Jesus Rafael Soto, “Penetrable BBL bleu,” 1969, re-fabricated 1999, 143 4/5 x 157 1/2 x 551 1/5”.
Photo: Iwan Bean
Predating the light and space movement in California by a decade or more, “Suprasensorial” is comprised of five large scale environments by Latin American artists designed to fully engage viewers in the sensual. These will shake you out of any winter doldrums. Gaze up at the oversized neon drawing in space by Lucio Fontana. Dance through Jesús Rafael Soto’s penetrable hanging string installation. Rejoice in Julio Le Parc’s sparkling, mirrored, low-tech environment. Allow color juxtapositions to merge in your mind as you move from room to room, acting as an agent in the completion of Carlos Cruz Diez’s saturation orchestration. Bring your swimsuit, or rent one from the bookstore so you can immerse yourself in a heated pool modeled after Hélio Oiticica and Neville D'Almeida ‘70s original. It is ringed with shimmering lights and book-ended by wall projections of John Cage’s music manuscripts topped with lines of cocaine. Who knew that light and space could be so captivating? (MOCA, Geffen Contemporary, Downtown)
Ben Durham, “Chassity,” 2010, graphite text on handmade paper, 58 x 44”.
Ben Durham lives and works in Midway, Kentucky and is a native of Lexington. His “Text Portraits” on paper depict friends and acquaintances from his past with whom he lost contact. Durham mines police reports looking for familiar names and faces; the socio-economic implications are clear. He uses the mug shots as the basis of his images. Often Durham draws on thick pieces of hand made paper incorporating hand written memories into the composition. That is, the portraits are literally composed of the artist’s narrative recollections. In addition to the portraits, Durham creates maps that outline where the person lived. Sometimes the maps are presented with the portrait, other times they are cut apart and reconfigured into the silhouette of the person's mug shot. They effect is actually subtle and mysterious, and they function not only as portraits but as a way to construct personal history through quasi-public reference (Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Miracle Mile).
Brad Spence, “Mirror II,” 2010, acrylic on canvas, 49 x 65”.
Painted with his signature air-brushed haze, Brad Spence’s new show, titled “(figs.),” grows on you, so be sure to spend some time in the gallery. The subjects are deceptively simple: the sun shining through a bit of chain-link fence or an empty stairwell; subjects that are, as the press release suggests, “reminiscent of a cinematic dream sequence.” It’s easy to linger in front of one, perhaps because of the necessary time it takes to attempt to focus and then let the eye resolve the fuzzy image. But then, tellingly, the ambient sounds of the passing cars, the wailing sirens, and the faraway ravens cawing, become the soundtrack for the painting. These images operate not so much as movie stills as fragments from one’s own memory – it’s as if Spence has accessed a collective memory - like the ones implanted in the replicants in Bladerunner (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Bergamot Station).
Jeannie R. Lee
Charles Arnoldi, “Overlook,” 2010, acrylic on canvas, 79 x 75”.
Charles Arnoldi offers three striking new bodies of work that continue his explorations of the relationship between shape and color, “Arcs,” “Windows” and “Thorns.” Upon entry to the gallery you are greeted by a host of threateningly barbed “Thorns,” each delicately painted in subtle gradients. They are mounted perpendicular to the wall so as to cast an evocative pattern of shadows. Seen as a group, the "Thorns" are transformed from dangerous to beautiful. In both the “Windows” and “Arcs” series Arnoldi combines multiple canvases, some in bold and solid colors, others painted with curvilinear shapes or lines of color creating complex formal relationships. Panels are completed individually and assembled later in a separate phase. They are thus more suggestive and incomplete than if they were designed in advance to fit with precision. This better suits them to seduce the viewer to complete the forms in their mind's eye. Arnoldi's compositions have an accomplished virtuosity that he has long combined with his signature rough hewn muscularity. They also play off one another so that on multiple levels the whole is greater than the individual parts (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).
Mike Kelley, “Odalisque,” 2010, foam coated with Elastomer, wood, aluminum, wig, found objects, velvet, cotton batting, 56 x 115 x 30". Photo: Fredrik Nilsen; courtesy Gagosian Gallery and Kelley Studio.
Videos and large-scale sculptures by Mike Kelley are conceptually diverse and physically refined. A combination of obscure references to pop culture and invisible histories (or what Kelly calls Folk Performances), the show is dizzying as one travels through the labyrinth of art. The subject matter is a combination of two long-standing projects: the “Kandor” series and “Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction (EAPR).” Kandor is the fictitious city and former capitol of Superman’s home planet Krypton. It was miniaturized in the DC comics and several variations of this city make appearances throughout Kelley’s installation. The most notable creations glow from within and resemble the Emerald City from the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz.” Additional versions are more like modern city centers complete with skyscrapers. Since, the history of Kantor is incomplete, it’s an applied construction of a peculiar subject. The “EAPR” works are the most noticeable upon entering the space. Props from the videos invite one to sit and explore while two versions of this film play on opposite sides of the gallery. The subjects and context of each video are consistent, including a single male character and his harem. Their subsequent interactions resemble a local theatre acting out a range of scenes. In the first video the male plays a lord while in the second, he is a bumbling servant. The interplay is an allegory of sorts. To encourage dialogue between the “Kandor” and “EAPR” works, the space is carefully arranged with theatrical-like props from both worlds. The videos also include clips of Kandor in-between the Harem scenes. Altogether, they are not consistent; similar to a curate’s egg but the inconsistencies are part of this fragmentation and manipulation of ideas that Kelley is prone to create (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills).
G. James Daichendt
Nigel Cooke, installation view, Blum & Poe Gallery, 2011.
Nigel Cooke's glowingly facile paintings will make you forget that you gave upon the validity of traditional human figuration in contemporary art. His ocean-tossed and washed ashore anti-hero(es) — alternately a chef in toques or a heavily head-banded iconoclast, bearded to anonymity-cum-universality — is granted just enough empathy so as not to be besotted with contempt. The crafty Brit doles out generous portions of tragicomedy that conjures notions of genius, hubris, and their subsequently hard landings onto islands and back alleys. That the central triptych, “Departure,” is based on a Max Beckman painting from the '30s is a novel detail for those fond of art historical contextualizing, but a reference otherwise unnoticed. The few bronze still-lifes included, of books topped by a crab carcass, and a mini-mast crowned with a shrunken head, come off as superfluous accoutrements to set off the paintings. They at least demonstrate the artist's requisite artistic range beyond 2-D objects, when all one ultimately wants is to sink into the ornery moods of the character that glimmers out at you from his dark-ish recesses (Blum & Poe Gallery, Culver City).
Soo Kim, “(Letting go of the young woman),” 2010, two layered, hand-cut chromogenic prints, 36 x 36” (framed).
Soo Kim continues to develop her unique oeuvre of hand-cut chromogenic prints in two separate bodies of work. The larger gallery is devoted to a series of winter branches-based works that both push well into the sculptural while maintaining their two-dimensionality: multiple portions of the branches are cut out from the prints, yet remain attached at their bases so as to hang down in a 3-D layer. The reverse sides of the cut paper, now facing out toward the viewer, are then painted a metallic color — silver, bronze, copper or gold. While conceptually and sculpturally innovative, aesthetically they feel a bit clunky — particularly in the non-silver colors — and struggle to transcend a connotation of craft. Far more successful is Kim's other body, her ongoing series of cut buildings. In this case, dense European hill-scapes, often with a cathedral at the top, are crammed with buildings whose multiple outlines, both exterior and interior, have been painstakingly X-actoed out, leaving a 2nd layer that is quite complex yet coherently breathes through the arabesque of virtual windows. These visual feasts are very dense, yet digestible through the logic of their own internal organization. One's visions of Monte Carlo may never be the same (Angles Gallery, Culver City).
Cheryl Ann Thomas, “Six Relics 154, 178-180, 190 & 238,” 2010, pocelain, 28 1/2 x 29 x 24”.
Posed elegantly on plinths, the furled and sometimes collapsing ceramic “artifacts” and “relics,” as sculptor Cheryl Ann Thomas calls them, seem very distantly related to their ancestral forebear, the coiled clay pot. Indeed, the swaths of charcoal gray and creamy coiled clay resemble more a crushed brim of a straw hat or ribbons of snake skin than anything porcelain at all. These sculptures do not function as vessels, but rather seek and explore the edge of what hand-wrought clay can achieve, often reaching mind-boggling heights and stunning delicate balances. The monochrome palette draws attention to the delicate texture of the surfaces and to the repetitive print of the artist’s fingers. Thomas begins each work with long thin rolled ropes of clay coiled and coiled to build forms, and then often uses several forms in one work. She has just begun to investigate making similar works in stainless steel and bronze, which seem appropriate vehicles for these noble ruins (Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica).
Jeannie R. Lee
We may never know if the medieval mo
narchs who ruled France were successful in buying their way into heaven, but “Imagining the Past: France, 1250-1500,” a remarkable exhibition of rarely seen, exquisitely illustrated courtly manuscripts, attests to the fact that those who reigned from 1250 to 1500 were quite capable of commanding the most skilled artists and scribes to portray their earthly lives in favorable, fanciful detail. A section of the thirty-foot long “Universal Chronicle” scroll on display shows an angel holding a fleur-de-lis shield, watching over the baptism of France’s first Christian king, verifying the divine rights of the rulers of France. Nearly sixty vividly colored, oversized illuminated manuscripts constructed for courtly clients are opened to lushly illustrated, gilded pages offering ingenious representations of history such as Alexander the Great surveying the depths of the ocean beneath the belly of a whale. Computer touch–screens give viewers access to unopened manuscript pages and other supportive material. In the last room a bronze vessel depicting the sly and beautiful Phyllis astride an aging Aristotle, down on all fours, stands out amongst a collection of tapestries, ivory boxes and other articles inspired by narratives introduced in the manuscripts (J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles).
Maya Mercer, “Sang Rouge 01,” 2009, photograph.
In Maya Mercer’s recent series of photographs, incongruities in gender identity subvert acceptable societal norms of behavior and appearance. Hairy, bearded men, dressed in colorful slips and high heels are theatrically posed within verdant forests and the French countryside. Mercer brings a diversity of interests to her art, having grown up among actors, writers, painters and poets. The fact that she is an actress as well as an artist may very well contribute to her staged visions. Her subjects assume poses reminiscent of the tableau-like allegories of 19th-century Realists. As a result, the tendency is to view them purely as emblematic. That they are given mythological names such as “Parthenope,” “Centauros” or “Nessos” adds further credence to that view. Yet, they manifest a deeper psychology, displaying aspects that are less symbolic than human. Subjects either carry whiskey bottles or are posed in positions of distress. They suggest pain and unease with their outward manifestations of gender subversion. “Chrysaor” is a Christ-like figure who grasps a bottle of whiskey while he looks to the heavens for relief. Though the photographs evoke an eerie beauty, by challenging ideals connected to masculine and feminine, Mercer exposes discomforting realities (Stephen Cohen Gallery, Miracle Mile).
Tad Beck, “Palimpsest Three,” 2009, lightjet print, 42 x 42”.
The photographs, video and film installations in this alluring appreciation of physical beauty created by bicoastal artist Tad Beck go back to “Roll,” a 20 minutes, 4 channel, 4 scrim student video. The work features Beck, nude, breathing heavily as he labors to maintain his balance on a log afloat in a Maine river. Back in grad school at Art Center, when Jack Goldstein viewed “Roll,” the conversation turned towards parallels with Thomas Eakins’ work, specifically a swimming hole study in which Eakins puts in an appearance as an observer, treading water. Out of considerations raised, Beck’s “Palimpsest” series, (recently displayed in LACMA’s “Manly Pursuits” exhibition), evolved. Here Beck responds to Eakins’ “Grafly Album,” fictionally reconstructing the 19th century artist’s photographs. After digitally affixing his own images of contemporary models, Beck enshrines the re-worked results in silver repousse frames. A final re-photographing on stark black backgrounds adroitly calls attention to dualities in Beck’s own work and Eakins’ earlier idealizations of male nudes, often posed in nature. Dualities surface again in Beck’s images of men adorning boat prows and in his single channel film loop, “Stroke.” Viewers gaze down upon two nude guys, in wooden boats positioned to form a V, who rhythmically bend their backs over rowing machines, attempting to head off on alternative courses (Samuel Freeman, Santa Monica).
Nathan Mabry, “Amulet (Mano Figa),” 2011, steel, 47 1/2 x 58 x 44”.
Nathan Mabry's sculptures are assertive and strong. They are unabashedly art about art. Mabry draws from numerous sources both high and low, and combines his references to create unique and individualistic works. The large scale steel works are visually assertive and demand to be taken seriously. "Amulet (Mano Figa)" is a rusted steel work that appears to be a giant fist. The presence of individual fingers is evident with the thumb inserted between the index and middle fingers, yet the sculpture is as powerful as a tank. "Tete de Femme (Juicy)," "Tete de Femme (Plump)" and "Tete de Femme (Spicy)" are totemic works that combine references to early modernist sources, and their interest in images derived from Native American, pre-Columbian and African cultures. While the works are about quotation, Mabry's skill and underlying critique of that which he borrows from makes the work more than mere studies (Cherry and Martin, Culver City).
Manjari Sharma, from “The Shower Series,” 2010, photograph.
Are sexuality and sexiness mutually inclusive? As it turns out, they need not be, as Manjari Sharma's "Shower" photos make apparent. Whether due to an unspoken prohibition since “Psycho,” or stock photography's overabundance, there's been a dearth of shower portraits in fine art, and Sharma's made impressive work of this underexplored niche. This group of nine individual portraits, of several women and one man, each taken in the same marble-walled shower, are dripping with, well … water. But also vulnerability. The best of this set shows its subjects at peak wetness, from head to chest, sleek, moist and glistening. Though this sounds like an equation for an ad of some bath product or other (or even, these days, who knows, car insurance) the difference here is not only that these individuals are completely devoid of smiles or salesmanship, they're also far too vulnerable in their dripping, closed-eyed wetness to be anything but themselves. They're neither expressing states of ecstasy nor slumps of relief, but rather stolen private moments which reveal some sense — something raw — of the individual inhabiting the pose. Alternately, there's the angle that this is what beautiful models do, and we needn't worry about their potential embarrassment for being photographed soaking wet, but Sharma manages to toss out that conceit. The lesser images of the group, which feel comparatively contrived, are still satisfying, perhaps in ways that make more commercial work commercial — that is to say widely accessible. Sharma would be best served, going forward, continuing to mine the most vulnerable qualities of her subjects, in a format that makes such extraction much more challenging (Kopeikin Gallery, Culver City).
Heather Cantrell, “Portraiture (Daniel Arcana),” 2010, silver rag archival ink jet, 15 x 12”.
Heather Cantrell is interested in the relationship between photography and performance. In her black and white portraits she allows her subjects to transform their own identities by dressing up or acting out in the studio setting she creates for that purpose. Having set up her studio at the host gallery during her previous exhibition as well as at the Volta Art Fair in New York in 2010, she here presents many of the images she took during those open sessions. Visitors who signed up to have their portrait taken were presented with lavish props, numerous costumes in a mock jungle-like setting, and were permitted to perform for the camera. Use of these was discretionary, thus some chose to ignore the props while others indulged in the opportunity. Cantrell photographed families, individuals and couples. It is evident that Cantrell can put her subjects at ease and can entice them into performing in unusual ways for the camera. The resulting images are evocative exchanges between subject and sitter that perhaps harken back to the early age of studio portraiture, where the photographer provided numerous props and backdrops that allowed a sitter to engage in participating in a fantasy while enduring the necessity of long sittings in order to achieve sufficient exposure (Kinkead Gallery, Culver City)
Michael Salvatore Tierney, from the “Aerospace” series, 2010, photograph.
On many occasions, being granted permission to photograph high-security locations is the most challenging part of the battle. For Michael Salvatore Tierney and his “Aerospace” series, it entailed nearly a year of requests to the aerospace industry's gatekeepers, but ultimately he was well rewarded. He was provided access to various legendary So-Cal facilities, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA's Dryden Research Center. The resulting images, glowing white-outs of cockpits, sterile labs and military plane interiors, are more fetishistic than eerie. A space suit, in all its space-age material shininess, is a document of both a clichéd kid’s dream and total inaccessibility at once, and one of the best photos of the series. Tierney brings out an unexpected array of saturated, neon colors from his cold, clinical subjects to the point of overkill, especially when they go a bit blurry. But the consistent quality of the visceral inner glow achieved is irresistible, and at the same time there's an almost untraceable aftertaste for his immortalizing relics of our tax dollars superfluously at work (Blythe Projects, Culver City).
Luis Cornejo, “Untitled 3,” acrylic and oil on canvas, 66 x 47”.
Perhaps because the works are by Latin American artists who live in a blatantly contradictory world - with dark skinned locals peering at billboards of European-looking Caucasian models - the paintings in “Mirror Mirror” are not shy in telling us what a sham our world is. Luis Cornejo portrays beautiful, frivolous, even arrogant models that are made to look like jokes with Mickey Mouse Ears, cartoonish hands and backgrounds. These works are simultaneously fun and childlike, grotesque and frightening, thumbing their nose at women whose obsession lies with shape and beauty. Andriy Halashyn paints two-dimensional, graffiti-inspired landscapes that juxtapose the ultra rich and the ultra poor. A Chanel-clad model floats in space against a war-torn background with guns and GI’s. A 20-something hunk of a man holds hands with a 60-something doyenne, both very well heeled, against a sea of trash, rubble, and two rag pickers in the background. The artist is saying these worlds are inextricably connected. Cornejo and Halashyn have distinctly different styles and techniques, yet both portray a world that is hollow and contradictory (Salt Fine Art, Orange County).
Claudia Meyer, “Les Reflets” (detail, right panel), 51 x 48”.
Claudia Meyer’s newest assemblage series, “Les Reflets,” consists of abstract mixed media works of acrylglass, paint, inks stainless steel and wood. Based on sculptural forms from the last decade called “secret boxes,” she creates new forms, shapes and structures, building works with a fresh perspective. The building blocks are squares and rectangles with interiors of writing, abstract shapes, stainless steel and organic materials such as branches, coral and pods. All have exteriors of acrylglass. From small pieces to large triptychs, the effect is simultaneously luminous, mysterious and blatant. The signature piece, “Les Reflets,” is a diptych of large panels, each composed of several smaller vertical rectangles in earthy reds, mauves, blues and browns, reflecting perhaps an autumn landscape seen through aesthetic eyes. “Nuit et Blanche” is composed of 16 rectangular book-like panels, affixed to the wall, each panel written on, drawn and painted in a distinctly different manner. Yet each has autumnal earth tones and harmonizes with the whole. “Grande Vasio,” the most surprising work in the show, is a tall, slender wood and stainless steel vase (Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, Orange County).