|CONTINUING & RECCOMMENDED, MARCH 2012|
Judithe Hernandez, "The Birth of Eve," 2010, pastel on paper, 44 x 30".
"Breaking in Two: A Provocative Vision of Motherhood," curated by Bruria Finkel, is an expansive exhibition that features the work of over forty women and collectives for whom motherhood is either the subject of their work or has played an integral role in some facet of their production. Most are represented by more than one work (or by a major individual piece), allowing viewers to get more than a fleeting introduction to their oeuvre. A statement about motherhood or simply creation accompanies the titles of the works. The exhibition is a labor of love and a thoughtful look at a theme that could be seen as cliché. The exhibition spills beyond the gallery space into two adjoining hallways, and in some cases also crosses generations. For example the Saar family is represented by four generations. While being a mother is not the theme in all the works, many of the artists address it as the ultimate act of creation (Santa Monica Art Studios, Arena 1 Gallery, Santa Monica).
Jean-Léon Gérôme, "Working in Marble or The Artist Sculpting Tanagra," 1890, oil on canvas, 19 7/8 x 15 9/16".
Collection of the Dahesh Museum of Art
European academic art is important in part because it provided a context and an antagonist for the rise of modernism at the turn of the 20th century. Yet histories often omit the popular artists of this era and their names are forgotten in most classrooms. "The Epic and the Exotic: 19th-century Academic Realism from the Dahesh Museum of Art" calls attention to this era with a selection of 35 paintings borrowed from the Dahesh Museum of Art (A New York-based museum that is now without a building). The Dahesh was one of the only museums dedicated to academic art in the United States. The European academy was based upon unbending rules, traditions, and a system of education that brought an order to the art world. The exhibition is thus organized in a similar fashion to highlight the various genres of academic art, including subject matter such as history paintings and mythology. Likewise, the curatorial effort to conceptually transform a space intended for contemporary art into a context appropriate for works that were hung salon style is a tall order. The painted walls shrink and darken the galleries to simulate this effect and force the viewer into a much more intimate encounter with works like Jean-Léon Gérôme’s "The Artist Sculpting Tanagra." It's a pint-sized painting that embodies the academic spirit, as the master artist and teacher pictures himself carefully comparing a live model to his sculpture. The love of his subject and the classical influence is felt at every level and represents the myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with a statue created by his own hand (Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu).
G. James Daichendt
Lyonel Feininger, "Bauhaus," March 22, 1929, gelatin silver print, 7 x 9 7/16".
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Berlin.
"Lyonel Feininger: Photographs, 1928-1939" is an exhibition of several dozen seldom shown photographs by an artist better known for his early 20th century cubist inspired expressionism. In this display, his small to medium size black and white photos (most of them “Untitled”) explore night imagery, reflection, the effects of light and shadow and off-kilter angles. He took these mostly at night, while he painted and taught at the Bauhaus School during the day. Using a Voigtländer Bergheil camera, he shot the exteriors of the German Bauhaus buildings in Weimar, the nearby Dessau railway station and his own canvases in progress in his studio, the room’s tall windows looking out over an urban landscape. Other photos are of desolate streets with ghostly trees, and later of French villages and the Baltic coast, shot on vacations. A few playful images, including a German band performing and students on a beach, give levity to this show. Between 1932 and '33, after the Nazis had closed the Bauhaus, Feininger photographed several Dessau shop windows displaying mannequins. In "Drunk with Beauty" four glamorous mannequin busts, superimposed by window reflections of buildings across the street, echo the growing disorientation from the Nazis’ advance. In 1937, Feininger fled to New York City. His image there of the Second Avenue “El” subway train tracks has a canted film noir aspect, expressing the artist's own dismay at losing his beloved European home.
These photographs present an intimate window into the psyche of a master artist during his latter years, age 58 to 69. The images are frequently more conceptual and philosophical than solely aesthetic and beautiful, while others provide an insightful historical document of Europe, its mood becoming increasingly dark in the thirties (when the artist had apparently stopped painting). Many images are imperfect with obvious aberrations and scratches that might not be tolerated by a more technically minded photographer. But Feininger was a painter first who possibly saw these imperfections as opportune additions, imparting patina to the works (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).
Our way of scrutinizing relationships between imagery and text, our attempts to make sense of stories underlying our curiosities and apprehensions about our world and ourselves, may commence as early as initial encounters with children’s picture books. Eileen Cowin, Carrie Mae Weems and Simryn Gill build on the impact storytelling has on art making in “Narrative Interventions,” an exhibition of thirty-four large-scale photographic works, interlaced with text, that imply, rewrite and alter visual imagery. “Grimm’s Tales for Young and Old” plays a part in Cowin’s utilization of photography’s unique capabilities to examine lying in a series of two pairs and one single enigmatic work, aptly titled “I See What You’re Saying.” Blurred areas in Cowin’s closely cropped photographs contrast with tightly focused elements like teeth, tongue and fork tines, suggesting the need to see through layers of deceit in order to reach clarity. Weems intervenes, etching her own narratives onto the glass that frames enlarged, tinted 19th century daguerreotypes. She gives voice to subjects that historically had none with works such as “From Here I Saw What Happened,” and “You Became a Scientific Profile.” Gill takes carving initials into trees to the extreme in her deconstruction of the written word in a tropical environment. The artist photographs bits of text that she has affixed to lush vegetation, capturing her infusions before their inevitable decay. Her curious pursuit of the shifts in meaning and form that objects and ideas experience adds yet another angle to this witty, socially relevant examination of narrative photography (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).
Daniel J. Martinez, from "Beauty Pageants" series, photograph, 1979.
In the late 1970's Daniel J. Martinez focused his camera on the world around him, producing images of both interior and exterior events. This Pacific Standard Time exhibition includes two early bodies of work. These in-your-face non-flattering series depict "Body Builders" (1978) and "Beauty Pageants" (1979). The "Body Builder" images are modestly sized vertical black and white images shot slightly from above in a controlled studio setting against a white backdrop with harsh lighting. The body builders posed for Martinez, flexing their muscles and showing their bulging physiques, yet there is something off in the pictures. The images are purposely casual, the imprecise framing making it clear that these are not intended for promotional purpose, but rather Martinez' analysis and critique of the genre (celebratory/documentary images of body builders). This disdain and detachment is equally apparent in the "Beauty Pageants" photographs. These images are candid rather than staged, yet there is a similar attitude of critique and mocking of those who pass by his lens. Shot with the aid of a flash these stark images are not what the contestants would want for publicity shots, rather they allude to the tensions and stress implicit in these competitions (LAXART, Culver City).
Jennifer Steinkamp, "Moth, 3," 2012, computer generated light projection, approximately 13 x 10'.
"Moth," the title of Jennifer Steinkamp's most recent installation makes reference to the damage a moth can do to fabric. In her digitally generated works, Steinkamp creates objects and choreographs their movements. Nothing in her works exists, every texture, fold and overlap is created using the computer. In "Moth" two adjacent wall projections depict what appears to be fabric blowing in a breeze. Situated against a black background these objects float in an ambiguous space. They are not attached to anything yet hold their shape and positions. The power in Steinkamp' work is the way she can envision and then create movement. Her animations are always captivating and intricate, so richly textured and layered that they mesmerize (ACME., Miracle Mile).
Lynn Aldrich, "Hydra Hydrant," 2009, plastic downspouts and elbows, leaf strainers, gutter parts, 94 x 55 x 55".
"Death and Life of an Object" is an apt title for a group of artists that animate and enliven ideas and materials with a supreme sense of purpose. The three artists include Lynn Aldrich, Laurie Frick and Tim Hawkinson, each of who eradicate the inherent meanings of the raw materials they use. Their finished products consequently take on a new life. Upon entering the exhibit, the wall-mounted pieces by Frick and Aldrich tease the viewer sensually with patterns, color and texture. Frick’s image, entitled “Walking- Week #42,” looks like an aerial map of a city grid, except these compositions are much more colorful and less organized. Reminiscent of Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” it’s based upon measurements that the artist collects of her daily activities. Her steps are measured and then visually arranged on the panel. This obsessive process compliments Aldrich’s freestanding sculpture "Hydra Hydrant," which is constructed of rain gutters. The exterior housing is surprisingly alive as the tree-like stump of the sculpture extends into a series of branches that twist and turn. The gutters appear to extend across the gallery, as each individual arm demands some sort of personification. The humble materials have a surprising amount of grandeur and conceptual weight. The initial onslaught then slows down in the second gallery, which features the work of Hawkinson. An enormous piece entitled “Foot Quilt” resembles a bed and forces an intimate encounter with an aspect of the artist’s own body. Much like entering someone’s closet, the viewer feels privileged to be in this part of the house (Edward Cella Art + Architecture).
Samantha Fields, "Be Careful What You Wish For," 2011, acrylic on canvas, 52 x 80".
Imagine how the world looks as you drive in a moderate rain and see your environment through wet glass as you drive relentlessly from the eerie glow of busy streetlights to the quiet darkness of some shrouded woods. That is the way it feels to see the airbrush perfect paintings of Samantha Fields. Fields takes literally thousands of photos of locales — urban, unpeopled - and archives these for later culling to become the subjects of these canvases. “Subject” must be used gingerly here as the manner in which Fields reconstitutes the scenes has the minutest relationship to the L.A. sunsets or the forested spaces in the record. She has mastered pigment so that she achieves these animate, moist surfaces recalling something akin to Renaissance varnishing, but then hides what she depicts in an almost milky veil. The effect is precisely like the world viewed in motion and though liquid. This tension makes for images that hang between things we know and things barely recalled. The paintings are able to call up something so specific and loaded as city lights seen from afar (with all the alienation that urban trope raises in us) and something so generic as the inscrutable constancy of nature; this has been done so much that Fields’ credit is the freshness and believability she can still wrest from this betwixt-between format and its related speculations (Western Project, Culver City).
Pietro Roccasalva, installation view with "Untitled (Just Married Machine #1)" in foreground, 2011, wood, acrylic resin, rush, fabric and steel, 113 x 264 x 196".
Pietro Roccasalva's U.S. solo debut, "The Strange Young Neighbors," has as its centerpiece an installation dubbed "Untitled (Just Married Machine #1)." The work features a grounded hot air balloon topped by a wooden rowboat, along with neighboring porcelain-like crowns that also resemble toilets. For the day of the opening, an allegedly "actual married couple" also graced the Machine- he in a tux, sitting sternly in the boat, she in white gown, facing the other direction and standing with an oddly strung tennis racquet, each remaining as motionless as possible in true Abramovic-esque commitment. Beyond the opening day and night charge of this tableau vivant – which is also depicted, more anthropomorphically and sans the couple in an oil painting of a goblet and bread loaf still life also included in the show – are traditional yet oddly menacing portraits. "Il Traviatore", a recurring waiter character of Roccasalva's, is always armed with a traditional silver serving tray (and its accompanying dome), topped by a lemon juicer. In the various incarnations of this character, Roccasalva combines Francis Bacon-like faces with a style of Italian draftsmanship highly reminiscent of religious altar iconography, and the higher the Bacon quotient, the more menacing the character becomes. The inclusion of several charcoal studies of "Il Traviatore," beautiful in their classicism yet rather soft in the context of the overall oeuvre, compromise the eccentric intensity of the main servings, and yet the level of ambition in Roccasalva's larger gesture – whether you're able to draw a link between "Il Traviatore" and the "Just Married Machine" or not - remains formidable (David Kordansky Gallery, Culver City).
Kristen Morgin, "Snow White in Evening Wear," 2011, paint, pencil, ink and unfired clay, 6 1/2 x 2 3/4 x 1/4".
It is hard to believe that everything in Kristen Morgin's exhibition is made of clay. Entitled “Snow White in Evening Wear and Other Works,” Morgin acknowledges her sources - children's toys, comic books, Disney-esque characters who seem to have weathered time and then salvaged from the junk pile. The works, both large and small in scale, have a nostalgic charm, but that is hardly their raison d'etre. Not only is Morgin a master with clay but she has a facility with drawing and painting as well, and in these assemblages the command of her media comes through. The handcrafted works include puppets and toys that are hung on the wall with homemade map tacks and push pins that combine together fragments from comic books, playing cards, and bits of other ephemera to make compelling objects. Their apparent child-like simplicity serves as a foil for the seriousness of the project, as she explores subjects including gender and cliché using personal strategies of appropriation (Marc Selwyn Gallery, Miracle Mile).
James Gobel, "You Know the Change Will Do You Good," 2012, felt, yarn, acrylic and rhinestones on canvas, 80 x 60".
James Gobel uses yarn, felt, string and other tactile materials to create his fabric paintings that mostly depict large bearded men in intimate settings. Entitled "Fancy Wonder Free" the images were inspired by the New German Objectivity artists of the 1920s and 1930s such as Otto Dix, yet as Dix presented his community and surroundings, Gobel depicts his. Shapes of soft felt sometimes dotted with acrylic and rhinestones are used to unabashedly portray these burly men with feminine tendencies. The works are sensitive in how they depict their offbeat subjects. For example in "Now is Enough" a man in striped socks held up with supports wearing a t-shirt, a yellow and purple plaid shirt and pink briefs sits placidly on a flowered hillside. Gobel's works embrace not only a gay aesthetic but bring craft into a formal relation with high art (Steve Turner Gallery, Miracle Mile).
Lise Sarfati, "Malaika #13, North Sunset Blvd." from the "On Hollywood" series, 2010, color photograph.
Lise Sarfati is well known in Paris and abroad for her series dealing with women's identity - sexual and otherwise. On view are photos from the artist's series called "on Hollywood," comprised of portraits of women - both at once lovely and utterly abject - taken in and around Hollywood. "Malaika," in her bleached blond bob, puffy eyes looks beyond us, a bagged bottle in hand. "Dana" stands before a broken down theater, tattooed, in grotesquely high heels, a caricature of the dominatrix type. These are scenes anyone from L.A. is more than familiar with, as life and as art. The spectacle of Hollywood has been addressed by everyone from Robert Frank to Philip-Lorca diCorica. But Sarfati has a way of delivering these subjects with the flat-footed authenticity we find in William Eggleston. Her subjects seem aware of us, weirdly empowered by our relentless visual fascination but then in some way sullied by the exchange (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica).
Ming Wong, study for "Making Chinatown," 2011.
Ming Wong, who lives in a Turkish neighborhood in Berlin, has fond memories of the Hollywood, Bollywood, British and Malasian films he idolized as a child. The Singapore born video artist grew up play-acting himself impersonating a multitude of movie characters. After gaining international attention for his restaging of Douglas Sirk’s “Life of Imitation” at the 2009 Venice Biennale, Wong brings his cheeky reexamination of the making of Roman Polanski’s thriller “Chinatown“ to L. A. audiences. Aggressively exposing artifice by ushering viewers into a darkened gallery from behind flats he has reconstructed to represent key scenes in the 70’s classic noire film, Wong casts himself in roles played by Polanski’s major actors, Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston and Belinda Palmer. Unabashedly exposing issues of identity, race and sex, Wong transforms himself into a tantalizing noire heroine, simultaneously signaling his status as a man in drag by refusing to conceal the strip of masking tape he relies on to convert his eyebrows into a closer imitation of feminine beauty. If awards were given for video art reexaminations of filmmaking, Wong’s “Making Chinatown” would take home the Oscar (Gallery at REDCAT, Downtown).
Rico Lebrun, "Untitled (Three Figures)," 1960, ink wash on paper, 18 x 18 1/2".
"L.A. RAW: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945-1980, From Rico Lebrun to Paul McCarthy" is a play on words, obliquely referencing “abstract expressionism” in its title, while rejecting that movement’s exclusivity and resistance to figuration. Curator Michael Duncan writes in the catalog, “The mid-century promotion of the New York School largely excluded consideration of figurative art, including the surrealist works that inspired much of 1940’s and 50’s abstraction.” Here, 41 artists depict “abject,” a term that refers to a low life condition, to a sense of hopelessness and resignation in painting, sculpture, photography, video and performance pieces. Yet in this show - one of the most politically significant among all of the Pacific Standard Time exhibitions - the artworks transcend humanity’s exposure, darkness, even horror by conveying perhaps more basic human traits: honesty and integrity. The result is a contrast to the concurrent cool school of L.A. art that does not disparage the latter.
Barbara T. Smith’s six-part "Pucker Painting" documents a performance piece, spending a night naked in a small room and inviting people in to share food, wine, conversation and sensual pleasures. But no sex. One photograph of Smith’s middle-aged body covered with lipstick kisses confronts the sexual caste system (mandating the devoted wife and mother role) of which she was previously a part. Ben Sakuguchi’s "'Spraying is in,’ Popped Wee Willie Limphand" is a Japanese American’s nightmarish memories of childhood years, a portion of them in a World War II internment camp. This large collage-like oil features soldiers, families torn apart, a concentration camp and a fashionable woman morphing into a sixties garbed paper doll. Hans Burkhardt’s "My Lai," an abstract work, becomes a Vietnam era nightmarish scene with real human skulls affixed to it. Rico Lebrun’s six pieces in this show, several combining expressionism with figuration and influences of cubism, depict human suffering. His "Buchenwald Cart" is a clear reference to the Nazi concentration camp. Betye Saar, maker of exquisite assemblage boxes, displays "Mti," featuring a black faced doll surrounded by scary gypsy, Indian and voodoo dolls and symbols. With works also by Judy Baca, Wallace Berman, William Brice, Chris Burden, Llyn Foulkes, David Hammons, Robert Heinecken, Ed Kienholz, John Outterbridge and others, this is a long overdue retrospective of L.A. art that asserted a genuine “commitment to insights and profundities,” as curator Duncan puts it (Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena).
Jill Giegerich, "Untitled (large cork abstract shape with brass instrument)," 1987, rubberized cork, paintstick, asphalt, emulsion, brass on plywood, 69 x 48 x 8".
Three UC Riverside alumni active in the late 1980s, 90s and to the present remind us that serious art has continued the "Post Pacific Standard Time" hoopla and time frame. The trio includes Jill Giegerich, Jim Isermann, and Erika Suderburg. Isermann was among the first to explore ideas of design-art right alongside fellows who made it their high visibility signature like Jorge Pardo. On view are Isermann’s Warhol-ish paintings of flowers and complex repeating design patterns. Many of the floral and design patterns morphed into and with object designs for things like chairs and lighting fixtures, which are here as well. Back in the 80s these seemed like a clever retort to the debate about painting being dead or alive. Seen today, the works confirm that Isermann celebrates the sheer beauty of functional and industrial design for its own sake, but also raises more than ‘decorative’ questions about what separates use/functional value and symbolic/aesthetic value. Giegerich is sampled via everything from her very geometric abstractions, her dimensional painted constructions deploying everyday stuff like cork. There are figurative paintings that are less predictably of her ilk made over the last decade. The very sophisticated filmic and video sensibility of Suderburg, drawn from key works of the 90s and her vast world travels, reflects on nationalism, the endlessness of war, and spectatorship in life and cinema. Her reflections on power and how easily we forget its effects remain — unfortunately — quite timely now (UCR Sweeney Gallery, Riverside).
Paco Esnayra, "Conference for the Solution of Problems," ceramic and resin.
In his show entitled “Introspection,” Paco Esnayra, a Mexican sculptor, creates riveting, life-size forms that investigate mental experiences and perceptions that are both psychological and surreal. Each robust work is international in scope, yet manages to invoke aspects of his more localized Mexican heritage. One characteristic of Mexico’s most outstanding art, its mural painting of the 20th century, although largely political, is its oversized imagery accompanied by a passion for exposing truth and making social changes in the human condition. Although Esnayra’s focus is from today’s era, its substructure pushes forward a search for truth to expose hidden aspects of contemporary life; the psyche of 21st Century human beings.
Esnayra is a native of Chihuahua and was drawn to shaping clay figures at a very early age. He has developed a style that is fresh, even daring. "Conference for the Solution of Problems" depicts three busts appearing to interact with each other, engaged in dialogue; but who are actually each in his own world. Composed from ceramic and resin, the upper bodies of the figures look like heads, or enormous pill capsules, suggesting that in today’s world the inner human being is largely manufactured and could easily dissolve. "Blue Conscience" is a ceramic head that lies on its side, while an identical head, covered in blue resin, depicts a contradicting human force projected through the other’s head and mouth. Esnayra’s metaphor, one human being interacting with another, or perhaps with its self, is a duality that conveys the constant pull between self and other, as well as from within the self. Esnayra makes us aware of hidden psychological dynamics, allowing us to excavate the inner soul of all peoples (S Cube Gallery, Orange County).
America Martin, "In the Trees," 46 x 58".
Los Angeles-based America Martin presents a new series of works in “Exuberance,” an electrifying collection of figurative-based paintings by the increasingly popular young, Columbian-American artist. Bold lines and striking swatches of color delineate forms and faces in a maze of bodies and movement that characterize images directly tied to the style of Picasso and the Old Masters. They also possess a solid foundation in the ethnic roots of Africa and South America. "Street Music" has the particular feel of Hispanic urban life with jazzmen blowing trumpets and plucking bass in a chaotic scene of expression and spouting fire hydrants. Similarly, "Card Players" presents three companions sporting fedoras and Marlon Brando biker caps engaged in a concentrated game. Aqua and violet blocks of color reflect the passivity of two chums in comparison to their aggressive, orange sunglasses-wearing pal. Images of women tend to dominate the collection, however, and provide an impressive array of settings and composition, mural-like in their scope, and layered in textures and emotion. "Girl with Pencils" presents a knobby-kneed, chunky-armed innocent somberly awaiting your pennies, and the most impressive "Woman in the Woods" is an immense maroon and gray abstraction of females engaged in ritual and dancing that’s so vibrant and exciting it’s a wonder they don’t promenade right off the canvas (JoAnne Artman Gallery).