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March, 2010

Robert Rauschenberg, “L.A. Uncovered #10,”
1998, 16 color screenprint, 32 x 23 1/2”.
Robert Rauschenberg’s creative genius ranged over a multitude of materials and concepts, often pushing them far beyond their previously perceived parameters. This was particularly evident in his deployment of  printmaking, where he transgressed the traditional ink-on-paper boundaries of the medium to produce compositions that are often unrecognizable as conventional multiples. Most of the artist’s “prints” were created at Gemini G.E.L, the printmaking studio founded in Los Angeles in 1966 by Sidney Felsen, Stanley Grinstein, and Tamarind-trained master printer Ken Tyler. Between 1967 and 2001, Rauschenberg produced more than thirty series of multiples at Gemini; curator Jay Belloli has here selected brilliant examples from each of these series. The assembled artworks record the artist’s eager embrace of the full spectrum of material culture markers, from ornate architectural fragments to historic photographs, ghostly X-rays of the human skeleton to decorative Chinese fabrics.
As such, the works can be read as a palimpsest of Rauschenberg’s voracious intellectual pursuits, from history to current events to records of the physical self. Conveyed through all of this is that Rauschenberg’s oeuvre has two potent characteristics. First, the works are evocative rather than illustrative or dully descriptive: they present elusive scatterings of poetic cues that require viewers to actively engage in the process of creating meaning. And second, each piece reveals a sustained, resonant aesthetic. They are all so damn beautiful (The Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena).

- Betty Brown

Rodney McMillian, installation view, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 2010.

“Succulent” is an ambitious installation that finds Rodney McMillian spreading his wings on a scale previously unseen. The main space features a wall ‘painting,’ a sprawling mass of vinyl – both matte and shiny – with web-like, white-stitched lines spanning out from a pitted center hole. Succulent plants (grown by the artist) of varying sizes spread out before it throughout the room, along with four towering black columns of glossy latex paint that spread slightly onto the floor at their bases (a video, of the artist’s hands silently conducting in a black void, is an unsuccessful and unnecessary inclusion). The 2nd room of the gallery is an upward sloping, stitched vinyl room, a shiny cavern that very well could be the polar opposite of a James Turrell light platform. Whereas Turrell’s hovers and floats, McMillian’s envelops; though, alas, ascending and mounting isn’t allowed in the latter. McMillian pulls off a tactile integration of disparate materials that’s challenging to reconcile but somehow pulls it off. (Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City).

- Michael Shaw

Kathryn Andrews, “Rod,” 2010, mixed media.

Abstraction meets readymade with a touch of dada in this group show of four emerging artists, and the show-stealing work fuses the two flawlessly.  Kathryn Andrews’ “Rod” includes four, 43-inch high jockey props (and, in a brilliant touch, they’re “rented” props, according to the checklist), identical other than the colors of their jackets and caps. Placed side-by-side, their left arms are stretched out in the quintessential, ring-grasping jockey gesture. Running through the jockeys’ rings is simply a long, chromed steel pole; it’s a deceptively simple gesture that’s surprisingly jolting, whether due to its irreverence, its materiality or its temporality (the alleged rented), or a bit of each. Andrews’ wall pieces – chromed steel gate-like sections, one with balloons hanging from them, the other without – feel more gimmicky, but nonetheless carve an interesting niche by meshing fetishistic object-hood with conceptual-minded perishability. Heather Cook’s work also offers fresh interpretations of minimally-manipulated found objects. She takes cotton jerseys of unknown origin and bleaches them, which in the stronger of the pieces translates as faux creases. The erasures provide artificial volume, as if they were the ghosts of hanging sheets, or a nebulous minimalism past. Lesley Vance’s small paintings are austerely elegant if a bit too quiet here, while Lisa Williamson’s painting/sculptures are aggressively hybrid while remaining highly restrained (David Kordansky Gallery, Culver City).

- MS

The first chromogenic print encountered by viewers of Alex Prager’s “Week-end” is a saturated close-up of a brunette called “Wendy” whose parted lips indicate her effort to communicate with someone beyond the frame, while her emerald eyes express a longing gaze toward something that we cannot see. Strategically placed across from “Wendy” is “Barbara,” posing against a backdrop of gradated blue light, while a spotlight exposes her fur jacket and expression of destitution as she too looks off into the distance. “Week-end” is a collection of photographs depicting female subjects who invert their gaze, suggesting that they belong to a world which is “other.” A braless subject named “Tiffany” stands in front of a rack of books wearing a puke yellow turtleneck. In our attempt to capture her gaze we realize that Prager has concealed her eyes behind carefully adjusted glasses.

Alex Prager, “Barbara,” 2009, chromogenic print, 48 x 63 1/2”.
Prager unhinges John Berger’s notion of the gaze because the viewer is accustomed to surveying the subject that does not acknowledge our gaze. Prager’s subjects overtly assume B-movie role character types, but how does the relationship change between the subject and viewer when the subject’s gaze is directed past us? “Tiffany’s” gesture of adjusting her glasses is a subtle insertion by Prager that her subjects and not the viewer control the power of the gaze (M+B, West Hollywood).

- A. Moret

James Welling, “6063 (Glass House Series)," 2008.

James Welling’s “Glass House” photographs, taken over three years (until October of 2009) at and around Philip Johnson’s classic in New Canaan, Connecticut are softly psychedelic, but more harsh than trippy. Using various colored lenses on bright, reflective days in all seasons – though winter seems to get far more play than the others – Welling’s inkjet-printed photos are saturated, intense and resound with their experimentalism. There’s a bit too much saturation in the work to be taken in as a group, but rather, in the tradition of all classic photography, they’re best regarded one at a time. A roughly four-minute video is devoted to an exploration of the Lake Pavilion, also part of the Glass House property, and sets the tone for the photos: atmospheric and a little bit moody. It calls attention to what sunbeams can do with some amplification and its concordant disorientation. Neither as strong nor as lush as Welling’s recent prior efforts – particularly the photograms – the “Glass House” photos are fully committed to merging architectural studies with lens filter chaos to a degree that impresses nonetheless (Regen Projects, West Hollywood).

- MS

John Baldessari, “Blue Line (Holbein),” 1988/2010, mixed media.
Somewhat surprisingly, the best piece in John Baldessari’s three-part show is also the oldest. “Blue Line,” which is also the title of the show, was made back in 1988 for a show in Brussels. It also happens to be the only sculptural iteration of a Baldessari that I’ve seen. Upon entering the gallery, you face a roughly two-inch wide painted blue line, which equates to the side and top edge of a tilting frame containing Hans Holbein’s “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb,” the original of which was created in the 16th century. On the left side of the nearly 18-foot-long frame, the head of Christ is at the top, while on the right side it’s the reverse.
It’s vintage Baldessari at his most pared-down, aside from the three-dimensional element, and it’s a striking image, or object if you like. It’s a pity that two more recent pieces serve only to dilute rather than enhance this simple but powerful gesture. A large framed photograph of a view of the Santa Monica Bay, which was installed last year in a Mies van der Rohe building in Germany – and for that occasion it was about simulating an ‘XLENT’ view – falls flat in this context. The third gallery proffers a video projection of comings and goings (and viewings) in the main space. Though intended to be about perception and reactions – and indeed it is, inevitably,  if you happen to catch people in their acts of viewing – this too misses the mark, bogged down in cleverness and over-thinking. Taking a one-stop tour, though, provides a solid reward (Margo Leavin Gallery, West Hollywood).

- MS

Given one’s likely association with Mel Bochner’s work – painterly, perspectival boxes from the ‘80s and early ‘90s – his current show of text paintings comes as a surprise and even a delight. In fact, Bochner has worked with text his whole career, going back to the mid-’60s, in the climate of early conceptual art. This body or work, which he’s been developing for about five years, is made up of single-themed oil paintings of text running vertically, with commas separating an often retro- sequence of words and phrases. Along with a selection of more colorful (as it were) words, “Failure” includes such obscure phrases as “Flub the Dub,” “Have a Dull Tool” and “Go Tits Up in a Ditch;” while  “Nonsense” proffers such classics as “Jibber Jabber,” “Twiddle Twaddle,” and “Bushwa.” The font Bochner’s chosen hovers just between too-loose-to-be-stenciled and too-neat-to-be-hand-painted, though one imagines they’re a mix of the two, with a style reminiscent of the artist Bob & Roberta Smith (yes: just one artist). Most of the words are made up of two to three colors, some of them blending into the flat monochrome background, making for an appropriate visual playfulness to accompany the kvetching texts, which jab our sides as much as rip us a new one (Marc Selwyn Gallery, Miracle Mile).  

- MS

Mel Bochner, “Failure,” 2009,
oil on canvas, 60 x 45”.

Ilán Lieberman, installation view, Steve Turner Contemporary, 2010.
Mexico City’s Ilán Lieberman is a big dreamer, thanks to meditation and some ESP research, and “Dream Works” is the formulated result of this process. Jonathon Borofsky made drawings and paintings about his dreams; Lieberman re-creates their protagonist-like subjects, including paintings that have legs (made up of wooden stretcher-bar sections); a portrait of William Burroughs in red-and-white marble stones; and an oversized wool, pants-like garment bearing down heavily on a hanging rope clothesline. The level of invention and execution here is high, though the dreams are more cryptic than revealing; there’s a lot here to digest if you’re up for it.
Tim Sullivan’s four-feet in diameter hanging records are phonographic/photographic discs that both play modified California pop anthems (apparently they can be played; grooves are visible on the polycarbonate plastic surface) and irreverently picture a few cultural clichés, from the blond starlet to the palm tree-silhouetted sunset, along with darker and campier themes (including the artist himself with his head and arms casually poking through orifices in Charles Manson’s head). Sullivan conjures the Midwesterner’s take on the Golden State vis-à-vis “Tales from the Darkside” (Steve Turner Contemporary, Miracle Mile).

- MS

The totemic language of sculpture has informed Herb Alpert’s work for the past 20 years. Totemism refers to kinship as well as a belief system associated with shamanistic religions, where the totem guides one through life in the physical and spiritual worlds. The artist handcrafts the works in “Black Totem” by creating vertical forms in wet clay of human and animal forms morphing into each other. Because Alpert works with his hands to create the shapes and not with tools, the surface qualities of the totems are organic and mystical. After the clay is set the totems are molded and cast in bronze with a black patina to a size ranging from 8 to 20 feet in height. It is impossible not to feel like a human chess piece weaving in and out of a dozen mammoth totems, dwarfed as you are by Alpert’s handmade and lucid creations.  The vertical forms rise like smoke from the ashes, and the play of positive and negative space between the forms creates an undulating rhythm inspires the eye as its mystery unfolds (Ace Gallery, Beverly Hills).

- AM

Herb Alpert, “Black Totems,” 2005-2009, bronze, 10 to 18’ high.

Daniel Aksten, “Untitled Plurality (Red),” 2009,
composite finishes on metal panel, 24 x 24”.

Quirky, pixilated paintings by Daniel Aksten are the highlight of this inaugural show, “Difference and Repetition.”  Uniform metal panels explore a restrained palette (red, grey, yellow) with taped grids and squares with rounded corners. Featuring both what the artist refers to as “portraits” and “landscapes,” each work is a result of calculated construction and arbitrary randomness determined, literally, by a roll of dice. Interestingly, the carefully masked and unmasked marks of automotive paint refer not so much to the future as it once might have, given that the computer byte metaphor has ceased to arouse such associations. Even the subtle basket-weaving texture of the paint layers points to craft and the artist’s hand in a way that makes one think about how the word “modern” has come to seem “old-fashioned” (CB1 Gallery, Downtown).

- Jeannie R. Lee

The show “and the world is ours” presents a poetic view of scientific investigation by Robert Twomey and Tim Schwartz, with a series of graphite sketches around a damp and growing stalactite in the center of the room and two videos in the gallery window. Although the hand-drawn images convey an atmospheric landscape, behind the fog there emerge the faces of stereotypical scientists – men in white-collar shirts and horn-rimmed glasses – studying or collecting information. The dripping iron-clad structure that may or may not be the object of study, grows (or decays) slowly, as nozzles near the ceiling spray the thing down regularly with salt water.

Tim Schwartz, “Ruin” (with artist), 2010, fiberglass, iron, saltwater.
This, coupled with the gaze-data driven videos, adds up to an uneasy query into the nature of looking (compactspace, Downtown).


Jodie Mohr, “Untitled (Manzanita),”
2010, oil on panel, 22 1/2 x 18”.

Paul Cherwick’s dizzying array of about one hundred carved wooden heads line the walls at eye height, jutting out sans any distracting grips or mounts. Their depictions scan the gamut from a primitive man, to a guy with a beer hat, to Larry Gagosian’s head. They have that folksy-yet-sophisticated edge that’s not unfamiliar but still feels fresh here; it’s a folk art for the art world. Jodie Mohr’s oil on wood panels are semi-photorealistic interior settings in which chandeliers and warm, soft light figure prominently. The strongest painting of the bunch is of a darkened room with stacks of wooden chairs carefully rendered, the layers of back spines combining to form a web of meshy space. The background, almost black but subtly described, offers suggestions of archways, panels, and perhaps a stage. Two chandeliers hang mutely. There’s no drama here of a pre- or post-party state, it’s more of a fetishism of the objects themselves. The work speaks of the good life, with a omnipresent sense of darkness (China Art Objects, Chinatown).  

- MS

Kathrin Burmester’s large photographs at first appear to be pictures of painted landscapes - perhaps French farmlands painted in a pointillist fashion. In the foreground, neat raised squares alternate with darker spaces to look like crops growing at different speeds. Then there’s a horizon line at eye level, and a dark sea and light yellow sky beyond that. However the clean unbroken lines seem too constructed, suggesting a stage set more than a natural vista. Come to find out, these geometric patterns of color are not pastoral, but interior shots of carpets, baseboards and adjoining walls taken in sterile, clinical environments: waiting rooms, mostly for medical practices. These super-enlarged grainy views reaffirm that art really can be made anywhere (Jancar Gallery, Chinatown).


Kathrin Burmester, “White over Blue, Red Yellow,
Green and White on Blue (Baseboard),” 2010, digital c-print.

Robert Mallary’s large sculptural slabs, full of sand, wood, cardboard, and resin, recall Anselm Kiefer and Eva Hesse with their distinctively brutish declaration of industrial presence and inner city found materials. That’s fine, but what keeps this show from being nothing much more than historical nostalgia (Mallary died in 1997) are his sinister figures made from resin-impregnated tuxedos and steel armatures, which could take on one of Louise Bourgeois’s spiders. Take “Harpy” (1962), for instance: she looms 7 1/2 feet high, a desiccated skeleton resembling road kill. Her dark leathery skin is made from the tuxedos of the dashing suitors she’s presumably destroyed. She sends chills down one’s spine (The Box, Chinatown).


Robert Mallary, “Fallen Angel,” 1962-63, polyester resin,
impregnated tuxedoes and steel, 105 x 66 x 32”.

Ceramicist Jonathan Ginnaty’s “American Dream in Terra Cotta” follows a long line of installations that use non-conventional materials to construct everyday scenes. Still, using breakable, clunky terra cotta to fashion a complete contemporary office provides a stark reminder of the clunky office equipment once regarded as high tech. (I finally discarded my bulky, 30-pound 1940’s Underwood typewriter a few years ago.) This stone-age version of the contemporary office includes computers, monitors, keyboards, printers, fax machines, copier, microwave oven, portable refrigerator, chair, sink and bar of soap, all assiduously crafted from breakable terracotta.

Jonathan Ginnary, “The American Dream in Terra
Cotta” (detail), 2010, terra cotta sculptural installation.
Try moving a heavy chair or lifting a keyboard, as viewers are invited to do, and you might reflect on how much our world has changed to portable, light in weight, indestructible, pre-fabricated equipment. The show is an eye-appealing, mostly orange-colored interplay of the present and the past – with a wink to the world of the Flintstones (CSUF Grand Central Art Center, Orange County).

- Liz Goldner

Venske & Spänle, “Voyage Congolaise,”
installation view, Arin Contemporary, 2010.

German sculptors Julia Venske and Gregor Spänle seek to bypass cultural differences that separate peoples of the world by creating legions of one-of-a-kind, beautifully crafted yet whimsically formed species, which they situate in unlikely places. This tall order, in the style of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, is about how art completely alters the environment; and more importantly, affects the people who experience it. Appropriated from characters they grew up with in Europe – the classic Smurfs – their sculptures are asexual beings from pop-culture. The duo has created five different species, each characteristically distinct and classified by name. These organic creatures are wiggly, melted, inflated and deflated, at times with folds, pleats, and flowing bodies that germinate from meticulous, labor intensive carved and sanded obdurate marble or cast in bronze. In remote areas of Somalia, the Congo, and the Pacific Islands; in mountainous Peru and in metropolitan Las Vegas, the artists place these humorous, soulful creatures.

Among the species to be seen here are the white marble Smörfs, back from their Congo journey. Despite language, cultural, and political barriers, and much initial opposition, a round of beers and good humor alleviated the tension and hostility. The forms were surprisingly hoisted on several Congolese barges and passers-by, many in native canoes, engaged with the unusual, non-threatening and joyous sight of the glistening creatures sailing down the Zaire River (Arin Contemporary, Orange County).

- Roberta Carasso

“Winter Blue 20TEN’s” 25 works by 10 artists is an explosion of blue energy in abstract canvasses and works on wood and metal in oils, acrylics, resin and mixed media. All artists have been exhibited previously here, but not in this configuration. Here, blue in its many variations becomes the style, theme and genre, creating a body of works that dialogue with each other. William Beaver’s large vertical mixed media, “Shades of Gray” uses oil, cellulose fibers and torn blotter paper to create a surface with intense variations and striations, evocative of rough, mountainous landscapes. John Szabo’s works in resin from the “Galaxy” series are in solid bold blue and planetary shapes exploding from white backgrounds. Sprinkled throughout the show, they complement the others. John Holmberg also paints exploding abstract shapes, often echoing Szabo’s. Quim Bove, working in oil and resin, creates work with curves, angles, torques and vectors. Eva Carter’s pieces in oils, in more classic abstract styles, serve to inform and balance the others. Paula Schoen also works in oil, blending horizontal lines that drive the vertical  canvas upward.

John Szabo, “Galaxy,” acrylic, resin
and ink on wood panel, 30 x 30”.
Mark Erickson’s square works blend together muted to bold blues, suggesting an angry sky. James Leonard’s large canvas is abstract, but serene. Bruce Brainard’s breaking waves against sand and sky, the most representational images in the show, present a counterpoint of traditional stability. The show also includes Battersby and Robert Mah, working in styles reminiscent of abstract expressionism (Marion Meyer Contemporary, Orange County).

- LG