Friday, February 16, 2007

Art Gallery Rounds

Well, I kept my pledge. I wrote to both my senators and my congresswoman about that UNICEF report on the well-being of our children here in America, and I found what I think is a good organization to which to send some money. It's the Children's Defense Fund. Under the leadership of founder and president Marian Wright Edelman, this organization seems to be doing the kind of work I'd want to support, and I trust that readers of these pages might want to add a few dollars to the pot. It's easy, painless even. Just click on the link above, hit "donate," and Bob's your uncle, as we used to say,

So let's talk about art. Ellie and I made the rounds of some of the galleries yesterday, and found more than our usual share of interesting work. For locals, a stop at the Jancar Gallery on Wilshire Boulevard (for details, check out the handy Artscene gallery guide) rewards with a show of unabashedly political paintings and drawings by Kim Hubbard. No holds barred. This is an artist previously known for abstract paintings. Perhaps, not unlike myself, she was called to respond with unambiguous anger to what's happening in the world--and particularly in American politics these days. I say, bravo!

Another women artist caught my attention further along the route. In a capacious old hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, the Sherry Frumkin Gallery shows Corey Stein, whose relief paintings--she uses paper cut-outs to create the relief--are at once hilarious, witty, provocative and poignant. She titles the show "Gallery Guyde"--pun obviously intended, since the series of works riffs on the experience of a Miss LonelyHearts in the yearning search for a beau. Stein, who has suffered from epilepsy all her life and underwent brain surgery to correct the affliction, looks out at the world from an almost painfully personal point of view. The wry, sardonic, occasionally biting humor does not quite manage to disguise the vulnerability in these works. Anyone with an ounce of human senstivity will resonate with the aching dread of isolation and with the simultaneous paradoxical anxieties about contact and closeness with other human beings. To paraphrase that old Beatles song, we all need someone to love--and someone to love us.

On to Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, where there was also plenty to see--and plenty to admire. For myself, of special interest was the Jan Bas Ader installation at Patrick Painter Gallery--a reminder of the special influence of this pioneering Dutch artist on future generations. The deadpan irony of his camera work and situations elicits sometimes uncomfortable smiles. His disappearance at sea in 1976 as he was attempting a trans-Atlantic crossing in a small boat as a part of an art experiment deprived the art world of an original practitioner. Also, the work of Amy Bennett at Richard Heller Gallery. Her spookily bland suburban scenes with their odd surprises (a tiny naked figure, for example, in a window, or a couple caught in flagrante delicto in some unexpected corner) have something of the familiar frisson of "Desperate Housewives." The dark side of the comfortable American way of life.

I fell in love with Kathleen Henderson's show of oil stick drawings and small, three-dimensional pieces (you could hardly call them "sculptures")--the word suggests more formality than these unsettling works possess at Rosamund Felsen Gallery. Part mythical, part satrical, her figures are most frequently humans masked as animals--the rabbit is clearly her favorite, to judge by his ubiquitous appearances--and they're caught in situations that mime the extremes of human foibles, most frequently malevolent, and often military, personal or sexual aggression.

The rabbit, of course, has contradictory dual associations, as both the irresistibly cuddly, furry little thing that children love and the promiscous, tireless--and prolific--sexual aggressor. Henderson's Rabbit has both qualities, in spades. At first sight, the work might seem merely whimsical. It shares some of the humorous qualities of James Thurber, both in theme and execution. Examine these drawings and sculptures more closely, though, and we're drawn back into some pretty serious and damning reflections on human nature and the society in which we live. Aside from the compelling quality of the content, though, I was attracted by Henderson's modesty and economy of means. She manages to say a lot with little, and in very small scale. To get a better sense of the work, click on the "current exhibition" at Rosamund Felsen Gallery and you'll find a nice selection of the work. Better yet, of course, stop by the gallery one day soon.

If I were writing for a magazine, as I used to do, I would have to add a "full disclosure" here. Ellie and I were so engaged with Kathleen Henderson's work that we splurged and bought one of her "sculptures"! But this isn't a magazine, and I don't have to tell you. So forget I mentioned it.

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