We can only observe and mourn. Joe Davidson is an installation artist who is fascinated with compulsive collecting and obsessive repetition. Reminiscent of Antony Gormly’s congregation of orange humanesque forms, Davidson’s butter-yellow floor piece displays casts of travel-sized bottles. The land of bottles is surrounded by framed mountain shapes, formed by layers of tape in obsessive overlays that create a landscape of process. Process and obsession reappears in the installation of Jane Castillo, who takes a bold step away from her signature work with hair and rope that makes a socio-political statement of her Columbian identity. “Brown Sugar” is the name of a fictitious sugar company, which produced the “Castillo” brand of sugar. The company logo is a smiling image of the curly haired artist printed on rough, stuffed burlap bags rising in brown columns that hang from chains. For a decade, David Dimichele has been making and photographing models of art world installations. His inclusion in an exhibition of mostly installation art is a witty comment upon artists’ desire to fill space. His work here is light years beyond his first essays into miniaturizing art world egos. The series of prints on view are his outtakes on the models for a generation, such as Roni Horn, Richard Serra, and Robert Irwin (Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, Hollywood).
Jeanne Willette

Familiar names and images occupy the walls in “Homing In: 50 San Diego Artists,” a mini-survey of the recent art history of this city. Each artist was asked to submit one work no larger than two-by-two feet. Within that small context this gathering serves as a check of blood pressure and temperature of art production in San Diego, and it serves confirmation of its health and vibrancy. This is not always obvious due to the dearth of viable exhibition venues available for the large number of artists here. The exhibit also illustrates the powerful influence of the UC San Diego Visual Arts program. Among the artists included are those who teach and those who have graduated and stayed in San Diego--despite the limited local art support system here. We’re used to seeing Patricia Patterson’s large casein paintings. This request brought forth a tender, small one, “Kids at the Lake.” Three children look directly at the viewer, one waving. Patterson’s choice of colors and application of paint, almost sketchy in parts, muffles that directness and suggests distance--another time, another place. Jim Skalman’s wall sculpture, “LOWDOWN” occupies an intriguing space between an abstract form and an actual architectural place, a cutout from the real world. Another standout is Chris Reilly’s “Nameless.” In an exquisite blend of old and new media, Reilly applies a rich encaustic surface over a digital print (Quint Contemporary Art, La Jolla).

Sea of Ink: Calligraphic Expressions in America aims to demystify this four millennia old art from China. This exhibition by the Southern California-based Association of International Calligraphy Arts consists of 58 works by artists of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and American backgrounds. Most works are composed of traditional swirling and geometric figures of black Sumi ink on rice paper. But a few by Vietnamese artists feature writing from that country enhanced by brightly colored watercolor paint. These lyrical paintings are composed of flowing Vietnamese words and exotic images: one image looks like a bird in flight; another appears to be an exotic sun. One surprising aspect of this show is that many exhibitors are from this country, and with no previous background in Asian art. One American artist, showing three works, explains that working in this medium is relaxing, meditative, even spiritual. “Sea of Ink” demonstrates these feelings (Soka University, Orange County).

Shantien Tom Chow, "Mu and Zero."

"Pompeii and the Roman Villa," installation view at LACMA, 2009.

The entombment of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD was the cultural equivalent of burying Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, creating a time capsule of a life of wealth and luxury.  Pompeii and the Roman Villa also demonstrates a practice that was unique at that time: enjoying an object as a purely aesthetic pleasure. Unlike Greek art, which was the model and inspiration for the Romans, the art of the villas served no communal or religious purposes. Instead the bronze and marble statuary was an advertisement of position and power in society, ornaments of second homes, jewels for landscapes and entertainment for the privileged.
Although the exhibition is sanitized of the bawdy sexual nature of the good citizens of Pompeii and cleansed of the lower classes, it is a rare opportunity to see entire walls of paintings, exquisite jewelry, astonishing mosaics, and beautiful sculptures. The range of artistry extends from accomplished and sophisticated to provincial copies of never-seen originals. Most interesting is the section of the exhibition that includes Nineteenth-Century responses to the classical life of Pompeii. Here is a theme for an entire exhibition condensed to one room that includes paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, and an impressive Alma-Tadama. This show-within-a-show is recommended with a caution--one is presented with a multitude of objects, out of context, and removed from history. On display is not a way of life, but a series of clues to a long-lost civilization (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], Miracle Mile).