|CONTINUED AND RECOMMENDED, SEPTEMBER 2015|
David Hockney, “A Bigger Card Players,” 2015, photographic drawing printed on paper, mounted on aluminum, 72 3/4 x 70”, is currently on view at L.A. Louver
It goes without saying that any David Hockney exhibition grabs our attention, mostly because Hockney is such an inventive artist that it would be a shame to miss his latest foray into something new. Usually he delivers. "Painting and Photography" is a beautifully installed and subtle exhibition that examines the relationship between the two mediums, a subject that has occupied Hockney's interest for many years. The exhibition opens with a painting of a chair that is positioned in the corner of the gallery, posing questions about how we see and how we translate what we see into art. How many moments can be displayed at the same time? Dating from at least the time of Cubism, this is not a new aesthetic issue. Nor is it recent in Hockney's practice. Yet the thesis is so precisely illustrated here that the viewer can’t help but leave the show with a clearer understanding of these complex relationships. Hockney is a deft painter and skilled with digital technologies. He has the ability to integrate where these two disciplines inform and play off each other. In his own words: “Painters have always known there is something wrong with perspective. The problem is the foreground and the vanishing point ... Well not now. Digital photography can free us from a chemically imposed perspective that has lasted for 180 years” (L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice).
George Tice, “Telephone Booth, 3am, Rahway, New Jersey,” 1971, gelatin silver print, is currently on view at Peter Fetterman.
Hand-made darkroom photography has had about a two hundred year life span, that we all understand is a greatly diminished process due to the rise of digital devices. There are fewer darkroom classes to learn the art, and fewer darkroom artists to teach and create its distinct chemically-developed photographs. The latest computer-driven technology, the three-dimensional printed image, doesn’t figure to halt the trend. Are we really saying good-bye to silver gelatin photographic prints born in subdued lighting, in a meticulously ordered chemical bath, made by a lone photographer in a traditional darkroom? Or, is photography expanding to include old ways alongside the new? The exhibition “American Masters: The Silver Print” gives us much to chew on before we say farewell to the art or, perhaps, witness its revival.
This is a superb selection of images of masterful black and white prints by some of the world’s best photographers. We are beckoned to enter into magical worlds, starting with that of Ansel Adams and his traditional majestic landscapes of deep shadows, broad mountain ranges and sweeping vistas. Jerry Uelsmann delights us with his seemingly upside-down world. Ethereal symmetrical landscapes change places as the sky above mimics the earth below. Trees float and familiar spaces are beguilingly rearranged. George Tice favors haunting dark night scenes, lit by an isolated light from a gas station, a remote cabin, or a lonely telephone booth. Don Worth uses photography like a graphic artist, designing subdued other worldly washes as if using a pen, ink, and brush. Placed on gray gallery walls, each framed in black, with a white rectangular mat, the metaphoric images seem to unite as one, illuminating en masse the full power hand-printed silver gelatin imagery can emit. Let’s not relegate the traditional print to history quite yet (Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica).
Annette Kelm, “First Picture for a Show,” 2007, chromogenic print, 6 1/4 x 7 3/4”, is currently on view at Hammer Museum. Courtesy of the artist and Johann König, Berlin.
Mark Bradford, “Sample 1,” 2015, mixed media on canvas, 62 x 48”, , is currently on view at Hammer Museum. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joshua White.
“First Picture for a Show” is the modestly sized work by Annette Kelm that visitor’s are likely to confront initially upon entering the photography exhibition “Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition.” The subject of Kelm’s work is a single, small acorn, one of the most beautifully depicted specimens that you are ever likely to see. Pictorially, it is just about perfect: exquisitely lit, the simple object is positioned just far enough off center against a two-tone, misty background segregated in abeyance of traditional rules of composition. “First Picture for a Show” illustrates organizer Russell Ferguson’s examination of photographers' renewed interest in the pictorial. Cleverly staged to coax viewers to discover works that seem to “talk to each other,” the show includes examples by a diverse group of artists who each have something worthwhile to say about composition, including Robert Mapplethorpe, Florian Maier-Aichen, Sharon Lockhart, Thomas Demand, Jeff Wall, Catherine Opie and Clegg and Guttman.
Mark Bradford’s exhibition “Scorched Earth”, curated by Connie Butler, reminds us what art is capable of apart from being intellectually stimulating and aesthetically pleasing. It has the power to raise social awareness and to, yes, help the disadvantaged. Bradford does so not only through his art, which deals with themes such as racism, misrepresentations in the media, homophobia, gender and the AIDS epidemic dating to the 1980s. Then there is his organization Art+Practice in Leimert Park, which is an exhibition space as well as a facility that serves the community’s local youth transitioning out of foster care. It offers them classrooms, a computer lab and offices for mental health services. “Scorched Earth" is comprised of 12 paintings, including one lobby mural titled “Finding Barry,” named for Bay Area artist Barry McGee, who was the first to paint on this stairwell wall. Bradford scrapped down to expose layers of prior artists’ works in producing a pink-brown-bluish outline of a map of the United States, with numbers that present the quantity of Aids cases in each state reported up to 2009. The painting “Rebuild South Central,” inspired by a photo taken shortly after the 1992 L.A. Riots, contains— written in English and Spanish in colorful yellows, reds and bright pinks on a mostly cream-colored background — a plea to rebuild South Central without liquor stores. A six-minute multimedia installation titled “Spiderman” is drawn in part from Eddy Murphy’s comedy “Delirious” (1983). In Bradford’s piece the context of the film’s visuals are replaced by nothing more than a black screen with white subtitles, the words alone of Bradford reciting Murphy's provocative speech: “Then we had motherfucking Jim Crow, segregation, assimilation, and to top it all AIDS from monkey pussy. Why does all the bad shit come from Africa?” (Hammer Museum, West Los Angeles).
Diane Calder/Simone Kussatz
Alison Rossiter, “Haloid Platina, exact expiration date unknown, about 1915, processed 2010,” 2010, gelatin silver print, is currently on view at Getty Center. © Alison Rossiter
“Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography” is a group exhibition that focuses on younger (living) artists who have used the photographic medium in an inventive way. The artists — Matthew Brandt, Marco Breuer, John Chiara, Chris McCaw, Lisa Oppenheim, Alison Rossiter, and James Welling — approach photography as a formal medium dependent on a chemical process. While the different ways light travels through a lens is a central issue for an artist like John Chiara, the works that are the most captivating are those not dependent on a camera. Marco Breuer etches into the surface of color photography papers, slicing through the emulsion to create evocative compositions. Alison Rossiter develops different types of outdated papers, sequencing the images into geometric compositions. To seasoned viewers of recent trends in photography, the work and the structure of the exhibition actually presents few surprises. However, for those not accustomed to camera-less and expressionistic photography, this show serves as a welcome introduction (Getty Center, West Los Angeles).
John Chiara, “Old River Road at Levee,” 2013, unique photograph on Ifochrome paper, 30 x 27", is currently on view at Rose.
Photographer John Chiara’s new work, taken along the Mississippi Delta with his hand-built unwieldy camera (it’s big — he climbs into it), is as emotive as the blues, which originated from ex-slaves and descendants of slaves in the deep South. Chiara’s images convey an oppressive climate with their hazy or foggy look. What we see through that atmosphere are lonely roads, slightly damaged buildings, ominously empty landscapes and deserted public places. Traces are left by his unusual spinning drum development process and the tape that secured the paper to the wall of the box. These visually punctuate the images and, added to the effect of the paper’s irregular shape that violates the convention of the neatly trimmed rectangular print, undermine any sense of the picturesque. A portion of the images that look up into the Mississippi sky reveal the artist’s stated fascination with the sun: “The sun radiates and creates energy here like no other place,” he explains. For example “In Delta at First South,” its brilliant colors due partly to the use of Ilfochrome paper, the sun breaks through the clouds of a sky in different shades of blue that feels like that poignant mix of despair and exhilaration evoked by its musical ancestor (Rose Gallery, Bergamot Station).
Jeffrey Vallance, “Warhol Spirit Book,” 2015, wood Bible holder, #2 pencil, velvet, metal nameplate; with The Vallance Bible and S.C.U.M. Manifesto, 4 x 12 1/4 x 12 1/4", is currently on view at CB1.
Jeffrey Vallance’s obsession with the afterlife comprises a variety of paranormal stunts. From ghost tours to panel discussions featuring famous dead artists, Vallance continually touches upon a sensitive subject with his strange balance of seriousness and humor. When the artist buried Blinky the Friendly Hen in 1978, the spiritual component was layered beneath the humor. His attempts to author a Bible in 2011 or curate an exhibition of painter Thomas Kinkade in 2004 reversed this strategy. Although Vallance’s oeuvre appears to be a slew of tongue and cheek projects, the stoic artist maintains a somber demeanor that is almost convincing. In this new body of work, Vallance revamps spirit photography, a 19th century technique that photographers developed using double exposure. The effect tricked folks into believing the auras around the sitters were spirits or ghosts. Vallance instead uses digital technology to recreate what he witnessed in his mind through a series of séances. The result is quirky good fun that is not designed to send a chill down your spine. Presented as portraiture, artists like Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol are presented out of context as floating heads complete with wisps of smoke billowing outward. While Vallance does not often provide an easy entry point into his performances, the photographs are goofy and familiar enough for the viewer to feel like an insider to the ruse (CB1 Gallery, Downtown).
G. James Daichendt
Easton Miller, installation view of “I’m Already Dead in Dog Years,” 2015, currently on view at CES.
In an era of anodyne “zombie abstraction,” Easton Miller brings messiness, the quotidian and the idiosyncratic back to painting. Each of his new works, mostly small in scale, derive from something said, heard or observed in his everyday life. He translates these observations into heavily painted surfaces, many with additional accouterments such as bits of wood, rope and plastic screen. Although mostly abstract, with a myriad of squiggly lines, organic shapes, grids and bands of color, the titles are evocative of Miller’s encounters and interpretations: “I Just Want To Feel Safe” suggests tomato soup and toast; “She’s Unlike Anyone Else” is a florid amalgamation of hearts and flowers; “Pathologically Thoughtful” features an obsessive, all-over composition of gold leaf worked into paint; and “It’s Beyond Me (Out of Reach)” goes literal with a protuberance extending from the canvas. While the works initially read as amateurish craft projects, this is belied by the conceptual underpinnings of the work. Each is an index, a record of a moment in time experienced by the artist that is now immortalized in paint. They successfully make the claim that the commonplace can be compelling and, occasionally, grand (CES Gallery, Downtown).
Ben Jones, “SGIVideo Painting II,” 2015, acrylic on canvas with digital projection, 54 x 72”, is currently on view at Ace.
Ben Jones is known to many Angelinos as an animator for the Cartoon Network and his artworks take their point of departure from this low tech, graphically inspired aesthetic. He has filled the cavernous space with pulsating animations, digital projections and furniture-like sculptures. The works are mesmerizing, comprised of geometric shapes in vivid colors that have a push-pull optical dichotomy. Moving away from his roots in net art and video games, Jones has transformed small screen intimate interactions into bombastic and immersive installations. Jones was one of the first to combine video and painting making what he calls "video paintings" where animations are projected onto a painted surface making even more complicated relationships. The sheer volume of work Jones presents in a wide range of media is sufficiently engaging that it begs to be viewed again and again (Ace Gallery Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills).
Christian Marclay, “The Clock” (detail), 2010, single channel video, is currently on view at LACMA. © Christian Marclay, courtesy Paul Cooper Gallery, New York.
Christian Marclay's "The Clock," which debuted in 2010, has been drawing crowds wherever it is on view despite (or perhaps because of) its duration. The concept, though simple, was quite complex to construct and this achievement is part of its draw. No matter what time one enters the narrative, its impossible not to be completely absorbed and to marvel at the fact that each time you check your watch, the time in the film is correct. Marclay and his team collected film footage from recognizable as well as unrecognizable fragments from myriad films in which time — a watch or a clock or other reference — was featured so as to add up to a twenty-found hour period. While there is no specific narrative, just the film clips marking the time, the temptation to try to identify the source can be maddeningly addictive. If you have not yet viewed "The Clock" for any length of time, just try it. No matter how much time you plan to devote to the experience, chances are you'll be seduced into wanting to see more (Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], Miracle Mile).
Junko Inoue, black and white photograph, is currently on view at Annenberg Beach House.
What’s more precious than life? And how would you describe it? What about it is a collection of sometimes fleeting, at other times lingering, yet formative moments? And isn’t it exactly the sequence and combination of these experienced moments that make us different from one another and allow us to look at the world from different perspectives? The photography exhibit “Unseen" is an homage to these in-between moments, composed by five emerging LA-based artists, including Ruben A Diaz-Cifuentes, Bonnie Ebner, Junko Inoue, Myrna Reyes and Benjamin Simpson. The show is comprised of black-and-white as well as color photographs taken in Los Angeles during various times of the day. Among them are some neat street photographs. For example in Inoue’s work, reminiscent of Vivian Maier’s street photography, we can see a black man stopped in front of the closed shutters of a grey and decorative facade, while another one is walking a close distance in front of him, so that the two become integrated smoothly into the design. Among the color images of people by Bonnie Ebner, one particularly stands out, shot at night, because it strikingly represents one of the most important relationships in our lives, a mother holding her child (Annenberg Community Beach House, Santa Monica).
Immaculate Heart College Silkscreen Room, is currently on view at Pasadena Museum. Courtesy of the Corita Art Center, Los Angeles.
Surveying more than 30 years of her work, "Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent” demonstrates how the nun turned political artist brought a remarkable graphic sensibility to combining words, images and colors. She continues to be an inspiration to artists and designers three decades after her death. The exhibition does a thorough job contextualizing Kent's life choices and practice. Her posters, teachings and political commitment are the constructs of a devoted social advocacy practice that went beyond art making. Walking through the bright graphics that are the backbone of the exhibition is a visual treat for its own sake. Her style espouses what appears to be simple, but there is more to it than meets the eye. She digested multiple facets of a rapidly changing culture to arrive at a new clarity of messaging. Kent was a gifted thinker and seer whose works have become iconic because they offered a tonic for turbulent times without denying them.
The collaborative and individual works by Alexandra Grant and Steve Roden in "These Carnations Defy Language" pay homage to the works of Kent in a complementary exhibition. Both Grant and Roden investigate the role that language and color play in their formal as well as conceptual art practices. Grant and Roden have exhibited together before, but in this exhibition their collaboration is based on a conversation about "Mute Objects of Expression," an anthology of the French poet Francis Ponge. Both the individual and collaborative works reflect artists who are confident in their individual practices yet are able to step out of their comfort zones to make works together of resonance and complexity. The works here are not as vibrant as Kent’s, but are just as deeply felt (Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena).
Angel Ricardo Ricardo Rios, “The garden of excesses and some prohibitions,” 2014, oil and charcoal on canvas 105 x 167”, is currently on view at the Palos Verdes Art Center.
Angel Ricardo Ricardo Rios’ arresting exhibition "Garden of Excesses" showcases the Cuban-born artist’s suggestive and resonant large-scale paintings. These massive gestural works depict organic corporeal and floral forms; in Rios’ world, labial petals and phallic stamens bloom from the earth, limning the oft-suppressed relationship between the reproductive functions of plants and those of the human body. By drawing attention to that which the viewer understands as “natural” — here, the environment and its flora — Rios challenges us to reconsider that which we understand as socially naturalized. Is sexuality fixed or fluid? What about gender? Ethnicity? The massive size of his paintings forces the viewer to consider them in relation to our own body, inviting us to meditate on these themes and the ways in which they play out personally. The piece titled “The garden of excesses and some prohibitions” commands an entire gallery wall to showcase how Rios’ expressionistic drips and splashes play off against luscious and evocative forms. The work recalls that of Cy Twombly — equal parts fiendish and tender, with a deftness for both color and line. Another gallery showcases a selection of the artist’s smaller-scale drawings, which are predominantly black and white and equally expressive (Palos Verdes Art Center, Palos Verdes).
Chi Peng, “Sprinting Forward 4,” 2004, C-print, 55 x 81 x 2 1/2”, is currently on view at OCMA.
"My Generation: Young Chinese Artists," curated by Barbara Pollack, represents the work of more than two dozen artists who were born after 1976. Pollack, an arts journalist covering the Chinese art scene since the 1990’s, interviewed over 100 young artists from every region of China who have grown up in relative freedom and with opportunities of a rapidly expanding economy. They have been exposed to a global dialog and art movements via the internet and by historical comparison, a liberalized education at China’s art academies. The show comprises a range of painters, video artists, installation artists, photographers, and artist collectives addressing issues of alienation, identity, the effects of rapid and largely unregulated industrialization, plus the massive movement of the population from country to urban landscapes.
In artist Ma Qiusha’s video "From No.4 Pingyuanli to No.4 Tianqiaobeili” we learn about being a product of the one child policy China enforces. The artist stands alone in front of the camera, dispassionately making face-to-face confessions to the viewer. "Video Flying Blue Flag" by Hu Xiangqian is a light-hearted yet poignant story of a young man soliciting votes to be leader of his town, showing residents business development plans, ‘bribes’ of cigarettes, while listening to the advice of elders. Though a false candidacy on his part, folks think he is actually running for office and he manages to receive many votes. Painter Qiu Xiaofei’s mural sized “Utopia" (oil on canvas 118” x 157”) portrays a headless statue rising from a cluster of high rise buildings, desolate and devoid of people, commenting on the destructive and alienating aspects of China's new urban landscapes. Continuing this theme, photographer Chi Peng’s "Sprinting Forward 4” records a naked young man standing on an enormous stairway, with his back to us, before a large complex of glass facade buildings while red airplanes fly above.
There are over 100 works included in this richly constructed exhibition. These young artists are technically sophisticated and among this generation’s celebrated Chinese artists who are helping to wrestle with and identify with the challenges and progress being made in a culture still only recently awaked to the global context and its multi-dimensional concerns (Orange County Museum of Art [OCMA], Orange County).
Phil Dike, “Wave Variation,” 1974, watercolor on paper, 21 1/2 x 29 1/2”, is currently on view at Laguna Museum.
It’s said that good stuff comes in small packages, or quantities in this case: Phil Dike, "The Wave Series and Malibu Set Series, 1968-1981” consists of only 12 paintings, mostly watercolors with a smattering of oil paintings, that are consistently compelling. Culled from the Diane and E. Gene Crain Collection, the works bear ample evidence of the artist’s versatility and ability to present subject matter in a way that is recognizable but leaves room for viewers’ interpretations. Two watercolors, “Wave Variation” and “Wave Echo,” are linear compositions in shades of blue that clearly denote the ocean and the life surrounding it: birds, shells and the flotsam found at low tide and the suggestion of a beached boat.
Semi-abstraction as description may sound nebulous, but in Dike’s case it suggests the twilight zone between the real and imagined. Dike never renders subjects, land or seascapes in a completely realistic manner, instead reshaping them to make them uniquely his. “Big Sur Shapes,” with its palette of grays, beiges, brown and shades in-between is a good example. “Warm Earth” delves further into abstraction. It is a circular composition suggesting sand, sea and sky seen through a window — upside down. The real surprise comes in the “Malibu Set Series,” which is devoted to various renditions of figures. In “Malibu Set#2,” for example, beach goers are depicted in loose lines of gray or beige, with faces barely suggested and bodies simplified to the point of abstraction. The series moves between representation and clever suggestion.
The constant throughout is Dike’s palette; variations of blues, grays and earth tones. What intrigues us in the “Wave Series" are various shapes and textures achieved by sprinkling ordinary table salt onto the painted paper and carefully removing it once the painting is dry. The only thing missing here is a more in depth encounter with Dike’s body of work. But, a full-blown Dike retrospective is currently in the works, to be unveiled here in 2017 (Laguna Art Museum, Orange County).
Reconstructed Bell “Huey” helicopter and “1968" living room installation, currently on view at Bowers Museum.
“The 1968 Exhibit,” subtitled “The Year That Changed the World,” combines 21st century technology with a bit of just about everything: hippie and protest era photos, movies, posters, TV show selections, music of the era, record album covers, clothing, a voting booth, furnishings, artifacts and memorabilia. There is even an actual Huey helicopter (the kind flown in Vietnam) within a green-themed living room, designed from a 1968 home furnishings magazine. This 5,000 square foot exhibit, divided into several themed rooms, is both informative and fun, thanks in good part to the expertise of the individual installations. Rooms include one with a half dozen clips from popular TV shows from that year, such as “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and “Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.” Another room is set up like a quiz show, giving viewers the opportunity to test their knowledge of popular music from that era.
A comprehensive timeline, organized by months, features a mind-blowing barrage of significant information and images from that eventful year. Here are some highlights: North Vietnamese launch the Tet Offensive. "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood" goes national. Martin Luther King is assassinated. Bobby Kennedy enters the Presidential race, and later is also assassinated. Andy Warhol is shot (but not fatally). The disastrous Democratic National Convention is held in Chicago. The Beatles’ "White Album" is released. While 1968 is now nearly a half-century in the past, the sights and sounds and even the deeper social and political issues of that year, as represented in this exhibition, continue to resonate with us today. This show is so effective in proving its intent that the viewer might leave convinced that 1968 was the most significant year in our nation’s history (Bowers Museum, Orange County).
Deborah Aschheim, detail of “Treshhold,” 2013, project depicting (left to right) the Seattle Space Needle, Prague’s Zizkov Television Tower (not in show) and unbuilt version of the San Francisco Transamerica Tower, is currently on view at Orange County Great Park.
William L. Pereira was an important Modernist architect and urban planner based in Southern California. Innovative designs spearheaded new buildings and edifices during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. As part of the innovation, Pereira’s work was considered radical then, but now we are accustomed to his highly rhythmical and repetitious forms and his expansive rotund spider-leg structures that reach far above a cityscape and engulf the people below. In “Yesterday’s Future" six current artists transform some aspect of Pereira’s vision to produce art that is diverse, clever, and insightful.
Deborah Aschheim recreates in sculpture three iconic buildings — L.A.’s Capitol Records, Seattle’s Space Needle, and Pereira’s unrealized proposal for the Transamerica building. Aschheim turns the smooth and pristine architecture inside out, transforming them into raw sculptural forms by constructing the works from corrugated plastic, leaving drips of glue and penciled lines beside cuts done by hand. Her work exposes the never seen struggles and losses buried within the finished pristine edifice. Ed Bopp’s fluid paintings melt into abstractions, with graphite drawn suggestions of a colorful city and solid architecture dwarfed by an enormous vista. Jennifer Celio reminisces by rendering highly detailed drawings of the mid-Century suburban homes of her childhood. Their designs are functional and practical, contrasting with Pereira’s innovative architectural vision.
Betsy Lin Seder, a photographer, deals with the interaction and contrast of silent architecture on people who move within and without familiar urban forms. Her black and white images question whether utopian designs bring with them a utopian life. Lastly, there is the practice of Jonathan Anderson and Bryan Cantley, who integrate architectural concepts as springboards for their individual drawings and paintings. Anderson extends architectural renderings beyond the functional where the structure of the design, like Aschheim, focuses on the unromantic, the raw building rather than the beauty of a finished edifice. Cantley breaks boundaries by integrating conceptual art forms into what initially look like architectural drawings. Each rendering becomes dynamic, sometimes playful, and always a captivating image (Orange County Great Park Gallery, Orange County).
Pan Gongkai, “Artist in His Studio,” 2015, is currently on view at San Diego Museum.
Chinese artist Pan Gongkai follows in the footsteps of his father and celebrated Chinese painter Pan Tianshou. Though Tianshou suffered persecution during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), he went on to create a large body of work in the tradition of brush and ink painting, influencing his son. Pan Gongkai’s "Noble Virtues" depicts “the four gentlemen” (si junzi): plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo and chrysanthemums. Gongkai’s fifteen-meter scroll of ink on rice paper was hand carried in sections and then framed as one long, narrow work. The scroll, which reads right to left, represents the four seasons — the resilience of plum blossoms in winter, the delicate elegance of springtime orchids, the strength and flexibility of bamboo in summer, and the chrysanthemums defiantly blooming in autumn against the approaching winter chill. The five ink on rice paper paintings on the opposite wall are named as a series, "Lotus Pond.” They depict the flower, which can lie dormant for many years prior to blossoming, emerging from murky waters, symbolizing the resilience and purity of the soul. On a more personal level the work exposes the artist’s deliberate, well-honed and confident and expressive line-making. Their spontaneous feel is reminiscent of western abstract expressionist painters. Gongkai has commented that his kind of work may be lost on the current younger generations of Chinese artists because they are not being taught brush painting and therefore lack an appreciation of it. It is for this reason that Gongkai strongly believes in an international co-existence of continuing aesthetic traditions and working methods. The poetry and essence of Gongkai’s work makes the best case for the unique traditions of his home culture (San Diego Museum of Fine Art, San Diego).
Nicole Eisenman, “Sloppy Bar Room Kiss,” 2011, oil on canvas, 39 x 48”, is currently on view at MCASD. Courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.
As abstraction has boomed in a seemingly still-strengthening market, figurative painting has never actually gone away, corpse-like as some claim. Paintings of figures in a post-expressionistic vain rarely feel worth our time, and rarer still do they it feel relevant. Nicole Eisenman manages to achieve both time-worthiness and relevance. Though her 20-year mid-career survey, titled "Dear Nemesis," is thoroughly satisfying viscerally and intellectually, those who know her work well may still long for certain works that didn't make the show's cut. The unforgettable "Jesus Fucking Christ" comes to mind. Her subjects encompass one-liners made epic, the pathetic, ineffectual artist, social issues (Tea Partiers, feminism, queerness, the poor) and homoeroticism par excellence. The large wall of works-on-paper, primarily from the '90s and hung salon style, is well worth the effort required to peruse in its entirety. These come with a handy map with titles; each joke-based piece, whether a visual one-liner or more open-ended, packs a juicy wallop. One of Eisenman's early trademarks was intermingling cartoony figures with more classic ones, a dynamic style that's held up exceptionally well. Recent work includes paintings that combine deftly wrought expressionist portraiture with African mask iconography, epitomized in "Breakup," featuring the latest incarnation of the sad sack double — handing over his cell phone in dismay. When revelry is depicted, whether in the bars or the beer gardens, it's always melancholic, even mournful. We can't be happy even when we're celebrating. Eisenman consistently delivers a high level of wit to her quirkily enigmatic renderings, with a light touch and without a trace of derivativeness. Take away either the wit or the craftiness and they may have succumbed to the black hole of figurative mediocrity. But neither is absent, allowing Eisenman's work to transcend the genre (Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego [MCASD], La Jolla).