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: 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 #3: Galia Linn and Alexandra Grant: Stories in Clay and Paint
Ceramic sculptures by Los Angeles artist Galia Linn hold one’s attention through a rather conflicting combination of opposites: strength and fragility, multi-colored glazes and monochrome natural clay, and the feminine and masculine.
Linn’s solo exhibition at Track 16 Gallery shows her love – or if you prefer, obsession – with just one material: clay. But, looking at her small, medium, and large-scale sculptures on display, one sees that in the hands of Galia Linn, clay – the most earthly material any artist can use – is telling stories and keeping quiet, reaching out and hiding secrets.
“Growing up in Israel instilled Linn with an intimate connection to a land full of ancient and contemporary relics of past and present civilizations” (Track 16). There is something in common between the archaeologist who excavates ancient objects from the earth and the artist who opens a kiln after firing ceramic sculptures – both of them should be ready to deal with unpredictable results.
Control and surrender, life and death – all that and more, hidden and revealed, in a handsomely installed exhibition by Galia Linn at Track 16, on the 10 th floor of the Bendix, one of the most beautiful buildings in Downtown LA.
Another solo exhibition that echoes the voices of ancient cultures is Born to Love by Alexandra Grant, the Los Angeles artist whose new large-scale paintings on paper are presented by Lowell Ryan Projects, a new gallery in the West Adams district.
These paintings are inspired by Antigone, the ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles, in which Antigone declares, “I was born to love, not to hate.” The dramatic combination of geometric abstractions and text creates multiple layers of storytelling that are up to us, the viewers, to interpret.
What I find particularly appealing in these new works by Alexandra Grant is her combination of control and happenstance and her juxtaposition of muted and bright colors. Once again, I am looking at artworks which make me think of archaeologists digging through layers of earth to hear voices of the past, still tremendously relevant to the present.
I’ve been following the careers of both Galia Linn and Alexandra Grant for more than a decade and have reviewed their exhibitions on several occasions. Every time I talk with them about their work, either in galleries or in their studios, I am impressed by their eloquence, joyfulness, and humility. But even if you never meet these artists, these qualities will be there for you to discover and to experience through their art.
Jun 04 2019
Rank #4: 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 #5: 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 #6: Kirsten Everberg at 1301 PE
Every day we learn — and experience — more about climate change with 300 animal and many more plant species now considered endangered just in California. Overwhelming realizations such as this are increasingly taken on by artists. The ideas are addressed in a quite personal way in a show of new paintings by Kirsten Everberg at 1301 PE in the mid-Wilshire district. The glossy pictures are so lush, their message might take a few moments to absorb. Birds and snakes, insects and flowers are painted in her trademark oil and enamel on panel, a medium that is shiny and vibrant.
The title of the show, Life Still, offers more than one meaning. This is life at this moment, life that is holding still but also still here. La Graciosa (2019) is an arrangement of lavender thistles and blooms is set before a yellow wall and window to the outdoors, where a ferret looks in. Grasshoppers are coupling under a blossom. A winning hand of cards lays on the table to emphasize the role of chance. (Very appealing cards of the artist’s unique design.)
This and other still lives were arranged by the L.A.-based artist who received her undergraduate and graduate degress in art from UCLA. They are set up in her architectural home, designed by Barbara Bestor, in Silverlake. They are intimately observed but they come from a lengthy lineage of art, especially the Golden Age of Dutch painting in 17th century. Artists chose flowers from different seasons of the year to symbolize the brevity and beauty of existance. Such paintings are called vanitas because they symbolize transcience and transcendence, the vanity of looking for internal, spiritual sustenance in the temporal assets of wealth or fame.
In the past, this referred to the lives of people, encouraging the search for faith in their time. Everberg’s asks us to consider our impact on the lives of animals and plants, whose survival as species is dependent on our behavior.
Rather than linger on that depressing thought, we can look to the painting themselves with their carefully integrated areas of color that puddle and swirl like liquified jewels yet coalesce as studies of nature within the context of daily life.
In this and other paintings, the animals are not portrayed in their actual proportions. Bugs are big, animals small. The effect is a bit jarring but accomplishes the desired result, making us look more closely for other clues to meaning.
Everberg brings us vanitas paintings for our times with a broken glass as fragility, a butterfly perched on a split pomegranite as a token of sundered faith. She is hardly the only contemporary painter to be returning to the still life traditions. Known for her past paintings that integrated memory and present reality, often within in architectural interiors, she now asks us to look at the present before it becomes our irretrievable history. The show continues through June 29.
May 31 2019
Rank #7: Disappearing—California c. 1970
We tend to think of artists as people with sorts of egos that make them want to stay in the spotlight, to get attention. An exhibition of three important L.A. artists focuses, instead, on their various of methods of making themselves disappear. Aptly titled, Disappearing—California c. 1970 at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, this show is the first to look in detail at the conceptually-based art of Chris Burden, Jack Goldstein and Bas Jan Ader.
All of the artists are considered major figures in the art of their time and though they all lived in L.A. when it was a hot-house of great talents, they weren’t particularly close friends. In a way, that makes their sui generis obsessions more fascinating and undeniably connected to who they were as people.
Most of the art is based in an action, as opposed to performance, though all of them made certain that it was photographed, filmed or video-taped. In short, they knew they were making art and expected it to have a life beyond the action itself. This was part of a larger movement of performance-based art in the 1970s and what was called the “de-materialization of art,” a way to move away from the production line of saleable paintings and sculptures. Made in the shadow of the Summer of Love, in the waning years of the Vietnam War, the show has something of a somber tone.
The best known of the three is the American artist Chris Burden, who had spent much time on the East Coast and in Europe before attending Pomona College and then U.C. Irvine, both of which were crucibles of permissivity for new art. His now notorious graduate piece was hiding in a school locker for five days and nights with nothing but water and bottle for his urine.
People could talk to him while he was in the locker but he could not be seen or heard. He had hidden himself away at the very time that most art students were preparing to make themselves known.
That daring piece ultimately contributed to making him one of the best known artists and the exhibition includes photographs of later manifestations of his extreme art. This includes the time that his art White Heat, White Light, (1975) consisted of the apparently empty Ronald Feldman gallery in New York where he lay on a white shelf near the ceiling where no one could see or hear him for weeks. His presence, felt by them or not, was the show.
Canadian Jack Goldstein was a charismatic figure in the early years of Cal Arts gaining attention for his 1972 Burial Piece, where he had himself interred in a coffin with breathing holes while teachers and students observed. Other art had a more marked connection to popular culture, especially his short movies. One gallery features a number of projectors running his simple black and white films notably one in which the artist runs around his darkened studio attempting to evade a big spot light, disappearing from unwanted attention.
Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader was either the most reckless or the most committed to his art. His is the first work in the show, a 1969 wall text that says “Please Don’t Leave Me,” with a string of electric lights tumbling over it. Black and white films of his stunts can seem both slapstick and dangerous, like rolling off the roof of his house or riding his bicycle along a Dutch canal and tumbling into the water. In some ways, his work is the most moving since it includes evidence of what he called “The search for the miraculous.” Photographs document him with his wife, Mary Sue Anderson Ader, preparing for his solo 1975 voyage across the Atlantic from Chatham, Massachusetts to England in a used sailboat. His body was never recovered and the boat was discovered a year later off the coast of Ireland. He just…disappeared.
Was Ader naive? Did he have a death wish? He was the most extreme but all of the artists were exploring the effects of extreme actions on themselves first and foremost. All the documentation and relics can make the actions seem like theater or magic. Burden has long claimed that his most extreme act, of having himself shot, was a misfire. He wanted to know the fear of being shot at, not the pain of being hit. Perhaps Ader wanted to know the feeling of being lost at sea, the feeling of praying for and receiving a miracle. But his project, too, went tragically off course.
Goldstein wound up being a super star in the New York art scene for his 1980s paintings of nocturnal cities illuminated by exploding bombs of white light. Yet, he died an impoverished addict in 2003. His saga was compellingly told in Richard Hertz’s book Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia.
Burden produced the most work including the always pleasing grove of vintage street lamps in front of LACMA. He died of cancer at his home in Topanga just four years ago. This show connects his early extreme actions to his lifelong curiosity about the extreme effects of change in industrialization or military research, topics on which he had informed and off-beat opinions.
Organized by Philipp Kaiser, the exhibition captures a time when disappearance was an edgy new concept. It also serves as an elegy for three extraordinary artists who live on through their art. It is on view in Fort Worth through August 11.
If you can’t make it to Texas, a show of work by Ader, Water’s Edge, is at Meliksetian Briggs gallery in the mid- Wilshire area through July 27.
Jul 12 2019
Rank #8: My Fantasies About Film, Literature, and Architecture
Looking at last Sunday’s issue of the New York Times and seeing a photo of the famous 1948 chair by Charles and Ray Eames, La Chaise, I felt that this magnificent object reminded me of something – but what was it? The whole day, I was fantasizing about the chair’s sensual floating shape, with a mysterious oval hole in the middle of it.
All of a sudden, I realized that one of the most idiosyncratic architectural buildings in Los Angeles, The Broad museum, has a similarly indented oval window in its façade. The architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro describe it as an “oculus,” the classic architectural term from the Latin word for “eye.”
This association somehow opened my mind and triggered memories… As a little boy growing up in Russia, I learned to read when I was 6 years old. The first book I ever read was – believe it or not – a Russian translation of Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer”. I had no understanding then that it was my introduction to American culture. - ТОМ! Нет ответа. - ТОМ! Нет ответа. - Удивительно, куда. мог деваться этот мальчишка!... ТОМ! Нет ответа. I can hear you, my friends, wondering what the hell Edward was saying in Russian. Let me say the same, but in English - "TOM!" No answer. "TOM!" No answer. "What's gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!" No answer. Yes, these are the opening lines of “Tom Sawyer,” the only book I brought with me to America as a keepsake of my Russian childhood.
And, I will never forget the magic of the very moment I saw Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, at about the same time as I read “Tom Sawyer”. I was breathless, watching this animation – but not on a large movie theatre screen, but on a tiny, black and white screen of the first generation Soviet-era TV.
In the height of the Cold War, in the late 50s, the epic Hollywood film by King Vidor, War and Peace, was released in the Soviet Union. Just think, this American movie based on the famous Russian novel by Leo Tolstoy, was made in 1956, more than a decade before the Soviet Union released its own adaptation. My mother took me to see Vidor’s movie when I was 12 years old, years before I even read the novel. Ever since, when I think about the main character Natasha Rostova, I am thinking about Audrey Hepburn…
After 40 years of living in Los Angeles, I continue to try to see as many classic and contemporary films as possible – and, the Laemmle Theatres, particularly the Royal in West LA, offers the most diverse and surprising screenings. Once a month, film critic Stephen Farber introduces a special screening of a classic film. This Thursday night, he invited me to choose my favorite classic film to screen at the Royal, and to briefly talk with him about it. I chose the 1959 film Room at the Top, directed by Jack Clayton and starring the incomparable Simone Signoret, who received an Oscar for her performance in this film. I fell in love with her then, and I am still in love with her decades later. I look forward to seeing some of you at the screening, to talk with you about the magic of this movie.
Jun 11 2019
Rank #9: Skirball and Vielmetter Los Angeles: Art, Fashion, Politics
When I visit Skirball Cultural Center to see the latest exhibitions there, I expect to be informed, surprised, and challenged. That definitely was the case last year, with exhibitions celebrating composer Leonard Bernstein and Supreme Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Instead of speaking at the visitors, Skirball exhibitions speak to the visitors in a very friendly, accessible way. Two new exhibitions have the same easy-going approach to sharing their stories, and both are very elegantly installed.
The exhibition Black is Beautiful by photographer Kwame Braithwaite (b. 1938) presents over 40 photographs of black women and men “during an era when segregation still prevailed across the United States” (Skirball). Images by Braithwaite chosen for this exhibition celebrate black beauty and pride at a time when mainstream beauty standards excluded people of color. Brathwaite and his art helped to coin the term “Black is Beautiful,” planting the seeds for contemporary political movements like Black Lives Matter. This is the first major museum exhibition dedicated to this important artist, though here in Los Angeles, we were lucky enough to have seen a smaller exhibition of his work at Philip Martin Gallery last year.
Another exhibition at Skirball I want to urge you to see is Fearless Fashion, celebrating the famous fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (1922-1985). And fearless, he was… He gained notoriety for his jaw-dropping and innovative designs, including the “monokini,” a women’s topless swimsuit and pantsuits for women. Born in Austria in 1938 as a Viennese Jew, he fled the country due to its anti-Semitic policies. He found sanctuary in Los Angeles, where he was able to “challenge conventional beauty standards and redefine style” (Skirball).
The presentation of this exhibition is unusually theatrical, with mannequins modeling his designs in dramatic poses, as if in the middle of a dance – a reminder of Gernreich’s association with a well-known interracial and socially engaged dance troupe, Lester Horton Dance Theater. Seductive and Sexy would be the best way to describe not only Gernreich’s fashion, but this beautifully designed exhibition, as well.
Across town in the Arts District, I went to see Vielmetter Los Angeles, the new, ambitious gallery by Susanne Vielmetter, who still has her gallery in Culver City, though it’s scheduled to close in Autumn. There are two exhibitions that will grab your attention from the get-go. The exhibition by New York-based sculptor Arlene Shechet (b. 1951) is a dramatic confrontation of geometric shapes and a variety of materials – wood, ceramic, metal – rarely combined in one sculpture. In spite of their small to medium scale, their energy fills the entire gallery. The works are so surprisingly diverse that if I didn’t know better, I would have thought it was a group show.
The second exhibition at Vielmetter Los Angeles is by Austin-based artist Deborah Roberts (b. 1962), presenting a series of her signature style mixed-media collages on canvas. Most of the images are of young black boys who experience an inescapable sense of danger. Many of Roberts’ works references the “tragic case of Tamir Rice… the twelve- year-old boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park… and shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer” (Vielmetter). The title of one artwork, I do solemnly swear (Nessun Dorma Series), was inspired by the famous aria “Nessun Dorma” from a Puccini opera. Like most Italian operas, life and death are the fodder for Deborah Roberts’ poignant art.
May 28 2019
Rank #10: 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