Thursday, January 26, 2012


There's such a lot happening on the art scene in Los Angeles right now, it's hard to know where to start--and what to choose to write about. With so many shows of interest, too, and never enough time to write about them all, it comes down to a matter of giving short shrift to many artists who deserve much more thorough and thoughtful attention. That said, here goes:

I think that many of my readers will be aware of Ted Orland's work as the co-author, with David Bayles, of the widely-admired Art & Fear; and, more recently, of the solo book, The View from the Studio Door. Both of these are indispensable handbooks for creative people interested in process--how and why art gets made, and why artists persist in doing it. Which is why I thought Orland would respond with interest to my own book, Persist; and I was not mistaken.

Having known this artist primarily--and perversely, perhaps--as a writer, I was delighted to have the opportunity to see his visual work in person at the Creative Center for Photography toward the east end of Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. The title of Orland's "Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity: A Collection of Black & White Silver Gelatin, Hand-Colored and Inkjet Creations" clues us in to both the breadth of his interest in photographic process and his idiosyncratic vision, which ranges from the awesome to the apocalyptic to the cryptic and whimsical. From his mentor Ansel Adams, whose burly image appears in two of the early pictures--the collection spans the period from the late 1960s to the present--this artist clearly learned a profound respect for the great spiritual vista of the California landscape. But Orland's own sense of fun and curiosity constantly intrude on even the most awesome scenery: one picture of the grandiose orange burst of a sunset over the Pacific Ocean, for example, offers the added spectacle of a straggling line of well-dressed citizens headed down across the beach--and apparently into the waves. We wonder what draws them toward their destiny: the Rapture? Similarly, in "One-and-a-Half Domes"...

(Ted Orland images from the artist's website)

... the shape of a large trash trash can in the foreground rhymes mockingly with that of Yosemite's famous landmark on the skyline, even while a "painting" audaciously intervenes.

Orland delights in the unexpected, in seeking out the oddities of both human behavior and the environment we humans have created--of that which has been provided for us by Nature. He is as fascinated by a "Born Again Truck"...

... an ancient machine gaudily redecorated to proclaim the power of Jesus--as about a towering T-rex reconstructed at a truck stop in the desert, or about an abstract expressionist "Meteor"...

... about to strike the planet with apocalyptic force. It's all a mind- and image-play between what we like to call "reality" and the imagination of the artist; an exercise, as the show's title suggests, in wonder and curiosity.

Down in the Culver City area, we made a stop at Carter & Citizen to see the latest work by David MacDonald, an artist whom we have long admired for the modesty of his means and the quiet there-ness of the objects he creates as a sculptor (how strange it feels to use that word, these days!) and master of the quirky assemblage. I had read with some bemusement the review by a Los Angeles Times critic who expressed surprise by his use of the term "Self Portraits" for the title of this latest show: I have always seen his work, even though "abstract," as a kind of self portrait, explorations into the unknown territory of parts of the psyche which just felt like projections of the intimate self. This is the essence, to my way of thinking, of lyricism, and MacDonald's work is nothing if not lyrical. I see the new works as small totems, with a quietly humorous phallic reference...

David McDonald
Self Portrait (Protected Self), 2011
Cement, Wood, Hydrocal, Re bar, Cardboard, Enamel Paint
36" x 14" x 15"

David McDonald
Self Portrait (All There), 2011
Cement, Palm Tree Wood, Hydrocal, Enamel Paint
68" x 28" x 24"

... intended to catch the spirit of the man much as their larger, Native American cousins are intended to embody the spirit of the tribe. On the walls, in similarly lyrical mode, the artist shows "paintings" created out of elegantly assembled fragments of paint chips, perhaps pried up from the studio floor...

David McDonald
Fractures #16, 2011
mixed media
7.5" x 5"

Their modesty and simple presence gives them an appeal that is far greater than their actual size.

Headed west, we made a stop at L.A.Louver, with two concurrent shows. Put together in collaboration with former Los Angeles County Museum curator Maurice Tuchman, "Kienholz Before LACMA" is a collection of early works by Edward Kienholz, prior to the time when his controversial exhibit at the museum attracted the ire of L. A. County Supervisors and other local dignitaries, notably for the infamous "Back Seat Dodge," in which a couple could be discerned in flagrante delicto in an already socially iconic situation, one in which a good number of young Americans were introduced to the early, fumbling, dreadfully sinful experience of sex. It's an important show, recalling the always challenging, often confrontational, generally dark and brooding, though also strangely elegant early assemblage work of an artist whose place in art history is beyond question.

There's a family connection here: the Louver show includes two works from the collection of my late in-laws. "The U.S. Duck, or Home from the Summit"...

Edward Kienholz
The U.S. Duck, or Home from the Summit, 1960
26 7/16 x 21 1/4 x 6 in. (67.2 x 54 x 15.2 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
Michael and Dorothy Blankfort Bequest

... was gifted long ago to that same County Museum; the other "The American Way, II"...

Edward Kienholz
The American Way, II, 1960 and 1970
paint and resin on rubber garden hose with severed deer neck mounted on wood (above);
once covered with paint and watercolor on canvas (top image), subsequently removed by the artist (below)
22 3/4 x 22 1/4 x 8 in (57.8 x 56.5 x 20.3 cm)
Courtesy of Susan Camiel, from the Dorothy and Michael Blankfort Collection

... hangs usually in the home of my wife's sister, who inherited it. Originally hidden by the cover...

... that now hangs alongside it in the Louver show, the piece was offered for purchase by the artist--at the time an unknown newcomer-- as an act of faith: it was to be purchased blind, and the cover was not to be removed for ten years. Halfway through that ten-year period, it was returned to the artist for the investigation of a curious, spreading stain, still visible on the cover; at that time, Kienholz--now much better known, even notorious--offered to buy the piece back, with substantial interest. His offer was refused.

The second Louver show, in the upstairs gallery, is a glance back at some early work by Tom Wudl--paintings made for the most part on rice paper, perforated by innumerable punch holes that give the image a lacy, delicate appearance and allows it to interplay with the white wall behind...

Tom Wudl Homage to Buckminster Fuller , 1973 - 1975 acrylic and gold leaf on paper punch 28 x 37 in (71.1 x 94 cm) plexi case: 35 x 43 x 3 in (88.9 x 109.2 x 7.6 cm) Courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA

Tom Wudl Untitled, 1973 pencil, crayon, liquitex on paper punch 65 1/4 x 87 1/2 in (165.7 x 222.3 cm) (unframed)
Courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA

Combining color and abstract, often geometric shape, they result in magical objects of both moving and penetrating beauty, where the observer's eye and mind are invited to play along with the artist's restless, high-spirited inventiveness. That much over-used word, "spiritual," comes inevitably to mind: Wudl's work, I think, intends to move us beyond the realm of material concern and into a place of simple serenity and awe. Its quietly and insistently present beauty can take our breath away.

On to Bergamot station. We did not have the time to stop by all of the many galleries there, but some were of special note. We started out at Shoshana Wayne, with the work of the Israeli-born artist Izhar Patkin. The central work in the exhibition is "The Dead Are Here," a gallery-sized installation within the gallery...

(image courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery)

... hung on all the surrounding walls with elusive paintings on a gauzy surface, draped ceiling-to-floor to create a complete environment. The images (applied in ink), come in an out of focus on this ethereal ground; they evoke the ghostly landscape of a cemetery, with the greenery of trees and lawns interspersed with grave markers, stones and funerary sculpture. It's an environment that poignantly invites memento mori, the awareness of mortality; but also transforms its traditionally absolute power into something more diaphanous, transparent, ephemeral. Watch for announcements of a One Hour/One Painting session that I'll be offering in the gallery in a couple of weeks' time. (Feb. 8, 6PM. Advance registration at the gallery with $25.00 required. Please don't just show up! There won't be space for drop-ins.)

I must say that my initial response to the Jeffrey Wisniewski video at Patrick Painter, Inc. was a somewhat shocked revulsion. It's a six-plus minute animation called "Battle of the Buddha." Here's the banner for the show from the gallery's website:

The juxtaposition of "battle and "Buddha" was itself something of a challenge to one who prefers to believe in the Buddhist values of peace, equanimity and serenity. The Buddha is presented as a sumo wrestler--big, rotund, mask-faced, lumbering. After starting out from a state of meditative levitation, this golden Buddha touches earth and splits into a second, red version of himself; the two go through the ritual sumo preliminary bows, then run at each other, the golden Buddha delivering a swift and nasty kick into his red rival's groin.

The battle is on, and continues for five minutes, resolving itself at the end with the two repeating their ritual respects and merging, once again, into the single, levitating, golden figure. It is, of course, an evocation of the inner battle that we all experience--and that the Buddha did, indeed, himself experience on the night of his enlightenment. So I found my way past the initial reaction and into something more like appreciation--noting, along the way, that my revulsion was probably based in something not dissimilar from what many Muslims felt about those Danish cartoons! Still I do credit myself at least with not wanting to kill the artist to express my outrage.

Rosamund Felsen Gallery is showing Karen Liebowitz's "Magical Thinking"...

Karen Liebowitz
Skinning Leviathan
Acrylic on the wall

... a huge mural--16 by 30 feet--that occupies an entire gallery wall. It's an epic narrative painting, showing the slaying and carving-up of a Leviathan, a monster of the deep, by a team of dedicated and athletic women who swarm over the carcass with machetes and knives. Leviathan is
a dragon who lives over the Sources of the Deep and who, along with the male land-monster Behemoth, will be served up to the righteous at the end of time. When the Jewish midrash (explanations of the bible) were being composed, it was held that God originally produced a male and a female leviathan, but lest in multiplying the species should destroy the world, he slew the female, reserving her flesh for the banquet that will be given to the righteous on the advent of the Messiah.
Okay. There is, it seems to me, a certain (rather delightful) ambiguity about the gender politics of all this, but the mural is a spirited, slightly absurdist drama that engages with its narrative and, enormously, impresses as a feat of painterly skill completed in the relatively short time set aside for the preparation of the show. Not on public display as a part of the exhibit but on hand in the gallery office are the many preliminary drawings and sketches that made this feat possible. It's an interesting tidbit to know that Liebowitz used her women artist friends as models for her small army of Amazons. (The two other artists currently on display at Rosamund Felson regrettably fell victim to my shortage of time: my apologies to both Nancy Blum and Vanessa Conte)

Our last stop for the day was at Craig Krull Gallery, to see the ambitious, multi-part installation by Lita Albuquerque, "287 Steps"...

It involves three galleries, one of which is devoted to the artist's very beautiful cobalt blue pigment paintings, stunningly enhanced by explosions of red pigment blown across the surface--either by breath or by the wind...
Albuquerque's vision tends to locate the universal in the intimate and highly personal, and vice versa. Her paintings manage to be at once ethereal and earthy, vastly spacious and intensely present. Viewed at length, they can unfetter the attentive viewer's mind and transport it dizzyingly across time and space...

... which is perhaps the intention of the three-dimensional installations in the other two galleries, one of which is occupied solely by the full-length, prone figure of a nude female in that same Yves Klein blue...

... levitating a few inches above a substantial white sarcophagus; the other, by three oversized, shimmering "space suits" in pure gold leaf, suspended in space in front of a long, blue-painted wall..

There is back-story for all three installations, concerning a female, alien astronaut falling, Icarus-like, to earth in some distant future; for myself... well, I like mystery, I love the invitation for my mind to play, and this exhibition creates ample opportunity for that. Sheer, glorious beauty can be a trap for any artist: Lita Albuquerque embraces it with abandon, and seduces us to do the same.

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