Saturday, July 3, 2010

ACE GALLERY: Three Artists

Hand it to Ace Gallery for not compromising on scale! If you want to be wowed by the sheer bloody visual WALLOP of art, there's no better place to go.

Of course, bigger does not always mean better. I actually kind of like small, but I admire the sheer chutzpah of the grandiose statement. If you go for grandiose, the current shows in both the cavernous spaces of Ace's mid-Wilshire gallery and the only slightly more modest Beverly Hills branch might knock your socks off. In the former you'll find huge exhibitions--both in scale and quantity--of work by two artists, Achim Freyer and John Millei; and in the main gallery in Beverly Hills, an installation of towering "Black Totems" by Herb Alpert. (Yes, that's right, THE Herb Alpert, of musical fame; he has been making art for some forty years...)

Achim Freyer's work is operatic in scale and operatic in inspiration. He was recently artistic director for the LA Opera's production of the Wagnerian Ring Cycle, and is clearly not only an admirer but an emulator of the composer's concern with the Gesamtkunstwerk, the "all-together-art-work" that aspires to combine art, music, theater, choreography--you name it--in one big, organic bundle. Freyer refuses to restrict his vision to the stage, as is evident in this assemblage of dozens of mostly large-scale paintings and three-dimensional works (giant figures constructed out of a variety of media.) The sheer quantity of output is stunning, when seen in the perspective of the artist's other obligations in recent years, and the paintings combine gestural and broadly geometric abstraction with such conceptual elements as words and letters. Their scale encourages us to step into their spaces as though into a theatrical set, and wander the multifarious paths their surfaces offers for our exploration.

(Photo courtesy ACE GALLERY website)
Color, too, is used to dramatic effect, appealing to the big emotional response. A critic, I'm sure (and I am not one!) could cavil about a certain unevenness in quality. Freyer seems content to just throw everything into the pot of his creative energy. But I'll buy into the sheer force of that energy itself and allow myself to be swept up in it.

Something of the same nature could be said about the concurrent exhibit of vast numbers of paintings by John Millei, collectively referred to as his Maritime series. Millei invites us to join him in his fascination with the structural complexity of ships, from hull to rigging; and with the massive movement of the oceans. His paintings--some of them oceanic in scale, ranging up to 12 feet in height and twenty-five feet in breadth!--fall into two categories, both combining the ambitions of large-scale abstraction with not-so subtle hints of representational elements. The motion of waves is rendered in huge undulating lines of color or plain white...

(Photo courtesy ACE GALLERY website)
...with something of the reductive simplicity you find in children's drawings. Elsewhere, the timbers of the hull, the tall masts and draped lines of the rigging form intricate, quasi-geometric structures that offer a rigorous counterpoint to that simplicity. This cell phone picture will give you a sense of the scale...

(Cell phone photo, with apologies to the artist and the gallery!)

The overall impression is of strength tempered by vulnerability. The powerful self-assurance of the painter's process is evident throughout, engaging the eye even as it convinces the observing mind with its authority. These are paintings we say "Yes" to, and not simply because we are awed by their sheer scale. They are masterfully done.

Okay. Drive on down Wilshire to the Beverly Hills Ace to find Herb Alpert and you will surely be in for a surprise. Walk into the main gallery and you find yourself in a dense forest of black totemic shapes...

(Photo courtesy ACE GALLERY website)
...three or four times your own--say average--human height and reaching, in some cases, to the very top of the high-ceilinged space. Each one is cast in bronze, and their very weight is perceptible as you walk amongst them. Each one is truly a "totem" in that its smooth, curving surfaces celebrate an intricate interaction between human and animal spirits; each one is an aspiration toward the heavens, an expression of the enduring, deeply human need to be one with nature and our fellow-travelers on this planet, and at the same time to integrate with some power beyond our fragile, temporal existence. Some may quibble, again, with the quantity of work included in this installation; I say there's strength in numbers. I recalled that Baudelaire poem that evokes our passage through "forets de symboles," where we are dwarfed by a natural world--in this case, a world of artifacts--that seems, as the poet suggests, to observe us as we pass. The work makes us feel small, yes, even as it celebrates the greatness of our aspirations.

It happened, by the way, that the artist was on hand at the time of our visit, preparing for an interview with reporters, cameras, and so on. Having consulted with him briefly, years ago, Ellie wondered if he would remember her (as if not!) and re-introduced herself, so we had the added pleasure of a few minutes conversation with the man who achieved international fame with the Tijuana Brass! There he is, in black, seen from behind, on this cell phone photo...

As a bonus, in the back galleries, we found some pleasing installations of work by old friends DeWain Valentine...

(Cell phone photo, with apologies to the artist and the gallery!)
... and Gary Lang...

(Photo: as above)

Altogether, a satisfying visit to ACE GALLERIES, and one to be recommended to those close enough to follow our example.

1 comment:

TaraDharma said...

good on Herb! It is wonderful how many musicians are also visual artists -- the vision just needs to be expressed and out it comes.