|CONTINUING AND RECOMMENDED, MAY 2016|
Kim Abeles, “Zoe’s Teeth,” 2001, Abeles’ daughter’s baby teeth, leaves, is currently on view at Post.
Be prepared to discard mundane assumptions concerning the proper subject matter and staging of portraits and autobiographies when you step into this exhibition of realities reinterpreted by Kim Abeles. Confessing to “Looking for places where strength, anger, empowerment and humor can find their union,” Abeles activates the timer on her camera, taking on the role of photographer as well as subject as she steps into scenes such as “Self portrait dying my wedding dress black” and “Self Portrait (Pope Joan). In a horseshoe shaped work titled “Personal Effects," among objects that would normally be passed on to the next generation such as the first book Abeles created or her uncle’s purple heart, the artist includes the unexpected: a urine sample from her pregnancy test and replicas of legal and financial problems, including a Welfare Department Food Stamp card. Abeles’ version of a family tree features a circle of her daughter Zoe’s baby teeth affixed to a leafy twig. A video portraying Abeles ”Ironing all the paper trash from Earth Day at the California Science Center” references an inquiry Abeles is noted for producing, addressing environmental issues (Post, Downtown).
Abel Alejandre, “Alien Invader,” 2015, acrylic and spray paint on primed wood panel, 24 x 24”, is currently on view at Coagula.
Abel Alejandre’s intensely detailed work “Public Secrets” is an intimate look at a literally taboo subject: secrets. Alejandre asks the question: doesn’t everyone attempt to hide activities others might castigate? The beautifully rendered panels took a year complete. They vibrate with the artist’s extraordinarily lively line work. Skin textures, fabric, feathers, the soft wrinkles beneath eyes, the etched smile-lines around lips — all are beautifully nuanced, forming a connection with the subjects, whatever they may be hiding. So real are these faces, the fact that they are created in black and white fades away. The paintings pulsate with immediacy and realism. Within these very defined images are conspiracy theorists, family secrets, even UFOs. As the eye makes sense of these images, so does the mind make sense of these secrets.
Paintings of birds whispering to a migrant worker, a woman with “X-ray vision,” a football fan literally and figuratively “Propping Things Up” are placed together, linking them and their secrets that the little birds tell them, into this dazzlingly detailed world created with acrylic paint markers on black gesso with graphite. Viewing this exciting and vital work allows us to share the most important secret of all: our most hidden and intimate places make us spectacularly human (Coagula Curatorial, Chinatown).
Stephen Aldrich, “Treasure Island in a Nut Shell,” 2014, collage, is currently on view at Craig Krull.
If you like the collage genre, go and see the hilarious, surreal and vibrant works titled “A Plague of Fools” by illustrator, album cover artist and book author Lou Beach. He takes us on a journey into a fantasy world, where hybrid and dehumanized figures are the main characters in his storytelling. These flawed and sometimes powerful half-animated/half unanimated creatures are taken on a ride. For another, there are the different, but no less engaging works of New York artist Joseph Heidecker “Figures & Faces." His stitched black-and-white photographic portraits also have an element of dehumanization. Since his subject’s masked and distorted faces are covered with colorful thread, we lose the opportunity to observe details about their personalities. The recurrent theme — that nothing in the world is the way it ought to be — is also visible in the works of Zac Thompson. In his series “False Family: The Architecture of Found Photographs", we can see a series of images, in which reflections deviate from their objects, suggesting the artist’s internal conflict between having grown up in a highly religious household that condemns homosexuality and his own nature. The highlight of the group show, however, is Stephen Aldrich’s series “Subject Matters.” His opaque black-and-white collages, made of fine 19th Century engravings from books and journals, influenced by photographer Frederick Sommer, are done with such precision that one can’t even tell that they didn’t start out as one piece. Aldrich’s works are less surreal than some of the other artists, but are no less rich in imagination (Craig Krull, Santa Monica Bergamot Station).
Pamela Schoenberg, “Collage I,” 2015, photographic collage, is currently on view at dnj.
Summer and vacation time are just around the corner. Hence, the days when children will have more time to go on play-dates and chase butterflies. But instead they are being sent to computer, math or multi-lingual summer camps or assigned to a tutor to catch up with the material they didn’t grasp during the school year. And so children in the US today miss an important part in their development, which is to experience carefree time. Hence, Pamela Schoenberg’s show “When did it stop being fun” touches upon an important issue, which is that children are more stressed these days due to the demands that are being put on them by school and society. As a consequence more of them tend to develop mental illnesses than in the past. The unique aspect of Schoenberg’s show is that she presents her works from the point of view of adults and children that are inspired by the black-and-white documentary photographs of working children by Lewis Hine, who used his camera as a tool to help change the child labor laws in the U.S. a century ago. Schoenberg presents a selection of colorful drawings, done by elementary school children growing up in Los Angeles, that portray scenes of school and outdoor activities. This is followed by a section of photographic collages and triptychs in which the students’ changing inner lives are reflected on their faces as smiles turn into frowns. In the gallery's backroom are the selfies and grids, which display a group of depressed looking teenagers and a documentary film on stress made by Schoenberg’s daughter Dora, who is a student at Harvard-Westlake. The exhibit closes with an interactive installation that simulates a classroom experience during test taking (dnj Gallery, Santa Monica Bergamot Station).
Kent Twitchell, detail of “Ed Ruscha Monument,” 2016, is currently on view at LAM.
Kent Twitchell's work is well know to most Los Angelenos who do not otherwise know the first thing about art. His murals grace the facades of key freeway and other walls throughout Los Angeles. It is therefore a treat to see Twitchell’s related studies and drawings inside the gallery context. We get the small in relation to the multi-story public works, which are represented in documentation and as banners that hang from the gallery's ceiling. Twitchell's subject include other artists, like Lita Albuquerque and Ed Ruscha, who is seen as both a young and older man. Twitchell is working on a new mural of Ruscha to be installed upon completion in the Art District downtown, and sketches, an architectural model and a partially completed section of the new mural are on view. This informative exhibition provides insight into Twitchell's process as well as showing him to be a master draftsman (LAM Gallery, Hollywood).
Lawrence Weiner, “Made to Be” installation view, 2016, is currently on view at Regen.
Language has long been Lawrence Weiner's medium, and the signature large-scale wall murals and a floor piece here stay the course. Although the presentation is minimal, the context and content is an opened ended philosophical poem. The meaning is allusive and thought provoking. The work on the entry wall reads: OXYGEN & ACETYLENE MADE TO WELD IRON AT A HEIGHT FROM THE LEVEL OF THE SEA. Inside the space across three walls are the phrases: MADE TO BE / AS THICK AS CAN BE / SPREAD AS THIN AS CAN BE. And along the floor: SAND & STONE PUT UNDER FOOT SOME FROM HERE SOME FROM THERE. Weiner's work is as much about what language means and signs for as it is about how words can be used to fill a space and the conversations that ensue from that juxtaposition (Regen Projects, Hollywood).
Donald Baechler, “Untitled (Spiral Head),” 1983, graphite, tempera and paper collage on paper, 42 x 42”, is currently on view at Gavlak.
New York based painter Donald Baechler was quite the sensation during the 1980s. He was featured in numerous shows and became a prominent figure in the East Village Scene. These early paintings and works on paper remind us of the beginnings of what became his signature style: bold child-like renderings of people, places and things usually centered on a large field (be it canvas or paper). The flat objective, yet simultaneously expressive style has both power and resonance that holds up thirty years later.
Mike Davis' suite of nearly two dozen small watercolors are jewel-like meditations, their sources ranging from childhood snapshots to obscure vintage artist photos to Instagram. "It's Not Easy Being Green" is both the title of the show and a work featuring several likenesses of Kermit the Frog in both green and blue, some singing and others silent. Kermit, who also appears in two other works — playing the banjo and balancing with one foot on a bike seat — might be the artist's alter ego. Davis/Kermit casts a subtle note of melancholy over the show, if not just from the title alone then also the air of desperation. Highlights include Batman making out with Robin; Frida Kahlo incarnated as Snow White, with her hand on a fawn; and "Plaid Onesie" and “Ikea," two versions of the artist playing the violin as a toddler (the latter featuring an audience of two dogs and a cat). His watercolor craft is top-notch without being obsessive, though Davis did spend a year and a half on "Cock in Trafalgar Square," based on an Instagram photo. If there's no larger takeaway from "It's Not Easy Being Green," it's a pleasurable romp gazing into these modest, moody escapades (Gavlak, Hollywood).
Moira Hahn, “Year of the Monkey Series / Fire Monkey,” 2016, watercolor, 21 x 15", is current on view at Gregorio Escalante.
Combining a vibrant color palette and the delicate details of Japanese wood block prints, Moira Hahn’s “Night of 1000 Fire Monkeys” dazzles in a fresh spin on Japanese printmaking inspired by Buddhist Hell scrolls. Hahn, who spent six months living in Japan watching the creation of wood block prints, has produced works in vivid watercolor that beautifully weave intricate Japanese imagery with touches of modern technology, humorous takes on today’s society, and witty anthropomorphic creatures. Fun meets fine art in Hahn’s elaborate world, with each piece telling a compelling and complex story, a compact fairy tale with political or cultural punch. Hahn substitutes anime figures and images of current pop culture and current events for 14th century images. The most recent piece is “Heaven and Hell Series VI/Wind Demon,” with Donald Trump cast as the demon himself. In “Spring Snow II — triptych Bats and Cats,” cats clad in traditional Japanese robes fend off an attack from a vicious looking bat, while a monkey studies his iPhone. With a background in film graphics and experimental animation as well as fine art, Hahn creates paintings that could easily be in motion, narratives that are as sharply satiric as they are beautifully drawn (Gregorio Escalante Gallery, Chinatown).
Daniel Joseph Martinez, "IF YOU DRINK HEMLOCK, I SHALL DRINK IT WITH YOU or A BEAUTIFUL DEATH; player to player,pimp to pimp,” 2016, installation, dimensions variable, is currently on view at Roberts and Tilton
Daniel Joseph Martinez’ installation, with its lengthy title "IF YOU DRINK HEMLOCK, I SHALL DRINK IT WITH YOU or A BEAUTIFUL DEATH; player to player, pimp to pimp. (As performed by the inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade),” is based on and inspired by Jacques-Louis David's classic painting "The Death of Marat.” It may not be a tour de force, but there are aspects of it that deserve acclaim. Three central tableau figures — all hyper-realistic, symbolic iterations of Martinez in different guises — haunt the center of the gallery, with aluminum bleachers framing the scene like some surreal public murder. Martinez himself wearing a black 'Zarathustra' t-shirt, has his hand on the shoulder of Martinez #2 — based on Marat's assassin Charlotte Corday — who wields a knife in ready-to-stab position. Martinez #3 represents Marat himself, sitting in his bath of blood.
Moving amidst this scene as a viewer is creepy indeed, the scale is so human you sense that Martinez #1 might turn and stab you. It's not unlike a wax museum-meets-interactive-haunted-house experience, with the bleachers embedding you more deeply into the action. But the combination of symbol plus the verisimilitude of these figures grabs our attention, if to a point of revulsion. Martinez as Corday is covered in sores; the historical Marat suffered from During’s disease, a skin condition. The effect is so successful as to overshadow the weaker elements of the installation. Martinez' voice softly intoning didactic proclamations out of surrounding speakers can barely be heard, and perhaps it's not really meant to be. The messages, trenchant as we have come to expect in the context of Martinez’s heavily political oeuvre, ultimately are subsumed by the spectacle (Roberts & Tilton, Culver City).
William Wegman, “Looking Over,” 2015, pigment prints, each 44 x 34”, is currently on view at Marc Selwyn.
It is impossible not to smile when looking at William Wegman's photographs. In "New and Used Furniture, 1972-2015" current as well as older photographic works are juxtaposed, revealing the breadth of Wegman's humor and cunning. In recent works, his current pair of Weimaraners, Flo and Topper regally pose atop colorful Eames chairs as well as classic George Nelson and George Nakashima furniture. In "Left Right Black White," Wegman plays with opposites. A black Eames chair set against a white background is juxtaposed with a white Eames chair on a black ground. It becomes more nuanced when the chairs are occupied by a dog posed as if that was exactly where the animal should be. To get the animals to sit still on the furniture at full attention can be no small feat. In the diptych "Looking Over," a dog in three-quarter view stares out across the length of a Nakashima bench, the browns of his fur working in concert with the wooden bench and the similarly toned wall and floor. After over 40 years Wegman’s good natured Weimaraner images, consistently witty and humorous, maintain their appeal as he continues to find ingenious ways to mine the most from the subject (Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills).
Agnes Pelton, “Star Gazer,” 1929, oil on canvas, 39 x 25”, is currently on view at Kayne Griffin Corcoran.
"The Ocular Bowl" is a thoughtful three artist show organized around the too little known legacy of the painter Agnes Pelton, a founding member of Southwest-based Transcendental Painting Group. While it has a whiff of part two of the Pacific Standard Time mass of shows that we will be inundated with again before long, Pelton is only represented by two small pieces here — "Star Gazer” (1929) and "Passion Flower” (1943) — among a selection of 14 works. The show ultimately becomes a creative launching pad and mini-retrospective of sorts for Linda Stark (whose paintings here range from 2005-10), and a showcase for the youngest artist, Alex Olson, all of whose works are from this year. Rarefied as Pelton's work may be, it's overshadowed by her contemporary colleagues by volume if not accomplishment. Stark's work is more connected to Pelton’s for its exploration of New Age and symbolist themes. Most of Stark's work here has been well-traveled through L.A., and so lacks surprise despite the new context. Olson's eclectic approach, including tributes (made explicit by their titles) to Pelton and Alberto Savinio (aka, Giorgio de Chirico), comes across as varied and complex, its multi-pronged elements — tactile, surrealist and ocular — the most satisfying.
In "The Diet," New York based multi-media artist Michael Bell-Smith exhibits framed works, custom software pieces on monitors as well as a projection. In a suite of four videos "Flames Clock,” respectively titled for the direction of their movement (Up / Down / Left / Right), synchronized clocks float in a field of flames. As we watch time pass second by second, we are visually drawn into an endless loop of vibrant yellow and orange flames dancing against a black background. The precision of the generic clock is presented in contrast to the entropic flames. Bell-Smith as a pre- "post-internet artist" has long been an appropriator of other's images. In this exhibition he borrows icons and sketches he found online presenting them as repeating patterns. The most engaging work in the exhibition is the back-to-back projection of "De-Employed" and "De-Employed_2016," both short films (2 min 29 sec) that compile fragments from templates used to make professional slide shows and promotional videos juxtaposed with stock footage and clip art. Bell-Smith's re-editing of this material becomes a poignant critique of bad design and the cheesy effects — transitions, slides, rips — used in amateurs’ presentations (Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Miracle Mile).
Janine Brown, “The Wallflower Project: Marcella,” 2012, pinhole photograph, 24 x 20”, is currently on view at Gallery 825.
Fascinating perspectives on interior and exterior worlds unify “4 Solo Shows.” Chenhung Chen’s “Entelechy” is a force of nature. Her powerful sculptures utilize wires, metal alloys, extension cords, and discarded computer parts. Each piece feels as if Chen has created living beings, each with a different, illuminating purpose. “Entelechy #12" is industrial, masculine, powerful. “Entelchy #23" features a vivid orange extension cord woven in place by crocheted silver alloy, a delicate female tissue supporting the masculine cord. As fluid as sea creatures rising from the deep, as exposed as circuits within our own bodies, Chen’s sculptures have a strength that defies viewers to look away. Janine Brown’s “The Wallflower Project” is comprised of portraits created with her hand-assembled cardboard pinhole camera. The works are a series of double exposures, with the subject literally fading into the images of photographed wallpaper. The word wallflower itself was coined in Victorian times, when wallpaper was popular. Brown’s work has an ethereal, ghostly quality that is both literally and figuratively haunting.
Seda Saar’s “Polyhedron: Art + Reality Are One” captures light and space in what the artist terms “the ecstacy of illusion and wonder.” Mirrored reflections create endless 3D visions in a projected space; viewers can capture their own reflections in some pieces, prismatic constructions layering light and color. Devin Thor’s “Paleolithic Creatures” are sculptures cut from Arizona sandstone, integrating glass and lead, depicting wondrous extinct species. Inspired by European cave paintings, Thor wants viewers to be “included in the oneness of our planet, to be good stewards of our planet.” A geologist as well as an artist, Thor’s work comprises beautifully evocative, timeless pieces that represent bison and antelopes (Gallery 825, West Hollywood).
“Paper in Practice” installation view, 2016, is currently on view at Moran Bondaroff.
When iconic work is presented by world-renowned artists, magic can happen — and does in the group exhibition “Paper in Practice.” Works by 17 artists include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Brian Belott, Huma Bhabha, Ida Ekblad, Sheree Hovsepian, Rashid Johnson, Mimi Lauter, Yi-Hsuan Lin, Eric Mack, Mason Saltarrelli, Torey Thornton, Brad Troemel, Oscar Tuazon, Jonas Wood, Stanley Whitney, Rose Wylie and Viola Yesiltaç. Each are unique, but share one simple common attribute: the use of paper. Paper is a conscious creative choice here, not simply a precursor to works on canvas, linen, or panel. Used for texture, to heighten a narrative process, or as simply a beloved medium of choice, these paper-based pieces can almost be felt by the viewer. There’s a softness to them, an intimacy for which paper is well suited.
Brian Belott’s “Untitled” mixes sand and acrylic paint, highlighting the grain of the paper itself. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Untitled (Three Figures)” utilizes crayon, pencil, and acrylic, with the paper seeming to absorb and transform each medium, to infuse breath into the figures. Ida Ekblad uses paper upon paper to imbue a rich, earth-like dimension to “Wet Snow Falling on the Basketball Hoop.” Paper maché and puff paste on cardboard, plastisol and acrylic form a mossy texture. Jonas Wood’s “Orchid Clipping Diptych” combine gouache, colored pencil and collage paper to create a veritable haiku of a flower that is both stylized and intimate. From watercolor and ink to char and rust, paper is the backdrop for a wealth of visual properties both delicate and tough-minded in this group exhibition (Moran Bondaroff Gallery, West Hollywood).
Joseph Albers, “Color Study for Homage to the Square,” date unknown, oil on blotting paper, 11 9/16 x 11 3/16”, is currently on view at Hammer Museum.
“Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957” was organized by and first presented at the ICA in Boston, and was curated by former ICA Chief Curator and current MOCA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth and the ICA's Ruth Erickson. It is an in depth look at the art, artists and community who taught and studied at a fine arts program that was minuscule in scale but outsized for its impact on American art. The long-lasting influence of faculty and graduates of the college, and the creative methodologies they developed and espoused, is the focus of this compelling exhibition. Pieces by faculty members Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, and Charles Olson viewed decades later alongside works by their students — a remarkable roster that includes Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, Merce Cunningham, Robert Creeley, Jess, Ray Johnson, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Gwendolyn and Jacob Lawrence, Robert Rauschenberg, M.C. Richards, Cy Twombly, Peter Voulkos and Susan Weil — collapses the generational relationship into an aesthetic whole. The multi-disciplinary approach and insistence on experimentation, as well as the acceptance of art and craft's equal validity, is what set Black Mountain College apart. This exhibition serves as an important reminder of a key historical moment, as well as the creative advantages of working across disciplines.
It comes as a surprise that the renowned street artist Kenny Scharf has only now been engaged to create a mural for the museum's large entry stairwell here. His work can be found in many places around Los Angeles including The Pasadena Museum of California Art parking lot and a tire store on the corner of La Cienega and Washington Boulevards. Whether presented inside or outdoors, his work is typically filled with bold and brightly colored cartoon-like characters with googly-eyes darting across the composition. Here these body-less faces with large eyes and open mouths lead viewers up the stairs to a red swirling spiral (a smiling snake-like creature) surrounded by spray-painted planets and stars. At once sinister and charming, these energetic creatures enliven the walls and ceiling to provide an enticing welcome (Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).
“Delicious Taste,” a collaboration between knitware designer Grant Levy-Doolittle and media artist Bruce Yonemoto, is anchored by an installation entitled "Re-Corded History." A wide array of old phones and monitors hang from dangling cords, wires and ropes. The work celebrates outdated technology while simultaneously speaking about the ubiquity of surveillance and our networked, cell phone obsessed culture. Visitors are captured by a video camera and their images then appear in many different forms on the monitors suspended between the black ropes and tassels that cover the gallery wall. Among the ropes are now obsolete cables and cords once used to connect computers and phones. A second more colorful array traces the history of the telephone as old-fashioned receivers are juxtaposed with a multitude of cell-phone makes and models. An adjacent CD player broadcasts the range of ring tones (c. nichols project, West Los Angeles).
Jason Martin, “Buraq,” 2015, mixed media on plexiglas, 27 1/4 x 21 1/4 x 3”, is currently on view at L.A. Louver.
At first glance the mixed-media works of Jason Martin are reminiscent of elaborate applications of frosting. Though large scale, the gestures and texture of the molded and colorful medium he applies to flat surfaces has the feel of a well decorated cake. Created by layering pigments, dyes and watercolor to a paste medium he manipulates by hand, Martin then exposes the works to natural forces — wind, rain, heat, etc. — that allow the materials to combine and dissolve in unpredictable ways. The resulting thickly impastoed multi- and monochromatic works, each with it's own patterns and gestures, are intriguing hybrids that hold the space and catch the eye (L.A. Louver, Venice).
Marius Bercea, “Partial Knowledge,” 2016, oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 15 3/4", is currently on view at Francois Ghebaly.
Romanian artist Marius Bercea’s “(On) Relatively Calm Disputes” transcends locale, even as the lush landscapes evoke dream-like images of another land. Bercea’s work presents tropical landscapes populated with figures strolling, sunbathing, making love, exploring an arena fertile and overgrown. Some of the images evoke the work of Henri Rousseau, others, streaked with luminescent colors, appear to be drawn from an alien landscape beyond our own known universe. Oil paints are thickly layered, lending visual depth to works depicting seemingly secretive places that make us feel as if we’re eavesdropping on this somewhat mysterious world.
Paired with Bercea’s works, Joel Kyack’s “On the Floor in the Cave of Skulls” includes fountains that serve as a kind of visual poetry, with water standing in for narrative. In some cases, more literally than others. “Constantly” is a series of wooden blocks with the letters forming this word cut out, dark blue water running between the letters so as to illuminate them before passing through a tube into a bucket. Kyack uses water bottles, an old turntable and multi-colored plastic cups to create Rube-Goldberg-like contraptions steeped in the surreal, all riven with satiric humor. Along with his fountain works, Kyack’s often monochromatic paintings, collages, and wall sculptures offer a related helping of dark humor and visual puns (Francois Ghebaly Gallery, Downtown).
Catherine Fairbanks, “Two Chimneys” installation view, 2016, is currently on view at Wilding Cran.
The ideal way to view Catherine Fairbanks’ “Two Chimneys” exhibition is alone and in contemplative silence. The sculptural pieces on display are mute in an almost sepulchral way. Five embossed drawings are pure white, with the barely visible forms of lamps and pitchers rising above the picture plane; they are traces, hints, whispers. Two horsehair weavings on linen hang on the wall, their coarse black and beige strands shamanistic and allusive, but hushed in their power. The centerpiece of the show is a pair of large sculptures suggestive of chimneys crafted out of papier mâché. Standing over seven feet tall, they evoke ruins; whatever coals once figuratively burned there are long extinguished, and only the crumbling foundation of the hearth remains. In the back room, Fairbanks exhibits four ceramic jugs or pitchers. Their jazzy colors initially make them incongruous in terms of their relationship with the other works in the exhibition, but they similarly deny their utilitarian purpose, existing now in only an evocative capacity (Wilding Cran Gallery, Downtown).
Lily Simonson, “Antarctic Pteropods (Sea Butterflies),” 2015, oil, acrylic and ultraviolet pigment on canvas, 72 x 216”, is currently on view at CB1.
Lily Simonson’s “Midnight Sun” is the work of both an artist and an Antarctic explorer, a magical viewing experience that pulls us into canvases fecund with color and motion. Based on her second expedition to Antarctica as the Awardee for the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, Simonson has created a beautiful, nearly surreal world of color-intense paintings. Using acrylics, oil, and fluorescent pigment in both mediums, Simonson’s work has a translucent, pearlescent quality in white light, and it glows in black light. One room of the gallery is devoted to a video installation that plunges us into her wild and ethereal world, shown alongside a series of canvasses that are lit by black light.
Her “Antarctic Pteropods (Sea Butterflies)” depicts a beneath-the-sea landscape of nearly neon greens, blues, reds and yellow toward the water’s surface, while through the dark ocean depths, delicate creatures dance in translucent opal shades. The unexpectedly rich colors Simonson uses here and throughout the exhibition, recreate life both beneath the sea ice and on land along the Antarctic coast. Her water images seethe with motion, while landscape vistas border on the surreal, both lush and mesmerizing (CB1 Gallery, Downtown).
Dona Nelson, “Hair Conditioning,” 2011, acrylic mediums and dyed cheesecloth on canvas (double sided), 83 x 80”, is currently on view at Michael Benevento.
In the alliteratively and wittily titled "Erasing Tracing Racing Painting," painting boundary-pushing veterans Dona Nelson and Polly Apfelbaum take a two-pronged approach. Overall their respective work adds up to an installation that takes advantage of the gallery's unique warren of nearly maze-like spaces. You wander through multiple interactions among paintings, wall works and Apfelbaum's signature dyed velvet floor works. A fresh encounter with the two artists' works in concert awaits around every corner.
In the most site-specific of these space mediations, one of Nelson's free-standing paintings (on a metal armature) nearly blocks the entry to the final room in the cycle, confronting the viewer with a diagonal before that gallery space can be taken in. Apfelbaum also has included a new series of glazed terra cotta and porcelain balls (or formed fist clumps, to be more accurate), which hang in neat rows both high and low, as per their "Sight Line, Knee Line" title. Though there aren't quite any knock-outs here, the show in concert, as played out throughout the conjoined galleries, makes for a lively, painting-as-funhouse experience (in a good way) (Michael Benevento Gallery, Silverlake).
Jessie Homer French, “Fault Zones 2010 — Coachella Valley,” 2010, fabric, thread, fabric paint and pens, 42 x 28”, is current on view at the Armory.
Jessie Homer French’s cleverly named “Mapestries” focus on the West, particularly California. The moderately sized tapestries are made of one foundational piece of fabric with other pieces sewn on top; the effect is more collage-alike map than patchwork. Tacked up on the wall like paintings, they are a modernist melding of swathes of color, thick lines, and organic shapes. The works are not abstract, however; each one is an aerial view of regions of the West — the desert, coastline, mountains, the Central Valley. Los Angeles and its environs feature prominently in many pieces, and French suggests that the man-made and the natural coexist only uneasily. Those thick, graphically appealing lines are actually the multiple earthquake faults that underlie all these areas. They noticeably and ominously snake under and around the skyscrapers that represent Los Angeles.
French’s work compellingly blurs distinctions between the cultural production of art and the scientific discipline of cartography, calling into question the function and characteristics of each. Her reduction of geography to simplified, bold and occasionally insouciant forms allows us to consider our region and our role within it anew. We are left to speculate how the present day landscape French depicts may very well be altered in the near or distant future (The Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena).
Natasha Shoro, “Metamorphosis,” 2015, acrylic on canvas, is currently on view at Soka University.
This mother and daughter exhibition conveys an impressive symbiotic relationship. Natasha Shoro, the mother, works in paint and mixed media, while her daughter Anushe Shoro creates photography and poetry. Through extensive travel, the Pakistani-American artists bring a unique flavor to Southern California art, a mixture of Eastern and Western perceptions with a broad international sensibility. Natasha seeks to express visually — from a macro viewpoint — the concept of Being, a conundrum where Being is an eternal, universal presence, but also allusive and seemingly unattainable. Anushe brings the universe down from its ethereal heights to human scale and expresses Being as well, but from a micro viewpoint. The enormity of the physical universe, for example, is embodied in the intimate structure of a flower. In poetry Anushe writes: “… where sometimes the Little Things, are the Big Things.” In this way, the artistic dialogue between the two artists presents a broader range of ideas beyond the art and limitations of gallery walls. Eschewing a cerebral presentation, the exhibition is curated to bring viewers closer to the artists’ mindset, where thoughts of Being can be contemplated. The mixing of media, therefore, promotes an invisible connection the two artists share — their artistic dialogue conveys the universal womb in which we live, their respective art serving to better put the metaphor within reach (Soka University, Founders Gallery, Orange County).
Diego Rivera, “Human Sacrifice and Self-Sacrifice before the God Tohil,” 1931, watercolor on paper, is currently on view at the Bowers Museum.
“Popol Vuh: Watercolor Paintings of Diego Rivera” is tucked away in a corner of this large multi-cultural museum. The 17 small, primitively drawn watercolors, all from 1931, are likely to enchant and even mystify, due in part to the legend that inspired these artworks. Popol Vuh is the sacred text of the ancient Quiché Maya people from Guatemala and Mexico. The text, as translated by American author John Weatherwax (from an 18th century Mayan to Spanish translation), describes the creation of the world. Rivera’s watercolors are highly stylized, referencing imagery decorating Mayan ceramic, stone and painted artifacts. Beneath every painting, there is a detailed excerpt from a Weatherwax text. The artist then, inspired by the author’s words including, “The flood and the destruction of the wooden man,” “Monkeys that look like people,” and other metaphorical references to humanity’s beginnings. Nearly naked, brown skinned characters, bedecked with primitive necklaces, bracelets and earrings, alternately pay homages to gods, monsters and dragon-like creatures. While these small paintings lack the detail and majesty of his murals, the stylized characters are inspired by those in his larger works (Bowers Museum, Orange County).
“City Life, Los Angeles: 1930s to 1950s” features primarily watercolors with a few oils, by Lee Blair, Phil Dike, John Haley, Elmer Plummer, Retta Scott, Edouard Vysekal and several others. It illustrates the rapid development of Los Angeles when it was undergoing modernization and the population was growing quickly. Emil Kosa Jr.’s “Wilshire at Night” (1959) depicts a Westwood restaurant with space age architecture features, lighted windows, cars and obscure images of people, all against the dark backdrop. The artist’s “Past Glory” (1952), of the run-down Beth Israel Synagogue in the Bunker Hill district, has a similar look. Also from this district is Noel Quinn’s “Three Sisters, Bunker Hill, L.A.” (1945) composition of three majestic homes. Contrasting with these is Dan Luntz' bucolic “Bunker Hill” (1942) mansions dominated by mature trees. Millard Sheets’ lush “Olvera Street” (1951) captures a colorful, busy downtown street filled with people and flower vendors.
Several paintings of L.A. tunnels include Ralph Hulett’s “Out of the Tunnel” (1950), detailing the entrance to the Hill Street tunnel, and Dorothy Sklar’s “The Tunnel” (1947), depicting a red streetcar emerging from a tunnel. Of particular interest is Sheets’ “Beer for Prosperity” (1933). This close-up of a glass-fronted bar/coffee shop was named for the anti-prohibition slogan of that time. Barse Miller’s “Lincoln Park” (1935) is notable for its detailed carousel and soda fountain. A number of historic photographs also help to set the scene of the Los Angeles of nearly a century ago (Laguna Art Museum. Orange County).
Do Ho Suh, “Apartment A, Unit 2, Corridor and Staircase, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA,” 2011-2014, Polyester fabric and stainless steel tubes, Apartment A, 271 2/3 x 169 3/10 x 96 7/16”; Unit 2, 422 7/16 x 228 1/3 x 96 1/16”; Corridor and Staircase, 488 3/16 x 66 1/8 x 96 7/16”, is currently on view at MoCA San Diego.
Installation view, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2014. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.
Korean artist Do Ho Suh creates architectural installations, sculptures and works on paper that draw on themes of home, identity, space, memory and most poignantly, migration. When Suh decided to re-create his New York City apartment, he looked to using a transparent polyester fabric, steel wire rods, and the old-school technique of frottage to create architectural drawings which serve as patterns. He wrapped his real-life apartment’s walls with paper, then carefully used blue crayon/chalk to rub across all surfaces top to bottom. This process establishes an intimate connection between home and the memory of home. The installation is built around the inclusion of the immense transparent drawings of each wall/room, to which the artist adds all its finer details, such as light switches, heat regulators, pipes and other fixtures. We easily move through these life-sized, see-through, multi-colored structures even as we observe all spaces at once.
In another gallery with black-painted walls are a series of “Specimens," large light boxes that each house an appliance: refrigerator, bathtub, stove and toilet. The colored transparency of these common appliances transforms them into objects of beauty. Among a series of drawings made of multi-colored threads that the artist machine stitches and applies to hand-made paper, "My Homes" portrays a rough-hewn outline of a man composed of black thread. Above his head spin two circles of houses. Finally, a video mixed media animation titled "Secret Garden” depicts a replica of his childhood home in Korea, which has been transported by truck across the world to its new home at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It is a body of work that interrogates the meaning of home, identity and personal space in the content of globalization, filled with implications about the evolving meanings of no longer quite so familiar cultural structures. Experiencing this work makes us wonder how we maintain stability and who are we in relationship to what used to be a primary anchor — our home (Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego).
Stefani Byrd with Amy Alexander, “Diva: ReDux,” 2015, still from video, is currently on view at the San Diego Art Institute.
Please DO Touch is the credo of “Sweet Gongs Vibrating,” a multi-media, multi-sensory group exhibition curated by Amanda Cachia, San Diego Art Institute’s current Curator-in-Residence. This exhibition is as much about Cachia’s passion to “combat the ocularcentrism in our gallery and museum system” as it is to present interesting art by twenty local, national and international artists who happen to use multiple modes of expression in their works. Their broad intent is to alter our perception of art — to shift us from regarding it from a solely visual standard, to consider art as inclusive of all the senses. We are thus actively invited to create sounds using mallets to strike Aaron McPeake’s "Vibrating Gongs" (2007-2010), or by simply picking up McPeake’s "Singing Bowls” (2011). Cooper Baker’s “Giant Spectrum” (2016) activates lights by sound. Spinning wheels made of wood produce various clicking sounds from plastic straps and rods placed behind the wheels in Aren Skalman’s “Wheels” (2015). Margaret Noble’s works "A Score for Conversation" (2014) and "Head in the Sand" (2015) activate sounds and reverberations based on the speed of our touch.
A series of videos further highlight sensorial experiences. Diane Borsato’s “Cemetery" (2015) focuses on a woman eating an ice cream cone from start to finish. We hear repetitive licks and slurps, with a background of other environmental noises also in the mix. In the video performance by operatic singer Andrea Green in "Diva: ReDux," Stefani Byrd with Amy Alexander use music and software to express love, sorrow, joy and grief, all clarified and deepened by facial expressions and color. Throughout this show, the visual teams with auditory, tactile and olfactory sensations to enhance art's capacity to expand our connection to both personal emotion and the world around us (San Diego Art Institute, San Diego).
Luke Matjas, “Rare is the Mammal Which Disputes the Right of Way with a Diamondback (Caduceus),” 2015, digital/analog drawing, archival print, 120 x 42”, is currently on view at the Carnegie Museum.
What impact do wildlife and human beings have on California’s native habitat? What happens when housing developments invade the state’s dwindling open lands? Luke Matjas considers these questions and more in his colorful, witty exhibition of large-scale digital prints, analog drawings, banners, paintings and signs. Golden poppies, acting as place markers, are among the flora that repeatedly appear in this native Californian’s work. Suburban life intertwines with nature as green PVC watering hoses pair with diamondback snakes in “Rare is the Mammal Which Disputes the Right of Way with a Diamondback.” Although people are absent from the work Matjas presents here, their presence is noted in a rash of mundane objects of the type typically featured in Home Depot ads. Plastic chairs hang from uprooted oak trees. Coolers take on the role of lost ships of the desert. Photographs, sketchbooks and newspaper articles that inspire Matjas and explain his process are housed in a vitrine near the entrance to the exhibition. Among these is an article that reported the demise of a tagged mountain lion P-32, killed on the Golden State Freeway last year; it’s right up the artist’s alley (Carnegie Art Museum, Ventura County).