Rank #1: Celebrating the Anniversaries of Bauhaus and Rembrandt
One of the most influential art schools of the last century – Bauhaus – was founded 100 years ago in Weimar, Germany. The Getty Research Institute marks this 100 th anniversary with a new exhibition, Bauhaus Beginnings, which pulls from its archives prints, drawings, photographs, and other material. In spite of the devastation of WWI from 1914-1918, the following year, in 1919, a group of avant-garde European artists developed a bold vision of a school of design and a model of education that would bridge the fine and applied arts.
The Getty’s exhibition emphasizes the contributions made by Bauhaus founder German artist Walter Gropius (1883-1969), Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895- 1946), Russian artist Vassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), and Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879- 1940), just to mention a few of the teachers. The overall design of the exhibition, with particularly elegant floating geometric display cabinets, has an echo of the Bauhaus aesthetic.
One quote from the exhibition by Kandinsky emphasizes the spiritual and emotional significance of art: “Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions.”
Here, in Southern California, two major American art schools – CalArts and ArtCenter College of Design – are philosophical descendants of Bauhaus, uniting the practices of architecture and design alongside the fine arts.
Another anniversary – 350 years since the death of Rembrandt – is honored by 5 Southern California museums with a virtual exhibition of 14 of his paintings held by The Getty, LACMA, Norton Simon Museum, The Hammer, and Timken Museum of Art. Just imagine the pleasure of paying homage to Rembrandt with a short trip from The Getty to Norton Simon to see his self-portraits when he was only 22 and then 30 years old.
One of his earlier paintings held by The Getty, The Rape of Europa, shows the Greek god Zeus, in the form of a bull, abducting Europa, whose face has a striking resemblance to Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia.
During his lifetime, Rembrandt experienced and enjoyed not only fame and fortune, but also having been ignored and forgotten. His early style, with careful brushstrokes and complimentary portrayal of well-to-do clients, reflected the taste of wealthy Dutch merchants. But, toward the end of his career, his art dramatically changed. The smooth surface of his early paintings transformed into wild, distinct brushwork. His cool palette became much more muddy and earthy. And, complimentary presentation gave way to a deeper, psychological exploration of character.
Rembrandt paid a dear price for these profound changes in his art. He was no longer considered a desirable artist for commissions, and so he sank into poverty, lost his house, moved into the poorest neighborhood in Amsterdam, and was buried in an unmarked grave. 350 years later, he is celebrated as one of the greatest artists of all time.
Wouldn’t it be remarkable if all five Southern California museums worked together to pay homage to Rembrandt not only through a virtual exhibition, but by exhibiting all 14 paintings in one real exhibition? Of course, the logistics of such an exhibition would be overwhelming. But, the magic of Rembrandt’s art is worth it…
Jun 18 2019
Rank #2: A Tale of Two Museums: MOCA and LACMA
This is a tale of two museums, The Museum of Contemporary Art and the L.A. County Museum of Art.
I’ll admit it. I am a booster for L.A. art. When I moved here in 1979, I started writing about it because I realized that the quality and originality was very little understood or even recognized outside Southern California. Certainly not in New York or Europe. There was no Museum of Contemporary Art.
L.A.’s first free-standing art museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had opened in 1966. Being a general rather than a contemporary museum, it could not, at times would not, dedicate its programs solely to post-war art or art being made here.
As a result, a truly dedicated group of local art collectors came together to make MOCA a reality in 1979. What is now the Geffen opened with The First Show in 1983 and proved that those collectors who genuinely did not want to give their art to a New York museum had made stunningly generous donations.
They also hammered out the deal to erect the MOCA building on Grand Avenue in 1986.
Four tumultuous decades later, that history is being celebrated with MOCA's sixth director, Klaus Biesenbach. On the job seven months, he was able to announce a $10 million dollar gift by MOCA president Carolyn Powers to help fund free admission.
A benefit dinner last Saturday was underwritten by Marina Kellen French so that some 300 artists and others could attend gratis. The exhibition titled The Foundation of the Museum: MOCA's Collection is a snapshot of the staggering commitment of past directors and curators to building one of best contemporary collections in the country.
So Biesenbach is off to a running start. The night of the benefit, he spoke to the crowd about being of service, about art as a force within society, about being a family.
Given the spin cycle of directors, curators and board members at MOCA in the last decade, he has a lot of ruffled feathers to smooth. He seems remarkably willing to perform that uneviable task. A collective sigh of relief seemed to permeate the evening, which was attended by past directors and curators in a gesture of reconciliation.
All of which brings me to LACMA and its director Michael Govan, who has completely transformed a moribund museum into one of the most popular places in the city. Under his direction, the museum installed the one of the most selfied works of public art, the grove of vintage lights by one of the city’s most revered artists, the late Chris Burden. At this point, I could go on and on about their excellent recent exhibitions with an unprecedented focus on contemporary art, including Robert Rauschenberg’s previously unseen opus 1/4 Mile, closing June 9.
Prior to Govan’s 2006 hire, Renzo Piano, an esteemed architect of museums, was on board to complete what is now the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art and the Resnick Pavilion. Even at that time, it was clear that it was not going to be cost effective or aesthetically desireable to renovate the 1966 LACMA buildings, a William Pereira design that had proved problematic and unwieldy. Curators, historians and artists have have been complaining about it since the day it opened. The 1986 attempt to disguise it with a giant facade and courtyard by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer didn’t help.
Govan could have let Piano continue building, which also entailed tearing down the old museum. He chose the more difficult path.
From the outset, he wanted the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and that decision has been controversial ever since. He set the bar higher with a fundraising goal of more than $600 million.
Now that he is nearing that goal and new models of Zumthor’s design are on view, there is a belated bellow of complaint about its curvilinear design, the amount of glass, the bridge over Wilshire, the concrete exhibition walls. Suddenly, people love the existing LACMA that they have been bad-mouthing since the day it opened.
Every daring museum design has faced similar fights. Without single-minded, stubborn directors, there wouldn’t be Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao (or even the Frank Lloyd Wright Guggenheim in New York). This is not to say that there can’t be questions about the design or that there can’t be improvements.
But at this point, given a stellar track record as a museum director on so many levels, Govan should be allowed to finish the job he was hired to do.
Same for Biesenbach at MOCA. Give the guy a chance.
Sometimes a museum needs a leader with singular focus, like Govan. Sometimes, it needs someone who can unify and motivate demoralized staff and supporters. One hopes that will be Biesenbach.
In this time of nationwide fury and schisms and internet-fueled psycho babble, I’d like to see a return to sort of civic minded perspective and loyalty to L.A. that enabled these museums to be built in the first place.
May 24 2019
Rank #3: Getty Villa Welcomes Its Ancient Ancestors
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD is a well-known tragedy of the ancient world. Two nearby cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum, were destroyed, along with their populations. Everything was covered in layers upon layers of lava and ash. But somehow, this tragedy has a silver lining. Since the mid-18th century, archeological excavations of both cities have uncovered an unprecedented amount of artistic treasures – bronze and marble sculptures, well-preserved frescoes and mosaics, and the list goes on.
The Getty Villa as it was envisioned in the early 1970s by J. Paul Getty is a copy of Villa dei Papiri, one of the best-known archeological discoveries in the outskirts of Herculaneum. Its name comes from the very fact that this villa had a unique library of more than 1000 papyrus scrolls, the only such surviving library from antiquity.
Some of these papyrus scrolls are on view in the exhibition, Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri, which just opened at the Getty Villa and will run until October 28. This unique exhibition is the result of years of collaboration with the Naples National Archaeological Museum.
I trust that you, my friends, have been to the Getty Villa many times, admiring contemporary copies of Roman frescoes and bronze sculpture in its outdoor gardens. Now, in this exhibition of treasures from Villa dei Papiri, we have the rare privilege to look at and study two-thousand-year-old originals. The most famous of these treasures is a life-size statue of a Drunken Satyr, the mythical character from the legends of the wine god Bacchus. The contemporary copy of this sculpture has been in the pool of the Getty Villa since its opening in 1974. Now, for the first time, we have a chance to come very close and look at the happily drunken face of the original Satyr.
Like me, you probably passed many times by two bronze sculptures of naked Runners by the pool without looking at them closely. Now that I’ve had the chance to look at the originals, I realized these youths have personalities and character.
Take a look at the images on our site – their faces, with remarkably well-preserved eyes made from stone and bone, makes one think of contemporary photography of Olympic runners.
Guilty as charged – after seeing this exhibition, I had a glass of good red wine, another way to pay respect to these ancient guests visiting LA. Actually, The Getty Villa is hosting a whole series of related events, Bacchus Uncorked, inviting visitors to taste, drink, and think like an ancient Roman.
And, if all that hasn’t piqued your interest to see the exhibition, how about this? All these treasures from Napoli place us at only 1 degree of separation from Julius Caesar – yes, Julius Caesar – whose father-in-law was the supposed owner of the original Villa dei Papiri.
Jul 02 2019
Rank #4: Broken Back, Unbroken Spirit
The best time to enjoy – and even marvel – at the gigantic sculpture by Mark di Suvero on Venice Beach is sunset. That’s when his 60-foot-tall steel work, titled Declaration, looks the most imposing. It’s been there since 2001, in honor of the nonprofit Venice Family Clinic. The artist, and LA Louver gallery, which represents him, has loaned this work for almost two decades to the city without a fee.Unfortunately, the city was unable to find donors to help it acquire the piece, and so in late 2019 the sculpture will be removed and sent back to di Suvero’s studio in Northern California.
But, the good news is that right now LA Louver has a mini-retrospective showing the diversity and strength of his work over the last two decades. The steel sculptures selected are all of small scale, but each of them has a big story to tell. And a big surprise, as well… Take a look at the video of one of these sculptures, and you will be awestruck watching this super-macho, aggressive metal form moving in a most elegant dance. It’s as if male and female counterparts, in perfect balance, perform for your pleasure.
One appreciates the work even more with the understanding that di Suvero, now 85 years old, continues to work like nothing happened to him. Actually, most of his life, he had to deal with a dramatic back injury that left doctors doubtful he’d ever walk again. Be sure that you ask the gallery assistant permission to spin each of his sculptures, which will make you dizzy with delight, watching it dance.
And, talking about a mini-retrospective… LACMA just opened an exhibition of 10 works by Frank Stella – all of them, from the museum’s permanent collection. Some of these works haven’t been on display in over 30 years.
The exhibition reveals the amazing range of Frank Stella’s work, from his groundbreaking “black” paintings from the late 50s to his most recent monumental wall sculptures exploding into our space, making you take a cautious step back. At 82 years old, Stella doesn’t stop for a second…
And now, my smart and adventurous listeners, I want to tell you about two theatre productions I saw over the weekend that I think you will find intriguing. At Odyssey Theatre, I saw the play by Irish playwright Brian Friel (1929-2015), “Faith Healer,” in which three characters, one after another, tell the same story from three different perspectives. Directed by Ron Sossi, all three actors – Ron Bottitta, Diana Cignoni, and Paul Norwood – deliver their monologues with such passion and eloquence, you never want them to stop.
And of course, I was not able to resist the temptation to see the adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s famous novel, “Crime and Punishment” at Edgemar Center for the Arts. The long novel about Raskolnikov killing an old lady, both of them neighbors in the shady streets of St. Petersburg, is compressed into a 90-minute production with three actors playing multiple roles. What made me particularly glued to the stage was the fact that I was born in the very neighborhood where Dostoyevky’s story takes place.
May 08 2019
Rank #5: Smart, Courageous and, Yes, Totally Naked
So, my friends, if you are in the mood to be surprised and challenged, and maybe even slightly shocked, here is an exhibition for you. LACMA is presenting an exhibition by Eleanor Antin (b. 1935), a pioneer performance and conceptual artist in Southern California.
In 1972, she created an astounding self-portrait consisting of 148 black-and-white photographs. Every day, she photographed herself totally naked, facing four different directions. She called this body of work CARVING: A Traditional Sculpture, and it documented the transformation of her young body as it lost 10 pounds over 37 days. I have to admit that in spite of being familiar with this early self-portrait, it still made my eyebrows raise. How many of us will expose ourselves so fully, so courageously – even when we are still young and in good shape?
The second body of work by Antin in the exhibition is called CARVING: 45 Years Later. In 2017, at the age of 82, she recreated her iconic early piece with a new gravitas; this time, photographing herself 500 times as she lost weight over the course of 100 days. So, I am standing in front of this new Antin self-portrait, in which her old body sags, but my respect for her artistry and bravery is surging high as I respond to her philosophical acceptance of mortality.
The solo exhibition of Los Angeles-based artist June Edmonds at Luis de Jesus gallery is a series of multi-colored paintings inspired by the American flag. All of them, vertical, and in earth tones, evoking the variety of brown skin colors. The exhibition, Allegiances and Convictions, presents the American flag as a “symbol of ideals, promises, and identity… including race, nationality, [and] gender” (Luis de Jesus).
At the opening of the exhibition, I had a chance to talk with the artist and learn that this body of work was inspired by a dream in which she saw large, black flags. When Edmunds was interviewed by gallery owner Luis de Jesus, she emphasized the fact that her paintings were not inspired by Jasper Johns’ famous, horizontal flag paintings. She said, her flags “are standing for something,” so that’s why she keeps them standing. Knowing this, I see her flags as a series of portraits of Americans of many races and colors.
And while we’re talking about portraits, I wish I could have taken you with me to meet the well-known Los Angeles photographer Jim McHugh at his home last weekend. I brought a small group of my friends to hear McHugh’s stories about his decades-long career photographing the art world’s biggest names in their studios. Becoming friends with some of these artists, he would photograph them over the years, giving us unique, intimate access to their lives.
Take a look at three portraits by McHugh on our website – David Hockney, Allison Saar, and Bruce Nauman. They look at us, we look at them, the conversation starts, and it never ends…
May 15 2019
Rank #6: Agnes Pelton at the Phoenix Art Museum
Georgia O’Keeffe may be the best known of the modern artists who also happened to be a women. Agnes Pelton, who had a similar education and traveled in the same circles, has remained on the periphery of art history. Thanks to mounting pressure and scholarship about artists who have been overlooked due to gender or race, Pelton is receiving new attention.
A spectacular exhibition, Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist, is on view at the Phoenix Art Museum through September 8. It travels to the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, the Whitney Museum in New York and the Palm Springs Art Museum, where the first big reappraisal of her work was staged in 1995. In fact, Pelton lived in Cathedral City for most of her adult life.
During the research for my 2004 biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, Full Bloom, I came across Pelton’s art many times and was struck by the many parallels. Pelton lived from 1881- 1961. O’Keeffe from 1887 to 1986. Pelton was born in Germany of American parents but raised in Brooklyn after the age of seven. O’Keeffe was an outspoken Midwesterner.
Both studied in New York under the massively influential teacher Arthur Wesley Dow, who emphasized the seductive power of decorative motifs, especially as used in traditional Japanese art. He encouraged the curving lines of art nouveau and warm, even pastel colors in modern painting.
Pelton was considered enough of a rising star to be included in the historic 1913 Armory show at the invitation of Walt Kuhn.
O’Keeffe did not see that show but her own career was propelled by her love affair and then marriage to photographer Alfred Stieglitz, the most zealous promoter of American modern art.
Pelton also made art out of her experiences in the south west, invited by patron Mabel Dodge Luhan to Taos in 1919. O’Keeffe didn’t make that pilgrimmage until 1929. By then, she was a superstar, with her flower paintings commanding huge sums.
Pelton, however, was on a spiritual quest. O’Keeffe remained more tethered to earthly concerns.
This exhibition focuses on Pelton’s abstract paintings that began to emerge in the 1920s, initially influenced by Kandinsky’s ideas about the synesthesia, the vibrational power of music and color.
In 1928, Pelton came to Pasadena to do deeper studies with the Theosophy Society. That is likely when she first visited Palm Springs. In 1932, she moved to Cathedral City where views of Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio inspired paintings of the desert landscape melded with her urge to find higher meaning through abstraction. Sand Storm (1932) layers the mists of the storms clouds that swept the desert with an emerging rainbow.
She was pursuing deeper spiritual experiences through Agni Yoga, a branch of Theosophy. She developed friendships with the Transcendental Modernists of New Mexico, an informal coterie of artists led by Raymond Jonson who sought alternatives to the strictly formal view of mid-century abstract painting. Though she had not returned to New Mexico since 1919, her work was shown with theirs at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. Orbits (1934) shows the stars traveling paths of light at night above the horizon of Mount San Jacinto.
Through the 1940s, she studied the writings of Krishnamurti and continued to integrate her spiritual beliefs with her painting but also pursued more realistic landscapes of the desert, which were easier to sell. Both were inspired by her long walks through the desert, then still largely undeveloped.
Pelton’s physical health failed in the 1950s and she died of liver cancer in 1961. The show includes her last painting Light Center (1960-61), which attempts to capture the transition from life to afterlife. After her death, her work was dispersed recklessly by distant heirs and her legacy all but lost until the work of art historians in the late 1980s. Her work was included in LACMA’s groundbreaking The Spiritual in Art exhibition of 1986.
Pelton was dedicated to channeling presence, intuition and energy into visible form. This is a path leading directly into bad kitsch for many an artist but Pelton’s paintings always hover in the realm of ethereal radiance. You can scarcely help being pulled into their power, as though they operated as visual mantras.
Curator Gilbert Vicario has organized the show in Phoenix while two of the catalog essays were written by former directors of the Palm Springs Art Museum, Michael Zakian and Elizbeth Armstrong, where her reputation began to be restored. This is no exercise in compare and contrast between O’Keeffe and Pelton but an opportunity to expand our awareness of artists being welcomed into a more inclusive history.
Jun 07 2019
Rank #7: All about Dilexi Gallery, 1958-1969
When talking about the L.A art scene in the 1960s, the name of the Ferus Gallery is foremost. Founded in 1957 by Walter Hopps with artist Ed Kienholz, it was a free-wheeling operation initially showing artists from the Bay Area alongside the L.A. set.
But Ferus was not the first gallery started by Hopps. That would have been Syndell, opened in 1954 in West L.A. with his friend Jim Newman. They had become friends a few years earlier while students at Stanford where they spent as much time organizing jazz concerts as studying.
After his first year, Hopps returned to his native L.A. to attend UCLA, Newman went on to Oberlin College. They remained friends. Neither expected to become a conventional art dealer but opened Syndell with the idea of supporting the artists they knew who were challenging ideas about making art in the 1950s, especially in abstract sculpture or assemblage. After his experience at Syndell, Newman and Beat poet Bob Alexander started Dilexi in San Francisco in 1955. At that time, the city was considered the apex of culture with a museum dedicated to modern art as well as a growing counter culture.
Though Hopps had left Ferus to become curator and director of the Pasadena Art Museum, many of the Ferus artists continued to show at Dilexi in San Francisco. Newman opened a short- lived L.A. venue down the street from Ferus in 1963 with the Rolf Nelson as director. Newman, who parted from Alexander after the first year, remained closer to artists who lived and worked in the Bay Area.
This summer, the fascinating but rarely studied history of Dilexi Gallery (1958-1969) is the focus of a group of shows in four galleries in L.A. and two in San Francisco.
Some of the artists are well-known, others deserve to be. Co- organized by Laura Whitcomb, an independent curator, a catalog is forthcoming.
The largest portion of the exhibition opens this Saturday, June 22, at The Landing, a large warehouse of a space on Jefferson Blvd.. Titled Disparate Ontologies, the exhibition includes a wide-ranging group of works by more than two dozen artists that conveys the taste for experimentation that Newman embraced.
The progressive nature of San Francisco, with artist-run exhibition spaces and progressive art schools, meant that there was a growing interest in dance, Happenings and film-related art. One of the big moments in this show is a rare 1958 expressive abstract painting by Robert Morris just as his choreographer wife, Simone Forti had interested him in dance and movement. Soon after, they moved to New York, where those interests evolved as key components of his Minimalist art of the ‘60s.
The interest in abstract expressionist painting that dominated the Bay Area can be seen in powerful pieces by Hassel Smith and Frank Lobdell. It can also be seen in the early work of L.A.- based artists like Ed Moses and Craig Kauffman. All showed at Ferus so the show proves the regular migration of artists and the constant recycling of ideas between the two cities.
The Landing show also includes a major 1963 Milk Bottle painting by Joe Goode, who had his first solo show at the Dilexi in L.A. But Newman’s enduring legacy turned out to be his support of music, film and performance. After closing Dilexi in 1969, he funded 35 Happenings and produced films of work by Terry Riley, Sun Ra and Walter De Maria which were shown on KQED in San Francisco in the years before such work could be seen in any sort of public way. Many of these programs and some live performances will be held at The Landing over the course of the show, which continues to August 10.
At Parker Gallery, which is located in a series of rooms on the ground floor of a large Tudor style h ouse in Los Feliz, the selection of 14 works is titled Seeking The Unknown. On a pedestal near the front door stands an exceptional tablet-shaped sculpture by the mystic artist Jess, which remains in Newman’s own collection.
This work of collaged panels of black and white illustrations is set within a voluptuous bronze-colored frame. Peach-colored velvet on the reverse is set with silver sequins that state the title: Variations on Durer’s Melancholia (1960).
An icon of the Bay Area scene, Jess was known for his “paste- ups,” collages of carefully cut-out bits of illustrations and photographs. Along with his partner, poet Robert Duncan, he pursued research on arcane theories from the distant and recent past.
A fascination with arcane and ancient spiritual beliefs was embraced by poets, artists and musicians of the Bay Area. The very name of Dilexi was taken from the Latin, “to select, to value highly, to love.” The show at Parker includes a 1965 Verifax collage by Wallace Berman, whose inaugural show at Ferus was shut down as erotic by the LAPD, which prompted his move to Northern California.
Eccentricity was in large supply especially in the paintings of Roy De Forest, who had the most shows at Dilexi. One of his early constructions Napoleon on St. Helena (1961) is a collection of molded and painted organic shapes mounted on a rectangle of painted white wood. The show continues through August 10.
Another aspect of Dilexi is called Totems and Phenomenology at Parrasch Heijnin downtown, opening Saturday, June 22.
With work by five artists, it highlights the interest in perception that activated the work of Tony DeLap and Charles Ross. These artists were interested in ideas about mindfulness and seeing and spiritual presence. The show continues to Aug. 10.
A key figure of LA and San Francisco art of the 1960s was Jay De Feo. A show of her work will open on July 13 at Marc Selwyn Fine Art.
Meanwhile, Dilexi Gallery: The Early Years is at Brian Gross Fine Art in San Francisco through July 27. Also in San Francisco, Crown Point Press is featuring Fred Martin’s 1967 publication Beulah Land.
Taken together, these exhibitions complicate and fulfill a history that is still being written. All the galleries deserve credit for starting to fill in those large gaps in the story.
Jun 21 2019
Rank #8: Sarah Lucas at the Hammer
Sarah Lucas is an artist I’ve admired for decades but I’ve only been able to see individual pieces or photographs. Her survey at the Hammer Museum, Au Naturel, offers an opportunity to see the British artist’s 30-year exploration of sex as power, and vice versa.
Of course, the exhibition is timely in ways that couldn’t be anticipated when Massimiliano Gioni and Margot Norton, curators at the New Museum in New York, began organizing the show. Who could foresee this country’s all out assault on women’s rights, which has so become apparent in the past two years?
Lucas, however, is no victim. Since the early 1990s, she has been the sort of woman and artist who defied the tacit restrictions that cropped up around what a Feminist artist could and could not get away with. Instead, she grabbed the strategies implicit in the art of men to make her sharp-edged statements.
And, she did so with the sort of dry, wicked humor that is endemic to the British. You see it in the Lucas t-shirt for sale in the gift shop that proclaims: “Selfish in Bed.”
Lucas, now 56, first gained attention with other so-called Young British Artists, or YBAs, such as Damien Hirst, in the early 1990s. Their raucous, anti-establishment approach was refreshing in a country that still held dear the enduring values of traditional art. She, too, studied at Goldsmith’s, the hot art school in London of the 1980s.
It was a loose curriculum, perfect for an artist finding her way. Though she and artist Tracy Emins took a commercial space that they called The Shop, she didn’t bother getting a studio — too expensive — and learned to make work out of what was at hand. That included the 1992 pair of fried eggs and a kebab suggestively arranged on a wooden table and recreated daily at the Hammer. (Even as a successful artist, she works on the kitchen table in her Suffolk home.)
Lucas’s own remarks about her work are posted on the gallery walls, along with the standard museum didactics, and deserve attention. While she believes in critical thinking, she can put it aside in favor of the immediate response and the well- considered object. She quips, “earnestness and hard work are to be regarded with suspicion.”
Hammer curator Anne Ellegood has arranged the work according to themes and relationships, not chronology, which works really well in the museum galleries. Lucas’ photographic works —tabloid collages of the early ‘90s, “self-portraits” taken by other people but presented as her own — are on the walls.
But three-dimensional space and sculpture based on common objects, with all their theatrical implications, are her strength. Surrealism of the 1920s is the backdrop for the alteration of the everyday in erotic and disturbing ways. You can see the indirect influence of other women especially the art of Dorothea Tanning, Meret Oppenheim or Louise Bourgeois.
The exhibition is titled after her 1994 tableau of an old mattress bent between the wall and the floor. A pair of melons with an empty bucket and a pair of oranges arranged on either side of an erect cucumber are surrogates for the man and woman.
Disgusting and funny, it lives up to its name Au Naturel, the French phrase for being in the nude.
Lucas does indeed lay it bare here and everywhere in this show. There is the Bunnies series of 1997, made with stuffed pantyhose stuck on office chairs with multiple legs jotting in all directions so the focus is pretty much in only one place. The smashed carcass of a car is topped with a huge white plaster phallus. The plaster casts of naked women are bent over toilets, to wretch, or tables in sexual offering.
Among the strongest series in the show is Penetralia, which begins in 2008. Instead of lamenting, criticizing or arguing about the power of patriarchy, Lucas seizes it, literally. Like the groupie plaster casters of Sunset Strip rock clubs, she has memorialized the male members of lovers, friends and blokes from the pub. These plaster phalluses relate to ancient sculpture, Indian lingams and outsized dildos. They point quite literally to the source — real, imagined or culturally determined — of power, and appropriate it. At the Hammer, they are commandingly installed before an amber colored gallery containing her recent Nuds, stuffed, rounded, emphatically female forms, mostly made of tights stuffed with fluff, that wind around upon themselves. The exhaulted art of Henry Moore or Barbara Hepworth is reenergized in her hands. In the midst of this gathering, a hemispherical nest made of net spheres, like breasts, hangs in space, as inviting as a bizarre swing.
Brazen yet unpretentious, Lucas uses her art to undermine all manner of expectations: political, sexual, moral and aesthetic.
Her bold survey at the Hammer is a tonic that is not to be missed. It is on view through September 1.
Jun 14 2019
Rank #9: Terry Allen at L.A. Louver
If you had come from Lubbock, Texas to Los Angeles in 1962, as did artist Terry Allen, you’d come to believe that anything was possible. You could be an artist, or a songwriter or a musician. Allen became all of the above.
You can see it all in a survey of his art at a galllery in Venice. The Exact Moment it Happens in the West: Stories, Pictures and Songs from the 1960s to Now.
Most of the drawings on view have not been shown before and they clarify the purpose of his serpentine art with its various detours and road blocks.
Allen, now 76, calls Lubbock a place “so flat that if you look in any direction really hard on a clear day you can see the back of your own head.” Son of a major league baseball player and a piano player, he married his high school sweetheart Jo Harvey and drove west. Like so many of the major artists to emerge in L.A. in the 1960s, he studied at Chouinard Art Institute, now Cal Arts. From the outset, his art had an animated, even goofy aspect that belied its biting content.
He was encouraged by slightly older artists like Ed Ruscha and Billy Al Bengston who had similar Western backgrounds and who had attended Chouinard, as well. Allen was already writing songs and he performed his own country-style Redbird on a 1965 episode of the TV show Shindig. His solution was to consider his songs and his visual art parallel but equally considered pursuits.
For his 1968 series Cowboy and the Stranger, he attached a packaged reel to reel recording of a song to the back of each framed drawing. He called them “paper listening movies.”
Distorted and comical illustrations of scenes from the West tend towards the erotic and psychedelic, styles at large in the popular culture of that time. His music is country western but twisted to its own ends. In this show, posted next to each section of drawings, is a pair of headphones so you can listen to a song pertinent to that body of work.
By then, his wife Jo Harvey Allen was a part of the dynamic, performing works with him or on her own. They had their own radio show on KPPC, a broadcast that took place in the basement of the Pasadena Presbiterian Church, where she was the first female country and western dj.
Most of Allen’s art has a narrative underpinning: tales of love, loss, violence and just plain weirdness. For example, an installation of a video monitor shows Jo Harvey’s first performance as part of a wrestling match inspired by Terry’s father who promoted small time wrestling gigs, along with running a nightclub where he booked rock acts traveling through Lubbock. (When I ran into Terry at the gallery yesterday, he told me that his father was such good friends with the flamboyant wrestler Gorgeous George that every Thanksiving, the famous blond would send him a turkey stuffed with a packet of gold- plated bobby pins from his ranch north of San Bernadino.) The point is that Allen’s appreciation for the off beat is genuine. It is not a speculation about some lost part of American culture. It is the culture he got to live.
Allen’s 1975 concept record Juarez is a complex narrative about two couples and a border town told in songs and in drawings.
Juarez is a piece very much of our times but Allen’s politics are always rooted in the personal.
The Vietnam War affected so many of his family and friends that he spent a decade on the project Youth in Asia, which not only sounds like the word euthansia but encompasses the death toll on Allen’s generation. He wrote his texts in type fonts on sheets of lead, a material but malleable and deadly. Some of the drawings have objects and talismans attached to them, smaller versions of the installations that he was evolving.
Theater had been an influence since Terry and Jo Harvey saw the experimental Living Theater perform Frankenstein in the 1960s. The writings of Antonin Artaud not only affected their thinking about theater’s potential, it inspired Allen’s major installation, Ghost Ship (2010), which is not in the Venice location but can be seen by appointment at L.A. Louver’s warehouse location on Jefferson Blvd.
Incomprehensibly, there has never been a museum retrospective devoted to the work of Terry Allen. While this show is not a substitute, it is a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in the alternative universe of his thinking and creating.
Allen has had a long career recording and playing music with his Panhandle Mystery Band with his son Bukka Allen and they will be playing at Zebulon on July 18 and 19. Also, Terry and Jo Harvey Allen will be interviewed by Aram Moshayedi at the Hammer on August 7.
On another note, some galleries are starting to observe summer hours. L.A. Louver, a block from Venice Beach, is not open on Saturdays but otherwise, Tuesday to Friday. The show is continues through September 28.
Jun 28 2019
Rank #10: MOCA: 40 Years Old and Free for All
Last weekend, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art had a gala celebrating its 40 th anniversary. Several hundred artists, collectors and museum patrons, gathered in Little Tokyo at the Geffen Contemporary. I’m dating myself, but I do remember when this space, originally a city garage for police cars and firetrucks, was transformed in 1983 by Frank Gehry into a museum initially called “The Temporary Contemporary”.
Several dozen major artworks from MOCA’s permanent collection were chosen for display to celebrate the museum’s 40 th birthday. My two favorites are by Mike Kelley and Chris Burden, two Los Angeles artists who are no longer with us, but whose works continue to deliver major punches.
Kelley’s installation, Pay for Your Pleasure, forms a long corridor, with 42 large portraits of famous philosophers, poets, politicians and artists. At the top of each image is a provocative quote. One, by Oscar Wilde, says “The fact of a man being a poisoner is nothing against his prose.” Another, by William Blake, reads, “Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be constrained.” Mike Kelley insisted that each time his installation was exhibited it had to include an artwork by a notorious local criminal. And that’s why, at the end of Kelley’s corridor, you can see a small portrait (1985) by William Bonin – California’s Freeway Killer.
Another installation that might raise your eyebrows is a recreation of Chris Burden’s legendary work Exposing the Foundation of the Museum (1986/2019). Here, the artist literally dug deep into the ground to expose the museum’s foundation. We visitors are invited to climb down into the trench. It’s a rare case where we are not only allowed to look at a work of art in a museum, but are expected to touch it as well.
An amazing piece of news was announced during the gala: MOCA Board of Trustees President, Carolyn Powers, donated 10 million dollars to make entrance to the museum free to the public. So, from now on, MOCA joins other major Los Angeles Museums without entrance fees, such as The Getty, Hammer Museum, The Broad and the Marciano Foundation. One wonders if and when LACMA will follow suit. Here’s food for thought: in London, all of the major museums are free and open 7 days a week. Yes, museums, like libraries and churches, should be free and open to all.
Last week, the Long Beach Museum of Art celebrated the opening of an exhibition by Californian painter Patrick Angus (1953-1992). “Long admired by insiders…the American realist painter … died of AIDS when he was only 38 years old” (Long Beach Museum of Art). This exhibition of more than 100 paintings and drawing is long overdue. It was also timely, as it coincided with the Long Beach Gay Pride Parade on Sunday.
It was the first time I had the chance to see Patrick Angus’s work, and I was taken by his matter-of-fact depictions of gay life - small paintings, with big stories to tell. Bright palette, cool attitude, and a good sense of humor. Take a look on our website at the drawing of two naked figures standing in the Garden of Eden. On first impression, it looks like Adam and Eve. But no, this is Adam and Steve exchanging the forbidden fruit.
With a talent like his, and the timeliness of his art and subject matter, one wonders what Patrick Angus’s art would look like today if he were still alive.
May 22 2019