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January, 2010

Barbara T. Smith, “Pure Food,” 1971 (left);
“Feed Me,” 1973 (right), photographs.
In the 1960s and 1970s Barbara Smith was among Los Angeles’ best known performance artists. Her long career has been most characterized by works about the body and ritual. In “Performance Relics, 1968-75” we encounter artifacts and documentation from early performances that have not been seen in years or decades. There is, as the title proposes, an aura of the reliquary here that elevates the historical place that her pioneering work has assumed. Conducting performances that occurred in alternative spaces, empty lots and on the beach, Smith integrated ordinary objects, food, water and fire into them. While the pieces were documented through photographs and video, its is seeing the objects that transports you back to the time and place of their creation.
Like photographs that fade over time, these objects also begin to disintegrate. The fragile nature of many of Smith's relics speak to the temporality of the event and the actually gins up the power of what remains. The ambiguity of what is left, as seen in "Celebration of the Holy Squash" (1971), makes one try to reconstruct exactly what went on. Through these objects we begin to understand both the beauty and the complexity of early performance art. Indeed, this exhibition sheds light on more than one artist’s activities, but a time and place in which a new type of art emerged (The Box, Chinatown).

- Jody Zellen

Anyone who stands in front of a painting by Charles Burchfield bears witness to a public grieving, not of any literal, discernible sadness, but born of the ineffable human malaise of simply existing. Curated with great sensitivity by artist Robert Gober, “Heat Waves in a Swamp” charts a difficult and often gnarled beauty. Works like the stunning “Sun And Rocks,” are reminiscent of William Blake’s hallucinatory drawings, and take us well beyond the “traditional landscape,” presenting an eccentrically supernatural vision where the sky explodes with strange, jagged sunbeams, and giant rocks seem to transmute into birds at the cliff tops. These are not easy images to be taken in on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but hard-won, dark, complicated and, more often than not, joyous expressions of the living world.

Charles Burchfield, “Sun and Rocks,”
1918-50, watercolor and gouache on paper.
Some works, like “Freight Cars Under A Bridge,” are more straightforward evocations driven by man-made machinery. These works, while less obviously celebratory, are nonetheless still wrought with Burchfield’s intensity and fascination with everything that lived, breathed or moved (Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).

- Eve Wood

John Millei, “Maritime #50 (Venetian),
2008, oil on canvas, 84 x 66”.
“Maritime” is John Millei’s epic nine-year nautical series of heroism converted to gesture. Ranging from abstract expressionist to, at least for Millei, realism, “Maritime” churns from thick-stroked wave undulations, to port- and dockside monoliths, to massive sails and masts.  “Queen Anne’s Revenge” spans no less than 12 feet high by 30 feet wide--three floating mast & sail combos with frenetic, rope-like circuitry pulsing madly within. It’s the scale of work that few spaces short of museums have the heft to host. The remaining plethora of work spans the size spectrum, from very large down to one and two footers, which become studies by proxy. The palette of blacks, whites and greys, with the occasional metallic silvers, is rich enough to make you forget primary colors exist. The inspiration may be the danger, mystery and limitlessness of the sea, but the paintings themselves are a playground of paint pushed around in every imaginable fashion with, OK, a romantic undercurrent of brooding (Ace Los Angeles, Miracle Mile; Ace Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills).

- Michael Shaw

For "Lunch Break" Sharon Lockhart went to Bath, Maine to document the Bath Iron Works factory to create a suite of photographs and two films. Curiously, Lockhart is more interested in the place than the people. Although she creates portraits of the workers, these images depict their lunch boxes rather than their faces. In one film, "Lunch Break," she slows down a ten minute tracking shot--where the camera moves down a long hallway where the workers relax and eat their lunch, usually in isolation--to 80 minutes. In "Exit" she documents, from a fixed location, workers leaving the factory over a five day period.

Sharon Lockhardt, “Lunch Break,” 2009, film still.
The films and related photographs offer a specific view of the factory, one that focuses on the parts of the day that are not work. Why Lockhart ignores issues of production and labor in her project, especially when choosing a place of production as her site, is consistent with her other projects. While she makes photographs and films of a specific community, she is more interested in what one can infer from what is not depicted, than in showing what one assumes will be the subject (Blum and Poe, Culver City).

- JZ

Ned Evans, “Coalinga,” 2009, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 42”.

Fantastical, spectrally illuminated color fields by Ned Evans in his current show, “Inside the Prism,” recall a childlike curiosity to make sense of the world through a kaleidoscopic lens. Evans’ conscious use of acrylic paint and mixed media explores the relationship between colors beyond the rudimentary grouping of hot and cool. With a heavy hand and wide brushstrokes the colors slowly bleed from one to the next in a horizontal progression. Perhaps the most ambitious work here is “Curico,” a large scale wood panel that the artist has literally chipped away and carved into, making the imperfections of the surface and the disparity of the mixed media elements the focal point. The paint seems to decay in the gallery space. The large expanse of black is an absence of color, where the surrounding pieces are basking in it. “Inside the Prism” speaks to the spectrum of light that the eye cannot penetrate, the amalgamation of color struggling to reveal itself in a raw manner (William Turner Gallery, Santa Monica).

- A. Moret

First presented in 1975 at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY and reassembled here for the first time since then, “New Topographics” introduced the work of photographers who were documenting the landscape in a distanced and objective way. Among the numerous artists included in the original exhibition were: Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Franke Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore and Henry Wessel, Jr. The majority of the images on display were black and white images of industrial buildings devoid of people. This was a shift from the traditional images of the land and cityscapes that were prevalent at the time. The LACMA exhibition expands on the original by adding new images as well as artists who were not included in the original show but whose work fits within “New Topographics’” themes and aesthetic orientation.

Bernd and Hilla Becher, "Loomis Coal Breaker/Wilkes Barre,
Pennsylvania," 1974, gelatin silver prints, 8 prints, each 16 x 12".
A site specific installation by The Center for Land Use Interpretation that looks at the role of oil in the development of the American Landscape provides an important focal point to the show. The seemingly dry and objective approach to photography employed by the photographers here has become among of the most influential approaches to photography at the present time (Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], Miracle Mile).

- JZ

Marcia Roberts, “Gold Note Ridge”, 2008-09,
acrylic on canvas over panel, 48 x 64”.
The complex and astutely scientific studies of light in Marcia Roberts’ solo show are simply mesmerizing. Roberts captures sheets of light floating on the pictorial plane, suspending them in time and space as they lean and fold in on each other. Presenting the same subject in each canvas, Roberts’ roots in the Light and Space aesthetic are evident in the subtle gradations of color that illuminate the paintings from a distance. Varying numbers of light sheets are presented in each canvas, but they all appear like a stack of dominoes looming over a Faberge egg. “Gold Note Ridge” depicts six sheets with clay colored lines crisscrossing over them, connecting (and thereby inventing) an imagined space. The light is barely touching and simultaneously leaning (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

- AM

Most paintings and sculptures start out as preliminary drawings that are studies for works to follow. Thus the insightful selection of 38 diverse drawings that are complete creations of art in themselves makes “Sweet Subversions:  Contemporary California Drawings” an exciting exhibition. Perhaps the most controversial thing an artist can do in the digital age is to simply draw on paper.  From Adonna Khare's 34-foot-long drawing of a fantasy animal kingdom ("Elephant, Lion & Buffalo"), to Tom Knechtel's small rendering of a sweet baby mouse and porcupine ("Nino and Babette"), by way of Denice Bartel's poetic impression of waves rippling across the ocean, these drawings are personal, often extremely intimate and direct.

Margaret Lazzari, "SCREAM," 2004, conte crayon.
Margaret Lazzari offers "Scream," a painful portrait of four powerful heads with open mouths that are reminiscent of Edvard Munch. Brian Mallman’s untitled work with staring eyes conveys the hypnotic power of non-verbal communication. Fran Siegel creates "Overland 8," a wall-sized view of Los Angeles’ urban landscape that is based on photos taken during flights over LAX.

George Henry Melcher, "Two Old
Veterans," 1938, oil on canvas.
By contrast Kiel Johnson gives us "I Think I'm Gonna Be A Little Late," a tongue-in-cheek image of the L.A. freeway system as a tangled ball of twine.

Also on view is "Surviving Hard Times," historical paintings from the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, 1933-1943. As the primary economic stimulus package of its day, the WPA commissioned thousands of paintings and sculptures in an effort to provide an income to struggling artists. The 35 works in this exhibit, all owned by the Federal Government, are on long-term loan to the museum. Along with the historical place they occupy in the painful period that created them, these paintings provide insight into the importance of the New Deal programs in creating a cultural legacy, not to mention the quality of the creative efforts that came out of it. Artists include George Henry Melcher, William Bowen, Teho Carpenter, Henry Ford, E.D. Horsky, and Norman Yeckley (Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach).

- Shirle Gottlieb

A revealing compliment to “Drawings by Rembrandt and his Pupils,” “Drawing Life: The Dutch Visual Tradition” features modestly scaled, beautifully detailed and exactly drawn works on paper that reveal attempts by Dutch artists of the 18th Century to perpetuate imagery introduced during the previous Golden Age. While the Dutch Republic began its decline as a world economic power, artists continued to produce idealized depictions of sagging, dilapidated rustic residences, adding sentimentality to the work of earlier masters. Several Getty owned sketches by Rembrandt, including “Two Thatched Cottages” and “Wooded Road,” dating from the first half of the 17th century, are shown here alongside reworked, more nostalgic, later depictions of rural life such as Hendrik Meyer’s “Summer Scene,” and Paul van Liender’s shimmering “Wooded Landscape.” Class distinctions begin to widen in works depicting laborers chopping wood, burdened by leaden skies; while wealthy, fashionably attired revelers down hot drinks or glide by in sleds. Two gentlemen play Kolf (a mixture of golf and ice hockey) in a scene suggesting the notion the Dutch call de slibberactigheyt van’s menschen leven, “the slipperiness of human life” (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).

- Diane Calder

Kellesimone Waits, "Henry Kissinger,"
acrylic on canvas, 56"x40".
The “Power Plays” paintings of Kellisimone Waits make a politically ironic statement rather than a satiric one. By depicting figures of power like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton in compromising poses, Waits strips them of their political and moral authority and imagines them as cheap and tawdry. Adopting a slapdash guerilla style, the paint handling is as dysfunctional as the manner in which Waits presents her subjects. Secretary of State Clinton assumes dominance over a wide eyed Speaker of the House, Condoleezza Rice appears menacing and crazed wearing nothing but black lingerie, and the only thing keeping Margaret Thatcher from exposing her nipples are a pair of crosses. John F. Kennedy and Henry Kissinger, on the other hand, are presented in a straight close up, each wearing pink ties and a long sallow, contemplative face. Waits’ work notes that political figures are subject to the same scrutiny as celebrities, and in these fantasies she relishes bludgeoning them off of their pedestals (Frank Pictures Gallery, Santa Monica).

- AM

When culture is stripped of content, only artifice remains. For Dan Finsel’s video-cum-installation “I Could Be Anybody. I Could Be Somebody,” artifice is stripped away until we are only left with an actor, a chroma-key green screen, and a manic twenty minutes of Stanislavski’s method acting. In the video Finsel doesn’t act so much as he channels an angst-ridden teen of an Aaron Spelling melodrama that’s been filleted of its plot. Finsel’s character in equal turns caroms through despair and ecstasy. Without the constraints of a storyline he is able to chart new territories where radical emotions erupt full-blown—like Athena from Zeus—without a precipitating event. Behind the viewer is a Flavinesque wall of fluorescent lights, which parallels the reflection in the actor’s spectacles.

Dan Finsel, “I Would Love Farrah, Farrah,
Farrah (1),” 2009, HD video, 20 x 24”.
Noticing this places the viewer into the position of both the camera and uncomfortable voyeur (Parker Jones, Chinatown).

- Michael Buitron

Bale Creek Allen, “Untitled,” 2009, unique cast
bronze tumbleweed with patina, 24 x 36 x 24”.

The grace of Austin-based Bale Creek Allen's cast bronze tumbleweed sculptures defy their materiality. Despite the permanence and weight of the bronze, they remain airy and intricate. Each of these tumbleweeds has a different character and surface patina; each was assembled by piecing together the individually cast branches. Some are placed upright, others on their side, lending each a unique personality and also evoking the memory of their presumed movement with the wind. Allen's sculptures are elegantly installed, placed on white pedestals that are scattered throughout the gallery. Mounted on the surrounding walls are montages of images and ephemera printed on sheets of aluminum by James Hill. The black ink on the aluminum gives the images a rich surface that makes the images sing. This stunning show brings together two artists whose divergent works benefit from and enhance each other (SolwayJones, Chinatown).

- JZ

James Baldwin’s essay “Stranger in the Village” provides the original literary source to Glenn Ligon’s “Off Book” exhibition. Unlike Ligon’s earlier text paintings, there’s no legible text to be read, only distant ghosts. Made up of roughly a dozen medium-sized paintings, “Off Book” is Ligon at his most abstract and visceral. Images from pre-existing paintings (presumably of Ligon’s) are silk-screened onto the canvases and flocked with coal dust. The results are tactile and graphic, a lively visual hybrid reminiscent of Vic Muniz’s photographs of diamonds and caviar. The bases of the black silk-screens and coal are monochrome, black or grey or white, but also bright yellow or pink. They’re beautifully ambiguous, their sparkle loaded with baggage. It’s a dazzling aestheticization of Ligon’s brand that veers from delightful to overdone.

Glenn Ligon, "Rügenfigur," 2009, neon and black paint, 24 x 145 1/2".
The not-quite anagrammatic “America,” a large neon in the far space, is painted black on its wall side, killing any extra glow while enhancing its shadow (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).
- MS

Yasuko, “Mirror,” 2008, archival pigment inks on paper, 23 3/4 x 35 3/4”.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all,” goes the question an aging queen asks a magic mirror who, in the blunt fashion of a critic, tells her that there is a young upstart who’s about to push her off beauty’s pedestal. So begins the familiar story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” one that has been associated with the Disney films since its inception in the ‘50s rather than the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale, one that immortal and perversely timeless. Yasuko has mined that timelessness and transferred Snow White into herself, a Japanese immigrant navigating American culture. Through printed collages combining Disney tropes, photographs of contemporary buildings and objects and text, the artist becomes Everywoman (especially among young immigrants) among many who have formed early fantasies about life in America and the reality of daily life hereabouts.

“Cleaning” shows that, fantasies be damned, housework is still mostly women’s work, even if said women are princesses gone underground. “Apple” references the notorious poisoned apple on one hand, and the symbol’s significance in technology as well as advertising that promotes progress while solidifying the status quo. Throughout, Yasuko intersperses the face of a beautiful, somewhat bewildered or bemused looking model as her stand-in, her perfect features underscoring reality and fantasy as it’s presented in different guises to women worldwide: Youth is to be envied (or emulated), there’s a prince for every damsel in distress (“Wedding”) and yes, pretty young things can make a bunch of short, sneezy, dopey and grumpy geezers do their bidding (“Wash Your Hands”). Amusing and thought provoking, this selection of ink prints on archival paper offers escape from the contradictions of daily life while letting one relish its absurdities (Arin Contemporary Art, Orange County).

- Daniella Walsh

“Wild Thing” references the popular children’s book and recent film, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. And it is the exhibition title to new mixed media paintings by Patrick Maisano, whose works are often stylistically compared to Sendak’s, a fact that the artist obviously does not fear. Maisano’s paintings feature lovable monsters with human looking faces, dreamy-eyed children and jungle settings. His use of muted boundaries between characters and backgrounds is also reminiscent of Sendak’s, as is te visible anxiety and edginess in facial expressions and body language. Quite distinct is Maisano’s use of newspaper pages glued onto the canvas, then painted over. The newsprint imparts whimsy to otherwise serious themes. Mixed messages, contradictions, enchanting scenes and a spirit at times evocative of Chagall instill these paintings with a larger than life, even magnetic character. Five expressive, acrylic paintings of horses and one of a crane by Rachael McCampbell complement Maisano with their own wildness and a strong sense of movement, but tempered by tranquility (JoAnne Artman Gallery, Orange County).

- Liz Goldner

Patrick Maisano, “A Safe and Pleasant
Trip”, mixed media, 46" x 48".

Matthew Heller, “Untitled (come on say it ok fine),”
2009, acrylic, ink and pencil on paper, 40 x 32”.

In his show “The Great,” Matthew Heller combines painting with prose written in a wavering line. There is an undulating rhythm to his poetic voice: “I have always loved walking with you those cloudy mornings, the sadness on a cloudy day dissolved with a walk. . .” The inherent flaw of his vernacular, which has no regard for punctuation, is perhaps what makes this work so endearing. The viewer supplies the colors for the outlined figures, just as they insert the commas and periods while they read. Crude acrylic renderings of hands unfolding over and over again, never revealing themselves, speak to the ambiguity of the whole. Heller writes: “memories returning into the darkness, mystery will overtake the sky. . .” and so that mystery is the umbilical cord that runs through his rough use of pen and acrylic, but it is the artist’s return to “the darkness” to embrace the unknown. Desire dictates the world of this work, and it is precisely the irresolute feeling that overcomes the viewer (Galerie Anaïs, Santa Monica).

- AM