|CONTINUING AND RECOMMENDED, NOVEMBER 2012|
Recruitment handbill, 1863, chromolithograph.
In the November 6,1860 election, Abraham Lincoln managed to win a close Presidential race, but not a popular majority. Before his inauguration in March of 1861, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana had seceded from the Union, increasing the inevitability of a bloody Civil War by turning their backs on the idea of a single American nation. Curator Olga Tsapina has scoured the Huntington’s extensive collection of manuscripts and printed materials in search of items that document the vicious debates and shifts in mission by leaders and foot soldiers on both sides of the bitter conflict. "A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War" includes over 80 items, ranging from rarely seen government documents such as Lincoln’s signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation to political cartoons predicting a profusion of mixed race births if Negro slaves were to be set free. The Civil War “Code of Armies in the Field,” which forms the foundation of the Geneva Convention, is here, along with Jefferson Davis’ early design for a Confederate flag. The disheartening diary entries and letters home from wounded soldiers, too weak from starvation to make a stand, are not only moving but lend insight to the experience on the ground. This collection compliments and informs the Huntington’s concurrent exhibition, “A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning and Memory in the American Civil War,” a painful but intriguing examination of photography’s relation to the conflict between the integrity of the Union and independent rights of its citizens, as well as President Lincoln’s assassination by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865 (The Huntington Library, Pasadena).
Alison Saar, "50 Proof" (detail) 2012, glass, metal ring, tubing, pump, ink. Photo: Chris Warner
Alison Saar deploys unexpected combinations of objects and images to address issues of race, gender, and spirit. Her recent residency at Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle gave her the opportunity to incorporate blown and cast glass objects into a series of mixed-media sculptures that address culturally constructed concepts of the body, ethnicity, and the human/nature divide. One piece is a clear glass self-portrait head attached to the white wall by a metal ring that reads as a neck constraint, echoing the manacles of slavery. Viewers are instructed to pump black ink into the hollow head and watch it change from apparently white to black, watch as it becomes a little bit black, half black, all black. The pumping is slow and a bit tedious, so contemplation is enforced, and during that time our social assumptions about race and identity are called into question. Another piece combines glass boxing gloves, filled with blood-red ink and suspended above a janitor’s pail. The ink spills down the wall like a bitter wound. Equally compelling is the triad of heart sculptures, each with long black arteries winding down to the ground like fractured spider legs. Saar hangs figures upside down, suspends them over clustered antlers, anchors them with roots of broken bottles. There is a melancholic poetry all through this work. Saar is all about disturbing beauty and urgent questing. Best of all, it is installed so that each piece has room to breathe and grow so that we have the psychic space to digest these dizzyingly intense offerings (Otis College of Art and Design, Ben Maltz Gallery, West Side).
Betty Ann Brown
Michael Queenland, detail from "Rudy's Ramp of Remainders," 2012, multi media installation.
This show's title, "Rudy's Ramp of Remainders," was inspired by a discount-remainder store in Germany, though it reminded me of one in New York, where one could wander amidst a scattering of tchotchkes, foodstuffs, electronic accoutrements and other random items. Michael Queenland's displays have a far more calculated randomness to them, and the contrasts between his fabricated sculptural elements – large-scale balloons made of resins, whose finishes simulate pearlescent shell interiors, rubber, or matte gray concrete – and a hoarding of amped-up consumer goods, mainly Kellogg's and General Mills cereal boxes, is a brilliant reconciliation. In the spirit of an authentic remainder store, the items are alternately displayed on the floor, on shelves, on plastic-covered pages of the New York Times and on rugs (which in two cases take the title of "war ramp"). The balloon sculptures, of which there are dozens, in addition to standing aesthetically on their own, also become vessels for concave mirrored wedges or as containers for Cocoa Puffs. All the potential heat that could emanate from the commercial sheen of the cereal boxes and newspaper ads wind up being almost completely diffused within the larger environment, which is mad scientist-like and yet evokes a vibe of great absence. Though roughly 6-foot-tall industrial plastic shelving units are interspersed throughout, the main gallery maintains a tremendous horizontality, the degree to which not only keeps you earthbound as you explore, but also aware of the building's structure. The one element to quibble with is the inclusion of Times clippings of burials related to the war in Afghanistan, which are displayed in the front corner of the space, along with the show's informational text and the artist's bio; the gesture is contrived, a late-game swipe at the larger world context that simply doesn't come off. Still, that misguided gesture doesn't get in the way of an otherwise inspired installation (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica).
Deborah Butterfield, "Girly," 2012, painted bronze, 38 1/2 x 39 x 17".
Deborah Butterfield's eight new horse sculptures have a life of their own, and one suspects that at any moment they might step forward and start snorting and stomping the ground. In fact they are quite solidly made of cast and patina-ed bronze. Butterfield creates them in an elaborate multi-step process, assembling found pieces of wood for the model. The pieces are then taken apart, individually cast and then re-assembled. A basic horse physique is suggested, but each exudes a different soul or personality. As Butterfield, who owns ten horses, remarked, "In real life each horse is different, so why shouldn't these be?" Two are particularly stunning. "Hyalite" is a massive, 8-foot tall creature in black, as if made of charred wood, and stands solemnly as testament to a grave tragedy, perhaps referencing the wildfires that have plagued the artist's home state of Montana. And indeed she did gather together burnt wood for the model of "Hyalite." Elsewhere, on a pedestal, is a much smaller, delicate horse. "Girly" is just over three feet tall, and made of small, curly pieces that are intertwined with ohia, a Hawaiian tree of the myrtle family, and what appear to be pods. Butterfield has found just the right twig to outline the top of "Girly's" gently lifted head, alert and attentive to the coming season (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).
Zarina, cut Nepalese paper. 69 x 39". Collection of UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, Hammer Museum.
In "Paper Like Skin" India born, New York based Zarina, displays her talent and ability to create evocative art from paper. These "skins" are variously cut, wrapped and, yes, drawn on. The exhibition presents works from 1961 to the present. Born in India in 1937, Zarina was trained in mathematics and planned to be an architect until she discovered printmaking. She interacted with New York based artists who were making minimal, conceptual and process art, culling her own ideas from those methodologies which she incorporated into her own practice. Lines and shapes populate the compositions, which are sometimes pure abstraction and other times studies of patterns and systems. The pieces are invested with map-like qualities as well as references to automatic writing. At times they expand from the wall, enveloping three-dimensional space as sculpture. Under recognized and not seen often in Los Angeles the scope of her oeuvre may well remedy that under exposure (Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).
William Eggleston, "Untitled," 1965/2012, pigment print, 44 x 60".
Photographed between 1966 and 1974 in cities such as New Orleans, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Los Alamos and the Mississippi Delta, William Eggleston’s series “Los Alamos” celebrates the nuances of small town America and exposes the idiosyncrasies of modernity. The large-scale color photographs here frame otherwise banal subjects - 24-hour cafes, drive-throughs, mom and pop shops that specialize in apparel for “Texas Tall Girls” - and expose a severe attention to detail achieved through depth of field and vantage point. Eggleston’s photographs resist attachment to a definitive time or location, rather directing us toward memories stored in a collective subconscious. Each photograph praises a relic of America that might otherwise be overlooked, forgotten, or undocumented. “Los Alamos” demonstrates a discerning and patient eye that adds up to a picture of the world resulting from a chance meeting between the subject and the lens. A woman seated at an aqua diner booth is photographed from behind, revealing salt and pepper hair that has been spun into a perfect updo with every strand in place. Sequin pins stitching her coif in place mimic the lines of her spine. The man seated across from her is obstructed completely from the lens, but the woman’s attention to detail in styling her hair alludes to the artist’s consistently controlled gaze (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).
Rashid Johnson, "15th of March," 2012, burned red oak flooring, black soap, wax, vinyl, oyster shell, shea butter, 72 1/2 x 48 1/2 x 10".
Rashid Johnson's "Coup d'état," his second solo with the gallery, subtly, often subliminally, infuses post-minimal floor sculptures and wall works with an ongoing interest in black identity. The wall pieces include tiled mirror works with partial and full coverings of what has become Johnson's signature material, black soap and wax - similar to encaustic, but darker and more visceral. With this grouping, Johnson has added to his innovation-heavy repertoire by using branding irons on red oak flooring sections, creating all-over patterns with circular brands that may read as abstract but, just as readily a gun scope's crosshairs. With titles like "33rd of July" and "6th of August," there's certainly an undercurrent of revolution humming beneath the artifices. The floor pieces include more branding marks, this time on Persian rugs, with double circular and diamond patterns in addition to the crosshair brandings. Upon the rugs sit a few boxes of shea butter and wax in plastic bags, which are in turn tucked within cardboard casings. References to Beuys and perhaps a few post-minimalist era artists are present, but Johnson makes it all feel thoroughly fresh (David Kordansky Gallery, Culver City).
What’s the story behind our tattoo fad? Like many trends in American popular culture, there are California roots, and “L. A. Skin & Ink” explores some of them. The exhibition features about 20 tattoo artists, starting with those who set up shop in Southern California in the immediate post-World War II era. The first were in Long Beach to cater to the sailor trade when sailors were the core customer base. They then spread out as tattoos become popular with other populations. Work is seen through photography and through “flash,” artwork on paper intended for display on tattoo shop walls. The latter provided design ideas for customers and showed off the skill of the tattooist. To get a sense of atmosphere, a shop from about half a century ago has been re-assembled in one nook, with flash on the wall and pots of color alongside rather seedy-looking tattoo equipment. This, fortunately, is not what today’s customers face, as seen in an accompanying video. But the principle of getting the ink under the upper two layers of skin remains the same. I was fortunate enough to attend a walkthrough of the show with three of the tattoo artists - Shawn Barber, Jill Jordan, and Zulu. They proved themselves very knowledgeable – and proud – about the history their trade, and were also students of some of those early tattoo artists. Clearly the history has grown rich, but the exhibition itself is short on providing a sense of that. The bios on wall text do tell us that quite a few of those who entered the trade in the last 20 years have gone to art school – yes, from Ringling College of Art to Otis College of Art and Design. No wonder the trend is towards more painterly and personalized approaches (Craft and Folk Art Museum, Miracle Mile).
Kerry Tribe, "Sam," 2012, C-type print, 43 x 31".
The centerpiece of Kerry Tribe's exhibition entitled "There Will Be __________" is an experimental film shot on location at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. Greystone Mansion is a location that has been used in numerous films, all of which Tribe meticulously researched, along with a real murder on the premises just after the mansion's construction. Using dialogue culled from those films Tribe has created a 30 minute film that portrays diverging accounts of the events leading up to the murder. While each scene is entirely constructed and restaged, they seem familiar due to the fact that the dialogue and location are so recognizable. Like in her previous film-based installations, Tribe pulls from a specific history to create a conceptual framework through which to re-imagine and understand the events portrayed (1301PE, Miracle Mile).
Leo Marz, "Dead Ringers," 2012, installation: two oil paintings on canvas (39 x 71" each); wooden box containing certificate, hair and blood samples of identical twins who painted them (4 x 14 x 9"); wooden box containing slides and ashes from burned paintings (8 3/4 x 17 3/4 x 17 1/2") and slide projector (duration of projection 6 minutes 40 seconds). (detail)
Leo Marz's installation in the upstairs space at Steve Turner Contemporary features two paintings created by identical twins depicting a scene in the movie "Vertigo" where Scottie sees Madeline sitting on a bench in the museum gazing at a portrait. The images are similar but not identical and are meant to question the veracity of memory. Entitled "Dead Ringers" this conceptual artwork plays on the idea of gimmick and fake. While something of a one liner, the project is nonetheless intriguing for its attempt to layer distance and disintegration onto the work. Marz displays reproductions of paintings that have been destroyed as slides, while simultaneously presenting ashes of the originals in a wooden box entitled "Fake" (Steve Turner Contemporary, Miracle Mile).
Fiiko Isomura, "I Can Too!," 2009, mixed media on watercolor paper.
“A Complex Weave: Women and Identity in Contemporary Art,” curated by Dr. Martin Rosenberg, Professor of Art History, Rutgers University, and Dr. J. Susan Isaacs, Professor of Art History, Towson University, explores global feminist issues. Sixteen female artists from diverse backgrounds use textiles, installations, photography, ceramics, and painting to express their unique vision of feminine identity in the contemporary world. The exhibition, which is divided into areas that categorize Complex Geographies, Image and Text, Childhood/Family, Accessories, and the Female Body, provides an organizing context for viewing the works. Personal identity is explored by artists who have immigrated to the U.S. and are incorporating multiple cultures and traditions. Another group investigates how childhood and family play major roles in shaping identity. Using image and text, three artists deconstruct and transform restrictive gender and cultural conventions, while another group focuses on clothing and related objects and express how material culture has a powerful influence on feminine identity. Finally, the work of another clump of artists expresses their primary concern over the personal and cultural influences of the female body. The subject of feminine gender and identity is an ongoing conversation in contemporary art and this exhibition makes an important contribution to furthering and organizing this discussion (USC Fisher Museum of Art, Downtown).
Margit Fellegi (United States, 1903–1975), "Scandal Suit," 1965, bathing suit, nylon knit jersey. Manufactured by Cole of California (Los Angeles, California).
“California’s Designing Women, 1896-1986” is deserving of praise for many of the same reasons that last year's citywide examination of the L. A. art world, Pacific Standard Time, was celebrated. Alongside amazing finds by nearly four-dozen underappreciated women designers and entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds, guest curator Bill Stern offers viewers the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with examples of work by artists whose names they are likely to recognize such as Beatrice Wood, Ray Eames and Edith Heath. Together these women helped shape the look of and style of twentieth century California ceramics, fabrics, furniture and graphic design, gaining worldwide influence. Among the diverse highlights of the exhibition are aerodynamically influenced Art Deco pottery and solid color California dinnerware, swimsuit fashions ranging from a 1910 figure concealing black wool number to a 60’s bikini, costumes for Barbie and Ken including American Airline stewardess and pilot uniforms and Dorothy Thorpe’s elegant sand etched glass vases. Esther Hernandez’s silk screened Sun Maid Raisin skeleton was created not to market the dried fruit but to protest pesticide use. April Greiman’s graphic designs, including a Museum of Modern Art poster and her early computer aided print “Does it Make Sense?” are stunning. Inspiring video interviews accompany the work of several artists, including Greiman (The Autry National Center, Northeast Los Angeles).
Lola Alvarez Bravo, "Diego Rivers," 1945, gelatin silver print.
"Lola Álvarez Bravo: the Photography of an Era,” an exhibition of several dozen photographs recently discovered in Mexico, includes black and white images, ranging from a tiny 2x2 inch portrait of Frida Kahlo to portraits, landscapes, formal room settings and action scenes, most no larger than 8x10 inches. These mid-20th century works, adhering to this period’s fascination with formalism, abstraction, surrealism and social themes, are by an artist determined to capture the changing Mexican landscape and its people. While echoing images by Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Tina Modotti, Dorothea Lange and her husband, photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Lola Bravo remarked that her works have, “a sense of humor, with that sort of playfulness that is so Mexican.” Among the several landscapes is “Maguey overlooking the valley” with a large aloe plant in the foreground, overlooking and dwarfing a sparsely populated valley. Her “Shadow on rocks” is a close-up of a mountainous region with dark afternoon shadows, recalling the works of Adams. Several portraits of indigenous people depict what the exhibition’s accompanying catalog explains as, “her deeply felt affinity for her subjects’ humanity.” A "Woman of Cuetzalan” leans against a high wall, her features, style of dress and intense far-away look evocative of the native people of a half-century ago. There are photos of the downtrodden and depressed, such as “Death Penalty (By the Fault of Others),” recording a desperate woman standing against bars, and contrasting images of elegant rooms and settings such as “Exhibition Space in the Galeria de Art Contemporaneo.” Sexier are portraits of artists and celebrities such as a candid shot of Diego Rivera and a formal image of Rufino Tamayo. While the range and subject matter are broad, many images have bold contrasts of light and dark, light and shadow, much of which was created in the darkroom. It adds up to a display of expressive depth and heightened visual interest (Museum of Latin American Art [MOLAA], Long Beach).
"Lion Attacking a Horse," Greek, 325-300 BC, restored in Rome 1594, 150 x 250 cm.
Courtesy of the Sovraintendenza ai Beni Culturali di Roma Capitale, Musei Capitolini.
Installing “Lion Attacking a Horse,” a dynamic three-and-a-half ton 4th-century marble sculpture, could not have been an easy task. In it’s former fragmentary state, consisting of the torso of the horse and all but the rear haunches of the fierce feline beast, the iconic Hellenistic work, restored in 1594, held a place of honor in Rome’s Capitoline Hill. It was favored as the symbol of Rome for centuries before being replaced by the bronze she-wolf that nurtured Romulus and Remus. Now mounted on a supporting platform anchored over the Villa’s entrance atrium’s pool, it is on view outside Rome for the first time in more than 2,000 years. The recently cleaned stone monument is positioned so that visitors can appreciate its mass and power while encircling the work to view it from all sides. Roman mosaics of similar subjects from the Getty’s collection and a 16th century drawing of the Hellenistic fragments on view in nearby galleries broaden appreciation and understanding of the original work. The lines between the sculpture’s original Greek core and additions made by Michelangelo’s student, Ruggero Bascape, are not difficult to discern. Especially out of sync are the shoes the Renaissance restorer attached to the victimized horse’s hoofs (The Getty Villa, Malibu).
The notion that all art represents a circle of life is the topic of "PAGES," but the objects are books altered and otherwise adapted by artists for their own aesthetic purposes. Some might argue that this amounts to an evisceration of books in the name of art, while others may be willing to dispense with the object altogether in favor of the disembodied ideas within. Then again, artists‘ marginal sketches, doodles and images imposed over scientific text or sheet music will prompt the skepticism of purists. Curators Stephen Nowlin and John O'Brien chose objects such as a book altered by Ed Ruscha to stimulate memories, to embrace the déja vu.
Echico Ohira’s exquisite “Spine,” is both a relief sculpture and a play on words reminding even the most jaded that humanity is inexorably intertwined with knowledge. People as well as books have spines and what would either be without one? Spineless in all the senses that the word implies? Then again, books don’t grow hair, or do they? Suvan Geer’s “Lose Ends” presents a book sprouting red tresses. Perhaps a story is a living thing that can grow so far in imaginary scope and size that the the author’s words cease to matter in the end. Geer’s “Morse Code” and “Braille” implies that there is more than one way of reading and even more ways of comprehending. Reading words frees them from their inert state, allowing them to disappear and re-appear at the readers' will. Such reflects that are stimulated here is no small feat in an age where those once sacrosanct words can be banished into the ether en masse by pushing a “delete” key (Art Center, Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery, Pasadena).
Claudia Alvarez,"Girls with Guns," 2012, oil on canvas, 48 x 36".
In "Girls with Guns," Claudia Alvarez focuses on adult themes personified in the physical bodies of children with adult faces. Working in ceramic sculptures, watercolor and oil, Alvarez explores emotions and actions related to human social conduct. The paintings often include young girls holding and pointing guns, an obvious evocation of violence that is also a reflection the inner psychological conflicts adults have between the recalled innocence of childhood and the need to protect ourselves. The sculptural forms are placed in an installation that includes several separate groups of small ceramic children, each set in a different tableau. One depicts four small children with their hands raised high, a dog, and another child behind them with a gun pointed at the group. Another includes two youngsters, one on top of the other, embroiled in a primitive struggle for dominance. A third group is a depiction of a child shunned. One female figure is seated on the floor with her arm and hand raised to cover her face. She is surrounded by other children who are bullying her, again referencing that primitive need for dominance.
In the back gallery are a series of plein air oil paintings on panel by Juan Carballo. Carballo’s paintings are as serene and as much about the beauty of nature as Alvarez’s works are a provocative and disturbing view of the conflicts of the human condition. This stark contrast provides moments of interesting counterpoint. Carballo's thick impasto style is enhanced by the multi-layed color handling of sea and sky. The more contemporary works titled “Tuttle Exit Bridge” and “Watertower” take themes beyond the realm of ordinary plein air paintings to express a more personal vision of the artist himself (Scott White Contemporary Art, La Jolla).
Edward Hopper, "Night Shadows," 1921.
"Character & Crisis: Printmaking in America, 1920-1950" features sixty works by forty-three artists that collectively portray the depth of social, political and economic issues that faced Americans over three transformative decades. The combination of etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, mezzotints and linocuts – all in black and white - are a fascinating collection of realism from the collection of the Art, Design and Architecture Museum at UC Santa Barbara. The show documents a vivid visual history of the multiple complex concerns operating during this unique period in American history. A division into subject areas of Myths and Realities, City and Country, and Race and Gender lend organization to the exhibition, and guide visitors to a succinct understanding of the issues of the time. The Midwestern artist Thomas Hart Benton embodies Regionalism, a style which rejected depicting urban centers in favor of glorifying a mythical rural life. Counterpoint to this vision, Reginald Marsh is represented by “Breadline,” a famous etching depicting hungry, haggard men waiting in line for bread during the depth of the depression. James Turnball's “Southern Night” depicts a group of Ku Klux Klan members, highlighting segregation and racial inequalities. Female artists like Isabel Bishop and Mabel Dwight addressed notions of sexual identity and the newly evolving female work force and independence from men prior to the emergence of modern feminism. George Bellows, coming at gender from the opposite direction, used “Business Men's Bath" to challenge then preconceived notions of masculinity (University of San Diego, Robert and Karen Hoehn Family Galleries, San Diego).
Peregrine Heathcote, "Suitcase Full of Dreams," 2012, oil on canvas, 40 x 40".
Peregrine Heathcote’s paintings are an uncommon breed of art. While displaying some Old Master skills, realistic portrayal of the human face and precise landscapes, these are contemporary in theme. Dominated by femme fatales, racecar drivers, and well-dressed couples engaging in world travel, subjects are embellished with cars, boats, trains, maps and suitcases covered with travel labels. These works, by a British artist who received intense classical art training in Florence, Italy, look back on a childhood filled with world travel and exotic furnishings; and they entice us to stop, gaze and indulge in our own fantasies. “Suitcase Full of Dreams” is a finely rendered painting of a 1940’s attired couple, examining a map, with a mid 20th century train filling up the background. While inviting viewers to gaze at this classically constructed painting, it may also evoke our collective wanderlust. “Seven” has a larger landscape of sea and sky in a background of smoky, ominous clouds, lending the work an air of mystery, and set against a red 1960s Ferrari Roadster in the foreground. A racecar driver with the number “7” on his back stands alongside the car, staring off at the sky. Like much of Heathcote's work, the image suggests a story while tempting us to mine our imaginations and fill in the blanks (JoAnne Artman Gallery, Orange County).
Vonn Sumner, "Crouching Warrior," 2011, oil on panel, 13 x 11 3/4".
John Scane, "You," 2010, oil on canvas, 18 x 14".
The quirky exhibition entitled "War Paint," featuring John Scane and Vonn Sumner, is particularly smart because it engages the subject of war without being preachy and overbearing. The gallery displays John Scane’s images to the left and Vonn Sumner’s on the right, but the twisting layout forces us to interact with both sets of images. Much like a fistfight, my head was on a swivel as I took in many curatorial decisions that played the imagery off on another. Scane’s imagery appears to be the more serious compared to the illustrative and narrative vision of Sumner. One painting by Scane, entitled “You,” features a gun held in a first person perspective, much like a video game. In our field of vision we look directly at the back of a soldier who seems to be leading us, the distance fading away into a mist of gray. The image is not haunting but a bit disconcerting, and manages to balance an aura of respect with a healthy level of distrust. In contrast, Sumner’s work is more stylized and lighter in its tone. His isolated figures carry trashcan lids used as shields and makeshift spears as though they are playing at war. Recalling imaginary battles as a child, a particular adult figure is often repeated in various compositions with dramatic poses. It’s as though we entered in the middle of a story. The show shines in its curatorial decisions. The dramatic is mixed with the playful for an enriching effect (Brett Rubbico Gallery, Orange County).
G. James Daichendt
George Stuart, "Chen-Fei Pearl Concubine"
Look the charismatic chairman Mao in the eye. Marvel at the graceful Pearl Concubine’s elongated fingernails, bejeweled butterfly headdress and exquisitely embroidered silk robe. Viewers will find the twenty-five, famous and infamous, doll-like, one-quarter life size figures from China’s Manchu dynasty through its Glorious Revolution, enchanting. Their creator, artist and historian George Stuart, narrates an accompanying video describing the creative and technical process, from his padding of articulated iron wire skeletons, to molding of engaging, realistic looking faces, through his collaboration with Lu Zhenliang Art Studios in Suzhow China on some of the most elaborate hand embroidered miniature costumes I've ever seen. Informative exhibition guides provide short biographies of the main characters on display, explaining the roles they played in the downfall of dynasties or rise of revolutions. Chinese costumes in children’s and adult sizes are made available for visitors motivated to engage in play-acting. The concurrent collection of photographs, diaries, maps and personal artifacts in the exhibition “Hidden Voices: The Chinese of Ventura County” offers informative historical and personal highlights of nineteenth and twentieth century Chinese settlers in the County. Their moving personal stories of perseverance in the face of social-political adversity might be told and retold in numerous American cities (Museum of Ventura County, Ventura).
Phil Paradise, "Ice Cream Vendor," 1935, watercolor, 22 x 15".
California artists’ fascination with the landscape and people of Mexico is explored in "Buena Vista: California Artists in Mexico 1928-1970," a thoughtful selection of works meticulously curated by Gordon T. McClelland. California watercolorists, who were deeply immersed in the Impressionist and Regionalist art movements during this period, were particularly attracted to the exotic and dramatic visual ambiance of Mexico. This exhibition vividly captures the sheer joy of these expatriate artists working freely in a series of glowing watercolors. In Phil Paradise’s "Ice Cream Vendor" (1935) the influence of the Mexican muralists is reflected in the monumental figure in this stylized tribute to the humble street vendor. With the vendor’s marvelous circular cart full of icy delicacies he stands in the middle of the children, whose white skirts echo the spiral of the stacked ice cream, which is in turn reinforced by the vendor’s pink and white hat. With its deep pink, greens and luminous whites, the composition becomes a tightly knit frieze of volumetric figures. Ralph Hulett deftly captures the blazing sun and the adobe architecture of a Mexican village in "Shady Spot" (1947), a watercolor that is simply but skillfully rendered in few broad-brush strokes. Small details abound: a rooster and his chickens join the two figures seeking shade, and the deep green hills are framed by the glow of brilliant yellow trees. George Post’s "Acapulco on Toluca Pass" (ca. 1930) is a prime Regionalist watercolor with its sweeping vistas of mountains and villages, the entire landscape being a distilled vision of curves and infinite rhythms that stretch beyond the horizon. A typical Mexican scene of a village plaza that is imbued with Regionalist energy such as Frederick Whitaker’s "Plaza in Mexico" (ca. 1950) beautifully recreates a sleepy afternoon with a street vendor, children, a store with all its goods piled up and the requisite town monument (Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach).