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September, 2009

Exene Cervenka, “Kidnapped,”
2009, mixed media assemblage.
The gallery is packed with works by Wayne White and of Exene Cervenka, and not without finds. White is reliably witty and deft in his executions of crass and/or cryptic “wordscapes” painted in acrylic onto offset lithographs of 50’s-era country landscapes. “So Long Losers!  Hey Guys I’m Back!” reads one text that circles a quaint lakeside country barn as if it were some sort of kitschy Stonehenge. “Tinted Lard” reads another, reflected in a pond with geese. Though White has mastered this stylistic formula and has been doing it for years, they’re no less fresh for wear. White’s sculptural offerings lean more into folksy territory, feel cluttered, and assume overly familiar thrift store associations. A TV tray jutting out from a framed lithograph, each surface sporting the same image of an autumnal country road, is a standout hybrid. In the spirit of Joseph Campbell, but not taking themselves nearly as seriously, the assemblages by Cervenka bring together stuff like playing cards or a photo of a statue of Venus seen from behind. To them are affixed transparent little dragonfly wings, or faded pages from books whose texts peek through evocatively to guide your interpretations towards some hinted at but non-linear theme (Western Project, Culver City).
Michael Shaw / Marlena Donohue

The retrospective of the consummately hip Larry Johnson does not disappoint. As softly sentimental as it is sharp-witted and canny, Johnson’s persistently idiosyncratic vision seems resistant to mimicry despite the many students he has inspired and influenced over the years. Works included here are culled from the past two decades of the artist’s career and encompass Johnson’s quintessential blend of smart-assed adolescent and quite grown up intellectual poet. Though the majority of works on view appear to be drawings or prints, most are in fact photographs derived from drawings, collages, and other works in an enthusiastic (if paranoid) embrace of simulacra tinged with a nostalgic protection of the original. Johnson’s interest in the seedy side of glamour and the passing of time--death, loss, shadows, dreams--pervades the work with a well-developed sense of the absurd and more than a passing acquaintance with a cynic’s soft underbelly of longing.

Larry Johnson, "Untitled (Classically Tragic Story)",
1991, color photograph, 61 x 75 3/8".

Second Nature: The Valentine-Adelson Collection is the first exhibition of a remarkable gift of fifty compellingly diverse sculptures created by Los Angeles-based artists since 1995. The range of media, approach and scale is so diverse, in fact, that the only way to summarize the exhibition is to mention that there are several themes around which some of the works cluster (but even such a list will inevitably omit several “orphans”). The sculptures range from the ostentatous (Paul Sietsema’s lavish Baroque interior) to the abject (Mateo Tannatt’s Turkish kitchen). Many of them depend on unexpected media shift for their conceptual resonance: Kristen Morgin makes a Fiat out of clay; Hannah Greely constructs two Bud bottles, one upright the other shattered, out of resin (And when she calls the pair Molly and Johnny, it’s clear she’s referring to gender violence). Scale shift is equally engaging: Lis Lapinski’s city in miniature and Liz Craft’s gigantic toys both elicit Oldenburg-like responses. Humor, and especially little boy humor, is in evidence as well, most particularly with Martin Kersels’ musical robot. No viewer will appreciate every single one of the works, but every visitor should walk away from this exhibition solidly impressed by the intelligence, invention, and high technical expertise of the current crop of Los Angeles sculptors (Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).
Annie Buckley / Betty Ann Brown

Vera Lutter, "Campo Santa Sofia, Venice, XXIII: Decem-
ber 17", 2007, unique gelatin silver print, 85 7/16 x 112".
Vera Lutter makes large scale multi-framed black and white images that are presented in negative. They are made by placing photographic paper inside a large-scale homemade camera and capturing the images that appear through the hole (or lens) of the camera obscura. Lutter has previously made images of industrial as well as urban spaces. This latest suite of photographs focuses on Venice, Italy. With odd points of view and long exposures, the canals appear as a blur against the static buildings. Because the images are negatives, the sky is black, as is the water, distorting the stereotypical image of Venice as romantic place full of tourists. This Venice has a haunting and alienating aura. Places like San Marco, Campo Santa Sofia and San Giorgio are still majestic but no longer so familiar. It’s the schism between the known and the unknown, the expected and the new that gives Lutter's images of Venice their edge (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).
Jody Zellen

In 1955 Swiss born photographer Robert Frank received a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation to travel across America making photographs of all walks of life he encountered on his journey. Frank selected 83 out of the thousands of images he snapped to be published in his seminal book, “The Americans” published in 1958. The collection was in many ways a reaction to, or perhaps an updating of Walker Evans' book “American Photographs,” first published in 1938. Evans, working during the depression, created a sympathetic yet realistic view of the country at the time. Frank, on the other hand, chose to present the grittier side of things. Using a hand held 35mm camera, Frank's work was seen as aggressive. It challenged conventional photographic techniques. The images were out of focus, shot at odd angles, and cropped. Frank carefully orchestrated his ironic juxtapositions and thematic grouping of pictures of black and white Americans, watching parades, gawking at movie stars, eating in dinners, attending fancy benefit banquets, living and dying. While some were horrified by Frank’s informal yet dynamic representation of American culture, the series soon took on cult status, and it remains today one of the most revered bodies of photography of all time. Seeing “The Americans” presented as a suite of photographs rather than as pages in a book confirms its lasting power (MOCA Grand Avenue, Downtown).
Diane Calder / JZ

Robert Frank, installation view of "The
Americans" with book in foreground.
Photograph: Brian Forrest.

Best known as an actress, Jessica Lange  also shows herself to be an accomplished photographer. Her black and white pictures spanning the last sixteen years not only document the places she has traveled but shows the breadth of her selective framing. Lange uses a 35mm camera to make images that fall under the guise of Cartier Bresson's decisive moment. The grainy black and white images are compositionally complex. Lange indulges in the cameras ability to flatten space and knows what to put in and what to leave out of her compositions. She has a keen eye that moves from city to country to crowds of individuals with a sense of elegance and compassion (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica).

Nicole Cohen, "Grand Maison", Still from a video, 2009.
Nicole Cohen’s “French Connection” fills the gallery space with three projections along the main wall, video on a smaller monitor to the side, and a composed soundtrack gracefully emoting from speakers installed in the corners. These form a nuanced meditation on the lingering aesthetics of the court of Marie Antoinette and imperialism in absentia. The installation originated with the research she conducted in 2007 for a Getty-commissioned project incorporating French decorative arts from their collection. Cohen employs layers of video with stills of interiors and illustrations of French buildings of that era; the overall presentation and flow calls to mind the late Jeremy Blake, particularly his series ‘Winchester,’ a very tough act to follow.
In fact, the river valley depicted in Cohen’s central projection isn’t in France at all but rather French Azilum, a town in Pennsylvania where Antoinette and court were to be hosted but, alas, never arrived. The series of pencil and pastel drawings in the side gallery, despite their simplicity in relation to the installation, take a slightly different angle but are equally effective in their bridging of primitivism and carnality, doing so with a sense of the effete. Puffy love chairs and ornate bureaus are paired with hanging meat or fur, or lit cauldrons, and the simple poetry somehow lingers for as long as its more ambitious brethren in the main space (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).

Cast in Bronze offers roughly the same 17th- to 19th-century timeframe (rendered in metal) as Capturing Nature’s Beauty reveals on paper. But instead of stodgily promoting the haute bourgeoisie and French monarchy, the three centuries of French landscapes offer a more humane view of the same era. Early works in the show offer the landscape as a backdrop for human activities, from the siege of a castle to an autumn harvest. Gems pulled from the permanent collection are on display, from a study of dappled sunlight by Poussin, to a watercolor of a storm-tossed boat by Géricault. A highlight is a nearly photographic rendering of a bare tree glistening with the last melting patches of a spring frost. The last works in the show foreshadow an industrial future; Van Gogh brings us back to the harvest, but now the smokestacks and locomotives of Arles belch smoke in the distance (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).
Michael Buitron

Leon Bonvin, "Landscape with a Bare Tree
and a Plowman", 1964,Pen and Brown ink,
watercolor, and gum arabic, 7 1/8 x 6 3/8".

Jean Baptiste-Camille Corot

The works of French painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) have been widely admired by artists and collectors alike (and thus have also been widely copied). This small and nicely laid-out exhibition of works drawn exclusively from California collections hints at why Corot’s impact was so widespread, offering viewers a glimpse into the artist’s silver-grey world of delicately rendered trees and ghostly ruins, the clothing of bright-eyed peasants providing the only hints of vibrant color. The dozen-plus paintings and handful of prints and drawings included are accompanied by brief but informative texts, charmingly laden with quotations about Corot from intellectuals of his time, including Baudelaire and Zola. Situated between Neo-Classicism and Impressionism, Corot represents a transitional blend of these two seemingly opposing styles and his simultaneous commitment to both the real and the ideal is consistent throughout the works on view (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara).

Tia Pulitzer, "The Mourner" (detail), 2009, bronze;
heat sensitive urethane paint, 72 x 22 x 22".
Fran Siegal’s airy net-like form, created from monofilament, mylar and colored film, wraps around the gallery entrance to the annual group show Rogue Wave 09, itself and object lesson in how to position and exhibit diverse works of art. The exhibit showcases ten artists who work in Los Angeles in a variety of media. Dianna Molzan’s oil and string creations fall within the minimalist tradition. Ann Lapin paints deeply  saturated abstractions of fragmented landscapes. Olga Koumondourous’ elongated rain gutter commands a private space allowing for concentration on what might be trapped, what washed away. It is isolated from bursts of sound emanating from Micol Hebron’s dual projection video screen commentary on the futility of war, “Bubble Gum Pop.” Tia Pulitzer elicits memories of ancient sculpture, particularly in “The Mourner,” a bronze hooded monk. The application of heat sensitive urethane paint, however, makes it a distinctly 21st  century creation. Cartoon-like evocations of pop culture, still ubiquitous in the contemporary art scene, are well represented here.

Richard Kraft provides an abstract comic strip in ”Kapitan Kloss.” Erin Cosgrove offers satirical mythological figures in paintings and in a loopy animated digital video. They tackle religion, class and romance as they dance and sing through a timeline of human existence. Matt Wedel uses glazed clay to invent strange, cartoon-like children, animals and a  tree that bursts with multi-colored flowers. Mounting the stairs leading to the second floor gallery, Kaz Oshiro’s “Untitled Corner Piece” gradually reveals itself, drawing viewers towards the magic he performs on its painted surface. Although most of these artists are not short on philosophical interpretations, you’ll do well just to enjoy the free associations (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).
Elenore Welles / DC      

The 120 Southern California grads from eight art schools launching their careers at the monumental “Supersonic” MFA show in 2004 benefited from great timing. Since then, MFA shows have downsized along with the economy. No catalog is provided for MFA Conversations, Part II, and the modest dimensions of the gallery eliminate the possibility of examining any of the artists’ work in depth. However the quality of the videos, photos, sculpture and paintings by 30 (predominantly female) young artists selected by curator Maria Koosed is impressive. Joanne Mitchell’s investigation of various editions of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” sets the tone for a number of examinations into changing cultural values, including Michiko Yao’s stunning “Still Life with Shin, Soe and Hikae,” Alison J. Carr’s cheeky recreation of 40’s dance card beauties, April Totten’s photo embroidery retirement village imagery and Micha Cardenas’ transgender subject in flux (I-5 Gallery, Downtown).

Lisa Yuskavage, "Three Gloves / One Girl Holding Another Girl's Leg",
2009, pastel on paper, two parts, each: 15-1/4 x 15 x 1-1/8".

Thirty years is a long time for a gallery and the fact that Christopher Grimes is marking his 30th Anniversary Exhibition should be seen as something to celebrate. Rather than present something by everyone he has ever shown, Grimes chose to limit the artists and present a cohesive grouping of works. While most of the works are by artists he currently works with, there are a few gems by artists he no longer shows, like Lisa Yuskavage, represented by a 2009 pastel on paper. Other highlights include large scale works on paper by Scott Short, as well as evocative pieces by Juliao Sarmento, Joao Louro, Katharina Grosse and Anton Henning (Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica).

Stephen P. Huyler, "Women in Chhattisgarh February 10, 2009", photograph.
There are countless deities in Hindu religion that are female; Kali controls creation, life and death and is a female; the consort of Shiva, Parvati, is deeply venerated. Ironically, the role of women in this still highly patriarchical society is such that the abortion of female fetuses is troubling, and this among the more educated classes. But stereotypes and sound bites do not capture the nuanced position of women. In an effort to let our assumptions be challenged by facts lived on the ground, photographer Stephen P. Huyler traveled throughout India to capture the many incarnations of female strength and creative endeavor in India, where women are contending with a country in a serious paradigm shift from third world to major first world slot.
Without pandering to the empty fiction of the “noble primitive" or "Eastern transcendence," the photos are surprising in their colorful vibrancy, in the diversity of the lives and reactions to hardship and hope. Huyler is able to chronicle what seem to be spontaneous shots of experience authentically unfolding: a dignified, aged matriarch giggles like a school girl; women gather in colorful saris in what looks like that universal phenomenon of a good ol’ girls-only gripe session. Often images of India come to us as drab and downtrodden. By contrast, these are photos highlighting the deep blues, bright magentas, rich patterns and exuberant energy that are part of the life and culture of even the most besieged of Indian women. They are shown living lives that acknowledge obstacles and retain as sense of joy in spite of them (Fowler Museum at UCLA, West Los Angeles).

It has been said so many times that it almost does not bear repeating: contemporary ceramics treads on the line between the medium’s functional history and fine art’s “attractive thing to view and own.” The more interesting and less asked question is how the artist rephrases the line. In the case of Tony Marsh this involves fashioning pneumonic, organic shapes that look like the body’s or nature’s detritus from the most exquisite lustres, from rich china colors or from this chalky bone-blanched clay that hints of dried archeological artifacts. The allusion to things sort of real in shapes that refer to nothing at all, to which is added colors and textures that are drop dead appealing, is further complicated by the fact that Marsh likes to place these  non-usable shapes in the most precious looking “bowls/saucers.”

Tony Marsh, "Untitled 3 (Radiance and Abundance
Series)," 2007, ceramic, 9 x 16 x 12 in.

Vessels by definition actually carry things from point A to point B, but these are done in the same spirit and style as their contents and have the sole “job” of completing an aesthetic tension. The clay shapes and the vessels holding them come together in the most charming way to reference all at once the history of the art historical two dimensional still life, the ceramics-for-your-table upscale American view of clay, those aberrant compilations of found nonsense we are all wont to gather from a walk on the beach, and finally gallery objects of luxury (Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).

Ursula Kammer-Fox, "I am #117 of the
Oooks", found objects, 16 x 22”.

All four artists included in Lost and Found pull together found objects culled from sources as diverse as an encyclopedia or a Salvation Army thrift store, to create their work. Ursula Kammer-Fox builds sturdy, witty assemblages of wood and assorted bits and pieces that perfectly fit her whimsical and poetic puzzles. Leslie Sutcliffe harvests images from astronomy and reference books to create her refined and luminous paintings of galaxies and diagrams. She works closely with language and text and the close correlation between the two. Jane Brucker covers canvases with old clothing and arranges these squares into "Memorial" collages full of color and memory. Her small bronzes of everyday objects, her "Lost" series, are poignant and evocative, fragile remnants of everyday life.  Old photographs, letters and postcards gracefully emerge from Deborah Baca's collages, infusing her work with lyricism.  Her use of handmade paper and delicate watercolor reinforces the intimacy of her autobiographical images.  Cohesively curated and elegantly installed, the detritus of contemporary life retains a collective beauty in this exhibit (Brand Library Art Galleries, Northeast L.A.).
Kathy Zimmerer

Eva Kolosvary-Stupler is known for muscular assemblages bristling with character and energy. Originally a printmaker, she has returned to her two dimensional roots in remarkably incisive selection of drawings of fruit, her assemblages and abstractions made over the last several years.  The fruit drawings are precisely detailed and glowing with shimmering color. Particularly compelling is her drawing of a disintegrating red pepper that retains only its seeds and organic skeletal form. Her "Dying Poppies" is a lovely pointillist rendering that recalls Odilon Redon's bouquets. Drawings of her assemblages are a tour de force interpretation of the three dimensional sculpture. "Emanations" convey a whirling energy created by geometric and cursive marks skillfully united on one surface. Her "Connectivity" series caps the exhibit, a contemporary version of the Renaissance "Vanitas" theme in which life in all its Technicolor swirls around a skull or skeletal remnant, reminding the viewer of the inherent dichotomy of life (Torrance Art Museum, South Bay).

Eva Kolosvary, “Connectivity #6.”

As a contemporary compliment to the newly reinstalled collection of American art, Karen Halverson’s two-year photographic project documenting the Colorado River touches on the history of landscape photography of the American West. The works are arranged geographically, starting in Colorado and Utah, then traveling to the Mexican border where the river disappears, miles before reaching the ocean. Early works appear more conventional at first glance, with small man-made intrusions inserting themselves in borderline surrealism. Eventually, the competing priorities of flood control, power generation, and the recreational use of the river’s man-made lakes ends in the most startling depiction of the river: a shiny metallic pipe, banded in rivets (The Huntington Library, Pasadena).

Karen Halverson, "Davis Gulch, Lake Powell," from the
Downstream series, 1994–95, archival pigment print, 20 x 24".

When Scottish-born artist Paul Gardner came to the USA, he was bowled over by the scenery of the Southwest and, completely on his own, without artistic mentors or models to depend on he began a series that at first appeared three-dimensional and scientific rather than artistic. For two decades Gardner has been seeking to translate the endless and varied compositions of the planet using actual soil, different types of paint, glass, stones, and assorted objects that portray earth, wind and fire, terrain, water, river rocks, and tide pools. Entitled “Elements,” this retrospective proves that persistence pays off. Gardner transformed his European training to realize his goal of finding ways to reveal how the earth is itself a work of art. In the process of continual exploration and never losing sight of his goal, the work has moved from being geological to distinctly aesthetic, a new form of landscape. As the exhibition is hung chronologically by series, it is evident that his latest work is remarkable.

Paul Gardner, "Moon Turns the Tides,"
2009, oil on canvas, 60 x 48".
Where once he worked cautiously, treading slowly in new territory, he now applies paint and assorted media with expertise and assurance. Gardner shows, in his current output, that he is on to something very special, an originality that is nothing less than breathtaking (Irvine Fine Arts Center, Orange County).
Roberta Carasso

Claudia Meyer, "Lightitude (from Monographie Series)", mixed media,
plexiglas, LED light, stainless steel, 55 x 16 x 1 1/2" each.

“Monographie” by Claudia Meyer consists of 26 elegant, mostly abstract works, made from wood, Plexiglas, stainless steel, acrylic paint, precious stones and sand. Most are assemblage, crafted not from the usual detritus, but from a diverse collection of cubes that Meyer fashions from scratch. She calls these cubes “secret boxes,” and most have writing or calligraphy on them. The colors are autumnal earth tones of mauves, rusts, beiges and occasional deep reds. The sharp black writing provides a dramatic counterpoint. These are very much intellectual/conceptual pieces, but are also strikingly beautiful. While Meyer claims to create from her visions, they are highly structured and deftly designed. Viewing these is like looking at an exotically beautiful woman who is also deeply mysterious (Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, Orange County).
Liz Goldner

Henrietta Shore, "Mount Wilson," oil on canvas, 21 x 33".

Pushing at the edges of its history of exhibiting California Plein Air Painting, The Outsiders is a study in the first influences of European art on California’s art scene. Included are examples of the west coast’s nascent modernists, showing the influence of cubism in Frank Meyers’ depiction of the scrimmage line, and of surrealism in Rex Brandt’s vision of a railroad water station on a windy day. Later works in the exhibition were made in the days of the Works Progress Administration, and fittingly depict petroleum works, San Pedro’s fishing fleet, and the urban streetscapes of Los Angeles. Stepping outside the museum will remind viewers that in addition to modernism’s displacement of the landscape tradition, so too have office towers and McMansions replaced the frolicking horses and rolling brown hills of Orange County (The Irvine Museum).