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December, 2009

Tara Donovan, “Untitled (Styrofoam Cups),” 2008, Styrofoam cups, hot glue, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and PaceWildenstein.
Photo: Dennis Cowley.
Tara Donovan’s media are ordinary: straws, plastic cups, Styrofoam cups, paper plates, roofing paper, tape and buttons. But her forms are extraordinary, suggesting luminous clouds, a dark, barren landscape, an icy glacial crust, or a lunar landscape populated with eerie, round creatures. Both “Transplanted” (2001) and “Untitled (Plastic Cups)” (2006) bring to mind the topography of an earthly landscape, with undulating hills and valleys. Yet, the mood of each is quite the opposite from the other. The deep-brown, ripped and stacked tar paper in “Transplanted” absorbs the light, evoking a sense of dark, heavy earth. The thousands of stacked plastic cups (in “Untitled”) in the adjoining room reflect and refract the light, creating a buoyant, airy atmosphere.
Donovan chooses each medium carefully, examining “how it will behave visually in a population.” Her sensitivity to the essence of each item enables her to create en masse arrangements that transform the items and captivate the viewer’s intellect and imagination. In “Nebulous” (2002), Donovan literally sculpts with an undulating, single layer of Scotch® tape. She metamorphoses this man-made product into an organic form that suggests an ephemeral, almost-transparent layer of ice (MoCA San Diego Downtown, San Diego).

-Judith Christensen

There’s something here for everyone: Painting, sculpture, collage, audio, even coasters which serve as the show’s invitation cards. Sean Duffy’s large wall works capture your attention first. Shelves with repeating patterns of “handmade” records are acrylic painted on scrap wood. The largest, “Los Angeles,” at 401 inches wide, covers the long wall of the gallery with two- and three-colored versions of X, Madness and The New York Dolls album covers, among others, and the effect somehow only hints at fetishization, while avoiding sentimentality altogether. Rather, it’s more about finding a serialized groove. Also occupying the main space are a series of wall sculptures that at first seem worlds apart from the albums: wood planks with various found jars containing studio and otherwise found ephemera hanging below them. They are the quintessential sculptor’s tinkering, collecting and accumulating archive. Duffy goes even more old-school in the project spaces, which equally impress.

Sean Duffy, “The Tunix of My Apathy,”
2009, mixed media.
One offers two small car doors (windows included) leaning against the wall with fluorescent tubes illuminating them from behind. Another room is filled by “The Void,” an engine hoist carrying 20 metal-caged fans embellished with colored zip ties. It’s all encasing a single dull light bulb--a high-tech concept facilitated with low-tech means. The large project room offers a potpourri of salvaging and reconstitutions: Old t-shirts are made into pillows for “The Tunix of My Apathy,” I and  II’s plywood-encased floor chairs, and, in the most crafty and memorable work, old Art Forums are cut through to form vinyl-shaped records. It’s neither the ads nor the articles that are Duffy’s source of inspiration, but rather the perfectly square format which allows for perfectly circular discs. All sources and resources give way to ingenuity (Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City).

-Michael Shaw

Ingrid Dee Magidson, “Mortal Desires,”
layered mixed media, 35 x 30”.
Ingrid Dee Magidson's nine large, layered artworks have depth seldom seen in paintings of any era. At first glance, the viewer sees a classic painting of a woman, an Old Master style image you might see at the National Gallery. But look closely and it will register that you’re seeing the painting through a window or in a dream--with layer upon layer of paint, fabric, torn bits of sheet music, broken china, all behind or on top of the image. In most works, lyrical script, sometimes the artist’s poetry, other times love letters from historical figures, overlay the paintings or the glass. Double images, painted on jewels, striated paint, torn bits of paper partially obscuring the eyes, and shadowy images from complementary paintings pervade each almost sculptural work. The artist says, "The people painted so long ago were as alive as each of us now. They had hopes, dreams, and lives we can never know. I bring them back to life, perhaps only for a moment, but alive nonetheless. This mix of transience and permanence is so captivating to me.” To us as well (Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, Orange County).

-Liz Goldner

Before “Bladerunner” foretold the inevitable Asian influence on, well everything, before Gajin Fujita was fusing gutter graffiti with traditional Japanese panel paintings, heck, before Fujita was even born, Masami Teraoka was wrestling with the collision of East and West in his ukiyo-e styled works. Fresh from Kobe, Japan and studying art at Otis back in the late 60’s, Teraoka channeled his woodblock guru Utagawa Kunisada in delicately tinted watercolors that bespoke a foreigner’s confusion and horror at a world being overtaken by McDonald’s and 31 Flavors. This early period is revisited with nearly 100 works on paper, including many rescued sketches and original studies that have never been shown before.

Masami Teraoka, “Namiyo at Hanauma Bay,”
1985, lithograph, 24 7/8'' x 35 7/8''.
This work is both masterful and prescient, and more immediately offers relief from Christopher Russell’s new work in the gallery’s Chapel space (Samuel Freeman Gallery, Santa Monica).

-Jeannie R. Lee

Samantha Fields, “Containment 14,”
2009, acrylic on canvas, 6 x 6”.

If the call came to evacuate your most treasured belongings in the wake of a wildfire, Samantha Fields’ beautifully wrought, 6” by 6” luminous landscapes might be the first thing you would pocket to safety. Based on her own photographs of various perspectives on degrees of containment of fires that have consumed wilderness areas in the southland in the last two years, Fields’ sensitive air brushed paintings simultaneously convey fragile beauty and devastating drama. Eighty-seven individual works, depicting fires as recent as the Station blaze, illuminate three walls of the gallery space. In working with a uniform sized canvas, Fields mimics the way we receive visual information--as thumbnails on computer screens and icons on television. The canvases all share the same title “Containment,” numbered one through 87, and they depict the stages of severity of a fire--flames delineate parts of a mountainside, plumes of smoke pollute the air, and the sky turns from a calming blue to a ferocious red. They surround the 36” x 108” painting of the October, 2007 “Magic Mountain as Seen from the 5 Freeway Exit Ramp,” the work that propelled Fields into her apt examination of extreme environments (Kim Light/Lightbox, Culver City).

-Diane Calder/A. Moret

An Englishman whose work has found fans among top British artists but has otherwise been relatively unrecognized, Simon Bill’s odd output is spread across both of of the gallery’s Bergamot Station spaces. Using identically-shaped oval panels (each 50 x 38 1⁄4 x 2”), the work ranges from the more experimental and sculptural in the East gallery to the more painterly in the West. In the East gallery works, dating from 1999 and 2000, Bill goes from drilling holes into yacht-varnished plywood in “A Good Idea,” to tacking on polystyrene, wool, silicon and fake gems for “The Man Who Invented Golf.”  Their aggressive challenge to or disregard for polite aesthetics share something of Mike Kelly’s spirit. The work in the West gallery, mainly from this year, ascribes to a layered painterliness that is more optically engaging but still abounds with eccentricity. Continuing with his knack for good titles, “Aliens Have Navels” and “Crispy” both succeed despite their odd color mixtures; their textural variety is both numerous and tasty to the eye. The overall effect is a delayed time warp, disorienting and unsettling but not at all unpleasant (Patrick Painter, Inc., Santa Monica).


Simon Bill, “Autumn Textures,” 2009, mixed
media on plywood, 50 x 38 1/4 x 2” (oval).

Marilyn Minter, “Pop Rocks,” 2009, enamel on metal, 108 x 180”. 
Photo: Tom Powell Imaging, New York.
In her debut Los Angeles exhibition, New York artist Marilyn Minter presents a new film “Green Pink Caviar,” along with paintings and photographs categorized as the “Mouth” series. Minter’s film is a fantastical manipulation of color and substance ranging from electric green slush to cotton candy larvae, sterling silver slime to gold flakes. Her models’ luscious pink lips inhale and regurgitate the substances on a sheet of glass placed above the camera, fetishizing an act that combines sensuality and gluttony.
By presenting the face in such close proximity to the camera the viewer becomes a voyeur privy to the strange behavior. But that behavior echoes the act of painting, the tongue standing in for a paintbrush. The “Mouth” is a collection of blown up C-Prints that present that same pair of luscious lips that star in the film. Here they collide with the amalgamation of chewed up material and the tongue moving every which way to impress itself on the glass and become part of the matter before her. It’s all recorded in this hyper-Technicolor that transforms the revoltingly gross into a source of utter fascination (Regen Projects and Regen Projects II, West Hollywood).


Two thought-provoking, if unrelated installations are “Video Work by Gao Shiqiang and Chen Qiulin,” a pair of Chinese filmmakers, and “The Moving Image: Scan to Screen, Pixel to Projection II.” The latter is the museum’s second recent video show from its now 40-year commitment to collecting video art. While the shows are not a pair, they demonstrate some of the differences and similarities of film and video from disparate countries. Qiulin's “Colour Line” (2006) features a young girl, dressed as an angel, walking carefully among the rubble and disassembled buildings of an ancient Chinese city. Among the crashing sounds of workers dismantling the buildings and minimalist new-age music, the young girl conveys an otherworldly sense of disbelief at the destruction of old China.

Chen Qiulin, still from “Colour Line,” 2006,
high definition video.
In the next room, Gao Shiqiang's  “Butterfly Lovers” (2006) presents a series of contemporary couples portrayed in a state of discord and despair. The discord in every case is presumably caused by different social strata and manners between the man and woman. In both videos, the deeper despair, as viewed by this Westerner, arises from difficulties encountered from a culture that is rapidly changing from deep historical roots to a profoundly contemporary one. “The Moving Image” brings the viewer into the 20th and 21st centuries in California, where video and urbanization have long been commonplace. One of the highlights is Mungo Thomson’s “The American Desert.” Here, Western landscapes and foregrounds from Road Runner cartoons pre-date and predict the advent of psychedelia in the late sixties. Alan Rath’s “The Watcher” consists of two separate, moving computerized eyeballs; instead of the viewer watching the art, the art is watching the viewer. Martin Kersels’ “Pink Constellation” is a revolving teenage girl’s bedroom, in which the girl inside and  then Kersels (weighing 300 pounds) walk from floor to ceiling. When the furnishings are dislodged, the artist disappears. The mood and flow here connect to that of the Quilin’s “Colour Line” (Orange County Museum of Art [OCMA], Orange County).


Jeanne Silverthorne, “Untitled (Bad Ideas),”
2007, platiunum silicone rubber, metal, and
phosphorescent pigment, 20 x 15 x 20”.

Ernest, but playful, like a female Tim Hawkinson but not nearly so self-obsessed, Jeanne Silverthorne fills a gallery with tongue-in-cheek objects: botanical flora and fauna and other objects from her studio--all cast in rubber. The worms creeping about in the decaying roses and the miniature rubber casts of the artist reading “Gone with the Wind” on top of a coffin-like wooden crate (a replica of one of the crates used to ship her work) are a hilarious nose-thumbing at death. Although one might expect the rubber trashcan overflowing with rubber light bulbs (i.e., discarded bad ideas), or the nest of rubber light bulbs (stillborn bad ideas) to be so obvious as to be irritating, the stealthy mechanical movement of some of the works, the sounds of the jiggling rubber fans on the floor, the confusion of the real and the metaphorical, manage to add up to more than the sum of its parts (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).


Mark Klett and Bryon Wolfe, “Seventy-one Years after Edward Weston’s Storm, Arizona from
the Marble Canyon Trading Post,” 2007, photograph and digitized archival photograph.

Photographers Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe exhibit the results of two years of extensive fieldwork, infusing historic imagery with new life in dozens of large scaled, sweeping re-envisionings of the Grand Canyon. Relying on the latest technology, the pair scrutinize this stunning landscape, seventeen million years in the making, layering significant old drawings and photographs into new full color imagery that examines point of view, perspective, the passage of time and man’s impact on the land. Step up to look through the streamlined stereoscopic viewer, positioned to transform near twin, wall-sized photographs of a rocky landscape positioned halfway across the gallery, into a three dimensional spectacle. Precise drawings and early black and white photographs by artists including William Holmes, Thomas Moran, Ansel Adams and Edward Weston further enlivened Klett and Wolf’s photographic inserts and elongations. Most are so sharply detailed that, for example, you can read the tag on a condor, reared and successfully reintroduced into the wild, soaring to new heights (Autry National Center, Northeast Los Angeles).


The expertly curated exhibition “Locating Landscape: New Strategies, New Technologies” offers an important contemporary perspective and anchor on the revival of 1975 “New Topographics” show concurrently on view at LACMA. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the LACMA show without these photographs taken by the “New Topographics” progeny (more than half of the exhibited photographers actually studied with the original artists). By using significant examples of deeper, conceptual practices, beyond an homage we have here a surprising survey of how our sense of location is inflected by today’s technological tools. That is, no matter how specifically we know where we are, we are as lost as ever (Sam Lee Gallery, Chinatown).


Margot Anne Kelley, “N 90º 56.865 W 075º 26.079 (Ridley
Creek State Park, Pennsylvania)” from the series “Local
Treasures,” 2002, chromogenic print, 16 x 20”.

Noah Sheldon, “Untitled,” 2009,
C-print, 37 3/4 x 33 1/2”.

Noah Sheldon is a sky-rocketing commercial/fashion photographer who is somehow simultaneously dipping his quill deep into fine art’s hallowed halls. “Biosphere 2” has given him another great opportunity to strut his stuff: Soft, warm light oozes through plants and trees and across walkways of this man-made habitat. Sheldon has made the most of being able to leverage access to this particular shelved science experiment, where light penetrates freely but air does not. The jungle environs in a few of the shots are so pleasantly inviting that you may not make the connection to the sterile confines overhead unless you’re particularly vigilant. One of the C-prints (all photos are “Untitled”) is a direct overhead view of the Biosphere’s roof with its nearly circular, octagonal window at its center. The image is so exquisite with its light, geometry and intense resolution that it is easily mistaken for a painting. If we become as good at preserving micro-climates and habitats as we are at preserving seed banks, maybe life won’t be so bad when the apocalypse arrives (Cherry and Martin, Culver City).

- MS

Diane Meyer, “April Destefano (UCLA Women's Center Director),” 2009, photo mounted on sintra.

The documentation of this underground but flourishing phenomenon--living car-free in Los Angeles--is presented by Diane Meyer with a spareness that parallels its small footprint. Installed alternately at waist and head height as well as overhead, each work features a diptych photo portrait of the subject (or couple), mostly in their home, along with an accompanying quoted excerpt describing their thoughts on the movement. For viewers unacquainted with those of driving-age who live here without cars, the show will be eye-opening and mesmerizing, though not particularly mystery-unraveling (their methods come down to bicycle and/or bus). Many of the subjects aren’t very good at selling their cause. Indeed, a defensive tone of varying degrees comes across, but their commitment is undeniable. Pictured unsmiling but not quite confrontational, there is a bit of an outlaw vibe to most of them, and it’s no wonder, what with the astonishment that they are so often confronted with from the uninitiated. The artist herself went car-free in January of last year (2008), and her own trips schlepping loads of photo equipment to subjects’ stomping grounds demonstrates her own commitment to walk the walk. The most memorable quote comes from a young man who’s been relegated to couch surfing, and who fantasizes about having a car again so that he may fully utilize the front and back seats for pseudo-romantic purposes (18th Street Art Center, Santa Monica).


Tracy Nakayama’s lush ink-on-paper drawings-cum-paintings celebrate a lost time of sexual and female empowerment somewhere amidst the heydays of hippiedom. They stop just short of becoming cultish. Tending mostly towards a reddish sepia-tone, Nakayama occasionally throws in an effective burst of color, as in the portrait of the All-American top-hatted woman, with billowing red bows tied around braids that reach down to her peasant blouse-covered breasts; or the light blue background that, under the ink’s reddish hues, becomes an eerie night glow illuminating a prone, pregnant woman lying amongst the rocks in “Moonbelly.” Nakayama’s sources are clearly treasure-like finds, and with the high-contrast expanses of white, their Shangri-la-like, rather kinky worlds become more entrenched through their memorializing. The small potted plants hung on the walls are an attempt to turn the show into something of an installation, but are more irksome distraction than revelatory enhancement. But hot and fuzzy sensations persist. If the painting in the back room, of a naked woman lying back into the lap of her cross-legged, androgynous-yet-apparently-male lover isn’t enough to transport you into a less encumbered state that is at least approaching bliss, linger a while, it’ll come (Kinkead Contemporary, Culver City).


Tracy Nakayama, “Hands Beat the Surface,”
2009, ink on paper, 8 1/2 x 8 1/2”.

Heather Brown, “An Affair4 to Remember 5,”
2009, ink on paper, 25 x 18 1/2”.

In a delightful show made up predominantly of ink on paper drawings, Heather Brown shows a poetic Matisse-ian touch, with a bit of Saul Steinberg sprinkled in. Simple depictions of faces and clusters of nudes carry a charged psychology yet remain somewhat cryptic. “An Affair to Remember 5,” one of three from a series shown here, is a loose grid of nine heads, each of whose hair is formed by cutting out the paper around the face, creating a wig-like effect that, combined with the curious eyes of many of its inhabitants, is discomforting in its intensity, though not without comic relief. “Calendar” is another standout, a days-of-the-month procession of naked men and women discussing and fighting, together and apart in an unruly, fast and loose amalgamation of relationship drama. It’s an orgy of emotions without the sex. Untitled works are more literally sexual, but full of introspection. Brown lures you in without smothering, a precisely balanced tactic that leaves plenty of room for charm (Parker Jones Gallery, Chinatown).


The most striking works in “Hidden Wounds, Paper Bullets: Iranian Contemporary Art” are Makan Emadi’s “Islamic Erotica” oils, portraying women in traditional veiled garb, forbidden body parts shown. A few strike poses outrageous to both Westerners and Easterners. “Virgin # 71” is a woman seductively perched on a couch, grasping a machine gun, bare leg exposed to reveal a garter belt full of bullets. Emadi explains, “The sexism of the East is most apparent in its mandated repressive female clothing and legal and cultural restrictions on women’s freedom.” Works by Emadi and seven other Persian artists address the country’s 1979 Revolution through juxtaposition of Western and Iranian culture, gender issues, propaganda of school children and loss of identity.

Makan Emadi, “Virgin No. 71,” 2007, oil on canvas, 36 x 48”.
“Iranian Writing” is a site specific public memorial, naming people deceased in the revolution. “Hall of Reflections” is a series of found photos, letters and newspaper clippings displayed behind layers of glass that reflect the viewer’s own face. One photo reveals several unveiled women (from the Shah’s era) (CSUF Grand Central Art Center, Orange County).


Kim MacConnel, “Drawbridge,” 2009.  
Photo:  Howard Roark.  Courtesy Quint Contemporary Art.

In a town where galleries rarely maintain a presence for more than a few years, Mark Quint has achieved both longevity and notability in the San Diego art scene, the fact of which is honored and evaluated in “Quint: Three Decades of Contemporary Art.” In the early nineties he was a partner in a residency program through which he invited international artists, including British artist Eric Snell and Dutch sculptor Jan van Munster, to create work in an expansive industrial space. This, along with Quint’s discerning eye, accounts for the broad representation seen here. Quint also remains committed to regional artists. Among them, Patricia Patterson recreates part of a typical kitchen from Kilmurvey, Ireland, which also serves as the focus of her paintings. The integration of the sculptural elements and paintings in “to observe + to be” (2009) includes a red-framed window.
Looking through it reveals the flower arrangements, scribbled notes, dishes and fruits in the late Manny Farber’s painting “Earth, Fire, Air, Water” (1984). This juxtaposition underscores the artists’ commonalities—their appreciation of the quiet beauty and subtle meanings in ordinary domestic life and objects—and poignantly recalls the personal and professional life they shared for decades (California Center for the Arts, Escondido, San Diego County).