Saturday, January 26, 2013


... in one day!  We bit off more than we could chew.  This was Thursday.  I am not keen on these events at the best of times, but two of them, simultaneously in one city, seems like more than a sane person should expect to contend with.

We started out at the LA Art Show at the Convention Center, featuring "historic, modern and contemporary art."  To be fair (hmmm... apologies!), we gave this one short shrift, hurrying through the aisles with the sense that there was not a great deal here to interest us.  Had we so chosen, I'm sure we would have found much to enjoy in the galleries featuring the work of California plein air painters, which we have grown to love--and have put together a small collection of paintings unearthed at garage sales and swap meets: not the most distinguished of artists, for the most part, but nicely executed little amateur works that enliven the walls of our beach cottage.  The big names are no longer anywhere close to being within our reach.  They would have been, a couple of decades back, before the market caught up with them...

But anyway, I was looking instead for an exhibition curated by Jack Rutberg (of Jack Rutberg Fine Arts) in collaboration with Aldis Browne, Letters from Los Angeles: Text in Southern California Art--and was pleased to have found it when I did.  Years ago--back in the early 1970s--I was invited to write one of the first catalog texts I ever wrote for an exhibition called "Word Works," at a time when artists were newly interested in incorporating words into their art.  In part, to be sure, this was an offshoot of the whole "conceptual" movement that was so influential at the time.  Traditional painting and sculpture were on the outs, largely scoffed at by artists who wanted to be taken seriously.  Words, and their associated ideas, were in.  The Rutberg/Browne retrospective, first exhibited at the Jack Rutberg Fine Arts gallery, is evidence that this phenomenon proved wider and more lasting than a simple fad.

It's a useful, broadly inclusive and fascinating historical show, featuring works by some well-known, some lesser-known artists as disparate as Ed Ruscha (the grandaddy of them all), Ed Kienholz , John Baldessari , Alexis Smith, Mark Steven Greenfield, George Herms, Scott Grieger and Jim Morphesis--all of whom have used words in different ways and to different ends in works that challenge traditional concepts of painting, sculpture and other media.  There were, of course, some omissions--most notably, in my view, Allen Ruppersberg , one of the key figures in the exploration of the creative interface between language and art.  And I particularly missed my friend (and frequent TBD reader and commenter!) Gary Lloyd, who has done some remarkable sculptural work with books.  Also, a couple of videos would have served as a useful reminder of that medium's dependence on language.  All in all, though, the exhibition usefully isolates and documents an aspect of Los Angeles art history that continues to resonate and influence new generations of artists.  The vocabulary and syntax of art--itself a "language"--have been vastly expanded by the investigations of these artists, and by their delight in the poetry, the common prose, the visual properties, and the satirical power of words.  As one who has been engaged with these little monsters for more years than I can count, I bring a special appreciation to their creative use by artists who have other purposes than I.  Each one of these "Letters from Los Angeles" expands my understanding of their presence and their possibilities.

On, later in the afternoon, to rather awkwardly titled Art Los Angeles Contemporary in the cavernous Barker Hanger at Santa Monica Airport, where a large selection of the major contemporary art galleries from all parts of the world gather to expose their wares.  The work in this show was of consistently high quality--suffering only from the usual drawbacks of events of this kind: makeshift installation, eye and brain fatigue brought on by the surfeit of objects to be looked at, and constant interruptions.  The latter was particularly the case at the opening we attended, where the aisles were jammed with members of the art crowd and the noise was generally deafening.  All in good fun, of course.  And we ran into many people we had not seen in quite some time and were happy to reconnect with.  So that's how it goes...


Anonymous said...

You are correct Allen Ruppersberg's picture of Dorian Gray was the most brilliant series of paintings and should of been included in any survey of text based art.
At least a menu from Al's Hotel could of been included.

gregg chadwick said...

It was wonderful to see you and Ellie at the LA Contemporary Art Fair at the Barker Hangar. Two art fairs in one day! Wow I admire your artistic stamina.