|CONTINUING AND RECOMMENDED, JUNE, 2012|
Michael Boyd, WEDGEseries, Arrowhead corded lounge chair and ottoman, 2011.
"PLANEfurniture" is an erudite yet accessible show focusing on various porous boundaries we take for granted today: between form and function, pure design and aesthetics, science and art, standard artistic media and the digital age, the modern and the so-called post modern to name a few. Featured are contemporary functional objects — chairs, desks, tables — by noted designer Michael Boyd that will put you in mind of Schindler and all the pristine logic that name implies. In fact the rational, ordered simplicity we see here harkens further back and more directly to the formal and philosophical ethos of the Constructivist/Bauhaus schools. That underlying credo included the idea (so evident here) that rather than summarily reject the inevitably of consumer culture and capitalism, designers and artists are obliged to return to easy-assemble objects imagined from simple Platonic shapes.
The idea (perhaps even more timely today as resources dwindle and class divisions sharpen) was that crowding, urbanization and the advance of high technology are the givens of progress. As such, affordable, durable and beautifully conceived objects should not add to landfills and planned obsolescence, but support the common good. The confluence of fine art and good design was to be a win-win: satisfied makers and delighted consumers would promote an imagined populist visual utopia.
In "PLANEfurniture" Cezanne’s classic cone, rod and sphere are recombined imaginatively in objects for the home crafted by hand from low cost sustainable materials. Boyd — a skilled collector of art and respected artist – surely seems to have had some version of this modernist manifesto in mind when he conceived of these one of a kind, easily stored, space efficient, stunningly refined usable sculptures. The ‘Plane’ in the title seems to be a play on words, referring dually to seating surfaces and tables made primarily of smartly intersecting, organically interconnected planes, and elegantly plain form. Both the actual objects and the stunning concept drawings live up to the hypothesis that things we all use daily should please the eye, engage the mind, and engender feelings of delight and wonder mostly reserved in non-functional high art arenas for the elite (Edward Cella Art + Architecture, Miracle Mile).
Peter Shire, "Peach with Tamago Slice," 1977, cone 06 clay with glazes and marbleized cup, 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 6 1/2".
Peter Shire's "Cups 1974-2012" not surprisingly includes numerous small works that are artfully presented on beautifully designed pedestals carefully spaced throughout the gallery. The old and the new are juxtaposed to hint at how Shire explores possibilities within the form in both ceramic and metal. The ceramic cups are more sculptural than utilitarian. Geometric forms in bright as well as subtle colors emerge from the foundational cylindrical forms. Shire's works are often humorous and anthropomorphic. Also on view are a selection of small works on paper that illustrate the more spontaneous aspects of his practice (Lora Schlesinger Gallery, Santa Monica).
"You Don't Know Jack" installation view, 2012. Works by (left to right) Clytie Alexander, Frank Gehry, Clytie Alexander.
It’s customary to include a media list on gallery wall labels. For example, “Lynda Benglis, Untitled, (Racer Series Knot) 1989, stainless steel mesh, metal sprayed bronze, black nickel plated, 14 x 9 inches.” But try to produce a duplicate of Benglis’ work from the materials listed and you’ll find yourself crying "uncle” – or seeking the assistance of enabler Jack Brogan. Fabricator Brogan, a specialist in problem solving, especially in new media, began working with artists like Robert Irwin in the early 1960’s. "You Don’t Know Jack" features work from Brogan’s collection by creative clients he collaborated with, including Irwin, Benglis, Peter and Clytie Alexander, Helen Pashgian, John Eden, Chris Burden, John McCracken and Larry Bell. Clytie Alexander’s colorful perforated panels cast shadows that bounce the flat work into the realm of three-dimensional sculpture. Burden’s stainless steel “Indo China Bridge” spans a cardboard base by Frank Gehry. Bell’s smokey cube mystifies. Gehry’s cardboard chair floats on a clear base; raising it to eye level and allowing a good side view of it’s bare bone structure. It all adds up to a fitting tribute to the founder of “Design Concepts,” Jack Brogan, enabler (Katherine Cone Gallery, Culver City).
Mickalene Thomas, "Interior: Blue Couch with Green Owl," 2012, rhinestones, acrylic, oil and enamel on wood panel, 108 x 84 x 2".
Specifically referencing Gustave Courbet's "Origin of the World" (1866) in the title of her first solo museum show, "Origin of the Universe," Mickalene Thomas, pushes the boundaries of painting in a myriad ways. Thomas not only incorporates collage elements like glitter and beads into her works but also imbues surfaces with a wide range of textures and styles of paint. Her subjects are equally free of constraint, ranging from portraits to interiors and landscapes, in addition to quoting from art history. Thomas presents two of her own versions of Courbet's point of inspiration, using herself and her girlfriend as the models. In Thomas' version it becomes a vehicle to explore issues of race and sexuality. These works are shown in conjunction with formal portraits of black women, modern interiors and exterior landscapes that are visually seductive. With the aid of the computer she creates and then breaks apart and recompiles her compositions, which are then translated to wall sized panels. In all her works Thomas uses bright colors and patterning to transform the observed as well as the invented into socio-political works that engage with issues of race and sexuality (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).
David O'Brien, "Protein," 2012, C-print, 48 x 72".
David O'Brien's "My Pet Doppelgänger" pushes an all-too familiar digital trope way beyond novelty and into a fresh new language, turning C-prints into objects that are surprisingly painterly. Ranging from about three feet up to six feet on their long ends, O'Brien's images consist of hundreds (possibly thousands) of human figures that have been Photoshopped into swirling universes. Sometimes the figures splay out repeatedly in linked chains (a copy function familiar to anyone who's used Photoshop), and other times the figures are kept distinct, made to appear as if they never repeat (and presumably demand a huge cast of extras). The key to O'Brien's cosmos, as it were, is the high resolution that the figures maintain throughout; this means that even when they become tiny specs scattered at the edges of the composition, they read as simulated paint or dirt specks rather than insignificant digital blurs. The resulting miasmas are seductive, the vast zigging and zagging migrations of human forms resolving into potent 'strokes' from a distance. Even as they verge on coming across as rather hackneyed upon close inspection, it's simply a case of O'Brien showing his hand. Rather than falling prey to cheesiness, it actually makes the whole thing click (Richard Heller Gallery, Santa Monica).
Veronika Kellndorfer, "Lovell Beach House," 2008, 3-panel silk screen print on glass, 115 1/2 x 158 1/2".
Veronika Kellndorfer's large silkscreen on glass panels lean against walls or hang from ceilings hovering between art and architecture. In "Abstract Neighbors" she continues her investigations of Los Angeles' architecture via transparent images taken through windows in modernist beachfront properties. The works are as much about seeing as the idea of seeing through, they are about degrees of separation. The exhibition illuminates how the relationship between framing an image through or without the camera lens runs parallel to the manner in which a photographer sees through the lens to what an architect considers through the placement of windows in a building. Kellndorfer also plays with layering, turning the camera's limiting propensity to present flattened three dimensional space on the two dimensional picture plane into an asset (Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica).
Dinh Q. Le weaves together long, narrow strips of cut-up photographs into two-image hybrids, a format he's used for years. For this latest body of work, "Remnants, Ruins, Civilization and Empire," he's taken the dual imagery to its most visually ambiguous to date. Here images alternately read as either historical ruins – Angkor Wat or Sumer – or the citizens who lived under those respective empires, leaning more toward one or the other depending on the viewer's distance from them. Process and execution function more sculpturally than any of his past explorations. His decision to use black-and-white, as opposed to the aggressive color he's implemented in the past lends these a more visceral effect. The choice is better suited to the various stone ruins depicted, not only for their inherent monochromatic tones, but also for the graveness of the history buried within. The concept that the emerging/dispersing individuals have literally been 'woven into the fabric' of their own physical ruins may come to mind, but the gesture comes off as trenchant rather than glib (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica).
Cai Guo-Qiang, Ignition of "Chaos in Nature," Los Angeles, 2012. Photo: Joshua White.
Spectacle is what drives Cai Guo-Qiang's work. He is involved with a laborious process in which numerous volunteers help to stencil canvases with gun power which is then ignited in front of a large audience and videotaped. His exhibitions (including the present one, "Sky Ladder") often consist of video documentation of these events as well as the remnants of the explosions, which he presents as his drawings. Here there is a large scale work on the outside facade of the building as well as extensive video documentation of its creation inside. Cai Guo-Qiang's work melds aesthetics and politics in the soft sense that it is more about community than a solo studio practice. "Sky Ladder" includes drawings that cover the museum's walls in addition to "Crop Circles," in which thousands of reeds are attached to plywood boards and hung overhead. Viewers walk beneath and look up at the work, which is meant to resemble seeing crop circles from the sky. Because it is large, bold and charged with content and participation Cai Guo-Qiang's work has caused a sensation wherever it is shown. That it is limited to half rather than occupying the whole museum therefore comes as the one disappointment (The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Downtown).
Sipho Mabona, "The Plague," 2012, origami installation. Photo: Sipho Mabona.
Origami art has moved into the post-Modern age by leaps and bounds, and this medium-sized but highly engaging show is a jaw-dropper. "Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami," curated by Meher McArthur, begins quietly with examples of what you remember as a child, such as that quintessential origami, the crane. There's even a tiny one here made by Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who as a two year-old developed leukemia from the bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. She recalled the legend that if you fold 1,000 cranes, your wish will come true – her's did not (she died at age 12), but her story became a rallying point for all those who pray for peace.
There are some astonishing artists in this show, many of whom (not surprisingly) come from mathematical, engineering, or computer backgrounds. Cranes are still in fashion, but someone like Linda Tomoko Mihara can fold multiple, connected cranes from one sheet of paper. Others call upon nontraditional techniques. Vincent Floderer uses crumpled tissue which he shapes and colors, creating quite convincing mushrooms and toadstools, corals and sponges. Martin and Eric Demaine, a father-and-son team, Jeannine Mosely, and Polly Verity make origami which incorporate folded curves – creating elegant geometric contortions in space. Robert J. Lang, considered the father of modern origami and whose designs are beautifully intricate, contributes a standing elk with flayed antlers (Japanese American National Museum, Downtown).
Bruce Cohen, "Untitled (Yellow tulips, departing storm)," 2011, oil on canvas, 32 x 32".
Over the years Bruce Cohen’s still-lifes have become less and less real. This is a good thing. This doesn't imply that earlier and less tightly wrought fruit-against-planes were not amply interesting. It is more that maturity and increasing mastery of his aesthetic process have refined and distilled a natural skill for verisimilitude into what is a voice and a visual position. Rather than deliver variations on what we see, perspectives tip eccentrically, often precipitously to add a subtle but palpable extra edge. Colors have deepened, surfaces are finished with a luster that is carefully worked, but not overly excessive, so that something as benign as tulips are now somehow, well, erotic. This is true for the open windows that beckon, the bowls filled with lush little eatables, and yes, a wonderful tussled empty bed with pillows cast in the most interesting sort of light. If in Dutch views of the everyday we were expected to read a call to piety and understand the transience of the senses, this cache of lovely work is its antithesis. And if art reflects the artist's personal experience, one would have to conclude that Cohen is getting friskier, more comfortable in his skin with age (Louis Stern Fine Art, West Hollywood).
Cy Twombly, "The Last Paintings." 2012, installation view currently at Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio.
At the opening of Cy Twombly: The Last Paintings a woman in very heavy gold labels all over expensive possessions stood in front of one large, muscular, drippy painting and remarked to me, as if I were her old sorority sister: "I knew if we waited long enough Ab Ex and platforms would come back. . ." As this show of massively scaled, lushly gestural works on panel depicting what might be flowers indicates, Ab Ex never left. Painting is by definition active and muscular, and artists like Twombly highlight that fact quite intentionally by passing their action on through to the brush, the medium, our eyes, our bodies, our memory. They were doing so in J.M.W. Turner’s time, and they will continue to do so into the future. Platforms, I'm not so sure.
The more than 15-foot paintings look like loose, swirled and splashed abstracted florals in deep red and washy yellows set on bright green grounds. The works come from a series titled oddly "Camino Real" (potentially a reference to a play by Tennessee Williams of that title). As the eye moves from one handsome work to the next, the petal-like form evolves from suggestions of flowers, to cascading calligraphic loops you make with a clogging fountain pen, to pure content-free clouds of pigment able to sort of sear the eye/mind. To take such a ‘sweet’ subject and render it ‘heroic’ (to use the language of the 1960s) just means that Twombly was a master at permitting the presence of the marking act and its emotional evocations to live side by side without separation. Just as interesting in this show of work done right up to his death are the photos the artist took over the years chronicling lived life as one source of his art — fecund peonies, his studio in Lexington, his brushes – all greatly abstracted and full of feeling (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).
Joe Suzuki, "Fortune Cat Series," 2012, acrylic on raw canvas, 24 x 16”.
The brothers Joe and Macha Suzuki explore notions of success and failure through a series of sculptural objects and paintings. While they do not collaborate, their collective works make use of common symbols and cultural identifiers. Joe, the eldest reinvents the "Maneki Neko" (or lucky cat) with a series of paintings that make this piece of Japanese kitsch incredibly endearing. Instead of the white cat moving its paw and beckoning for fortune, Joe’s series of cats give rock and roll signs, lewd gestures or sport basketball jerseys (including one of Kobe Bryant and Jeremy Lin). The higher the paw of the cat, the luckier or wider the fortune may be. However Joe’s cats mock this Japanese tradition and decoration.
In contrast, Macha, who is primarily a sculptor, has a darker approach than his brother. Specifically it’s a wall-mounted relief with a faux wood texture that expresses his sensibility. Rectangular in shape, this relief features the phrase “Lost Again.” An object from which one expects an inspirational quote or perhaps someone’s last name, it instead celebrates a defeat. Molded in fiberglass, it furthers the irony with a laborious process, all in the name of failure. The brothers’ different views and perspectives on success imply why they don’t collaborate. Instead their divergent tracks make for good debate (Sam Lee Gallery, Chinatown).
G. James Daichendt
"Architectural Ornament in the Form of a Cut Shell," Mexico, Tenochtitian, 1400-1521. Photo © Instituto Nacional de Antropologia 3 Historia.
“Children of the Plumed Serpent: The Legacy of Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico” tells the history of Tollan Mexico, AD 900 to 1521, in didactics as well as in the stone sculptures, ceramics, painted manuscripts (codices), textiles and works of gold, turquoise and shell, all created in the area today called Tula, Hidalgo, 50 miles northwest of Mexico City. This story is also of Quetzalcoatl, the human incarnation of the “Plumed Serpent” who was, to his people, the ancient spirit force of wind and rain, combining serpent and quetzal bird attributes. The exhibition traces Quetzalcoatl’s life (his specific dates are not identified), describing his role as founder, benefactor and ruler of the Nahua, Mixtec and Zapotec dominated kingdoms of southern Mexico. After his exile, the local citizens or “Children of the Plumed Serpent” embraced him as a deity, creating numerous treasures out of their reverence.
While the story behind this show is compelling, the art pieces and artifacts, culled from Mexico, Europe and the United States, command detailed examination. This massive yet easily viewed exhibition, broken into five sections, has 218 examples of the elaborate artistry of the people who worshipped Quetzalcoatl. Ceramics (that could have inspired Ken Price and Peter Voulkos) include the elaborately painted “Censer with Claw Handle” and “Chalice,” both with reds predominating, and the painstakingly sculpted “Effigy Censer” and “Seated Figure of Quetzalcoatl,” both ceremonial figures. “Turquoise-mosaic Disk” has numerous pieces of turquoise, each carefully placed onto the disk. A later piece with the same name varies turquoise fragments with sand colored ones, resulting in a work of intricate patterns. Limestone works include “Atlantid” from 850-1150 AD, a dignified, god-like figure in perfect condition. Textiles include “Codex Selden,” a primitive tapestry of deerskin, gesso and pigments, telling a complex story of warriors, and “Codex Nuttall” with speared warriors invading a netherworld populated by dragons and other exotic creatures. The 70-inch wide, “Relacion Geografica Map of Teozacoaico,” with its serpent-like design, depicts the complex mythological life of the people who lived and created these works in the wake of their “plumed serpent” deity (Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], Miracle Mile).
Herb Ritts, "Earvin 'Magic' Johnson, Hollywood," 1992, silver gelatin print, 50 x 40".
Getty Associate Curator of Photographs Paul Martineau has edited a number of stunning fashion, figure and celebrity studies by Herb Ritts. Essentially self-taught, Ritts was noted for his ability to stage, light and frame his subjects for maximum drama. He frequently positioned his models outdoors at desert or seaside sites where he utilized elements such as the wind or shadows to transform skin, fabric, curves and muscles into idealized glorifications of human bodies in their prime. Ritts' preference for California locations and natural light set his glamorous fantasy photos apart from studio shots by East Coast contemporaries, aligning him more closely with an idolization of L. A.’s life style that is also evident in Julius Schulman’s earlier promotion of modern architecture. A now iconic portrait of fashion model Cindy Crawford on the beach in Malibu, along with scores of photos for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Interview and Rolling Stone magazines of celebrities such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand and Bill T. Jones, brought him international acclaim at a time when the public’s appetite for all things “celebrity” was exploding. Winning the trust of those who admired and trusted his artistic vision, Ritts once convinced actor Djimon Hounsou to pose with an octopus on his head. The unique portrait that resulted from that simulation of dreadlocks, along with examples of work ranging from commercial video projects to personal erotic studies of a gay couple from Ritts' book “Duo,” allows us to grasp the appeal of both the personal and commercial work Ritts produced up until his untimely death from AIDS in 2002.
In a concurrent exhibition, the caliber of the Fahey/Klein holdings and along with Ritts' astounding visual gifts makes for an archival show that is a knockout. Yes, yes, there are the standard de rigeur bronzed male hard bodies, greased up and coiled, in thigh to thigh duos on sandy beaches (and they are no less stunning for their über staged, predictably “I’m too sexy for all things" vibe). But there are quirky surprises that remind you of this photographer's genius: Cindy Crawford in stark profile so you see less of the iconic celebrity and more of the pure distillation of form that drove Ritts. Contemporary dancer Daniel Ezralow in tunic moves calmly but also wildly in images able to relay his blend of frenzy and poetry in one studied frame (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles; Fahey/Klein Gallery, Miracle Mile).
Naida Osline, "Dany" from "Royalty," 2012, inkjet print, 24 x 36".
The body has long been an issue-laden site in Naida Osline’s photographs. Whether erupting into engrossingly grotesque deformations or seamlessly merging plant, animal and human DNA into freakishly beautiful biological impossibilities, her images have insistently prodded our sense of what is normal as well as abject. Within our complex responses of rejection and kinship we could always find her tickling at the emotional layers imbedded in our desire to observe another’s body. At first glance Osline’s latest photographs, showing in concurrent exhibitions, feel far less challenging. Rather than lush, alien-looking mutated body parts they present exquisitely detailed and gorgeously colored large scale photographic portraits of middle-aged men. As images they are clearly indebted to classic painting and sculpture with those imbedded traditional proclamations of the accepted social order. Where these photographs get interesting, however is in the way Osline tweaks our way of assigning worth to such oversized portrayals. By asking the different street denizens and shopkeepers she worked with for her “Men” series to each remove their shirts and photographing them as classic naked busts she strips them of all class separations and renders each man simply, and respectfully, for their individual humanity rather than class or role. That they also have draped around their unshaven throats some kind of snake skin, theatrical faux fur or are perhaps crowned with a live octopus makes them look no less impressive. They look us directly in the eye and seem to exude a sense of inherent male power.
By contrast Osline’s "Royalty Series" of “Queen’s Men” and “Drag Kings” (men and women who dress in drag) are not secure in their own skin. Rather, because they draw their power and identity from applications of the other sex’s clothes and hair, their portraits are about the way those things confuse and align with our expectation of gender identity. While more challengingly outrageous to look at, these sitters appear no less dignified in their idealizing portraits. Osline’s use of photographs to examine the male body and identity is reminiscent of John Coplans’ black and white photographs that used his aged naked body to examine our culture’s cult of beauty and its historical and anthropological models constructed around the body. It’s interesting to consider what we have to strip away, and slip into, in thinking about who we are (Grand Central Art Center Gallery, Orange County; Riverside Art Museum, Riverside).
Like a spare but mesmerizing digital collage or a virtual minimalist painting that steadily assembles itself before your eyes, Marsia Alexander-Clarke’s video installations make the most out of almost nothing. Slicing out long, narrow linear fragments of video footage from a simple walk through her garden, she digitally creates absorbing, slow-moving arrangements of constantly changing pattern, repetitive visual rhythm, and silent syncopation. Because her vertical and horizontal lines capture snips of vegetation on the verge of becoming pure abstraction, amassed they read like spare drawn or painterly marks filled with nuance. But because they quite literally move they retain the living reality where they were gathered. Watching the slim bands assemble we are drawn to the geometric patterns they create that gently suggests things like rain falling or the rippling surface of moving water. But, like looking out through the narrow spaces in a nearly closed venetian blind to the tantalizing fractured landscape beyond, we are constantly aware of the ground that blocks our full view. That back and forth between real world depth and video flatness becomes a participatory oscillation of vision that she reinforces with her presentation of similar, but differing, videos on two side-by-side, large screen plasma monitors. The partnering tends to keep our eyes and bodies swaying in a gentle lilt. When projected onto full walls there is an enticement to circle the room, following the ‘footsteps’ or "PASOS" of the exhibit’s title in a quiet, contemplative walking meditation (UCR California Museum of Photography, Riverside).
Brent Harada, "Untitled," 2012, acrylic on paper, 22 x 33".
Brent Harada is a zine-based artist whose intimate work is typically printed on a small scale and in few numbers. However, here the artist goes to a paintbrush instead of a pen, and to a larger format to completely fill the walls (floor to ceiling) of the gallery. The result is confusing and overwhelming as these figurative portraits fight for attention. Whether they are National Geographic-inspired masks or Matisse-like odalisques, each have a rough charm. A mix between Keith Haring and Raymond Pettibon, Harada's works use a simple but decisive black gestural line. His cast of characters doesn’t necessarily interact with another, but instead seem to exist in separate universes, each vying for individual attention (Bunny Gunner, Pomona).
Patrick Maisano, "King and Muse," mixed media.
The term “fractured fairytales” takes on a new, gloomier shade than the old Rocky & Bulllwinkle cartoon series in Patrick Maisano and Shannon Richardson’s joint painting venture, “Fairy Tales & Monsters,” a decidedly contemporary take on all things flighty and frightful. One thing that makes this “monster show” unlike many others is that neither artist strays toward the grotesque, a popular avenue of shock that has been stripped of the ability to do so. The work here instead remains rooted in the subtly of terror beneath the surface that always expresses a more ferocious and disturbing quality. The softly painted shades of pastel spring are delicately darkened throughout the exhibition, and the situations of the storybook characters are fraught with indecision and alarm. In Maisano’s "Red Riding Hood" both the Wolf and Red seem engrossed in an odd staring contest in the forest, each one waiting for the other’s next move. That next move might look something like Maisano’s "Goldilocks," in which the towheaded tween makes a mad dash for the stairs, one paw swipe ahead of a three-headed bear. Richardson’s work is a continuation of these traditional fantasies, taking them beyond fabled texts and into nuanced nightmares that seem pleasant upon first glance, until we note that the maidens have ominous ghouls shadowing them who reach out for strangle-hold hugs or appear as disembodied heads swooping in slowly for a screech, as in "Directions from the Wind." It’s a perfect combination of works from two ethereal-minded artists whose senses of humor are firmly intact and fully transfigured into gorgeously grim tales (JoAnne Artman Gallery, Orange County).