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Art review: 'L.A. Fine Arts Squad' at Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art

April 8, 2011 | 11:30 am

From 1969-1973, the L.A. Fine Arts Squad painted big, fantastically realistic pictures of natural disasters on the exteriors of buildings around Los Angeles, the U.S. and Europe. In L.A., only one is still visible.

At the edge of a small parking lot at 1616 Butler Ave., the sun-bleached “Isle of California” depicts the earthquake-damaged landscape of Los Angeles. A shattered freeway overpass towers over a turbulent bay where the city used to stand. LA FAS

At Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art, a six-minute video efficiently documents “Isle of California” in all its freshly painted glory. Also surveyed are five other murals by the collaborative group, along with a lifesize Styrofoam submarine they floated in Balboa Bay. Founded by Victor Henderson, Terry Schoonhoven, James Frazin and Leonard Koren, the Fine Arts Squad combined dark humor, DIY populism, sci-fi special effects and live-for-the-moment verve in ambitiously fun-loving works that captured the tenor of their times and still resonate today.

“Ghost Town,” painted on the windows of the Conejo Security Bank in Thousand Oaks, is a post-apocalyptic vision of the San Fernando Valley, the flora and fauna of the desert having taken over the urban ruins. “Hippie Knowhow” depicts two muralists dangling high overhead from their collapsed scaffolding.

In the center of the gallery, a vitrine filled with sketches and letters chronicles the history of the collaborators. But even more captivating are the two dozen drawings and other images Henderson and Schoonhoven (1945-2001) made during the group’s run and after it disbanded.

LA FAS Untitled Standouts include Schoonhoven’s 1971 “Impromptu Conestoga Road Test After Thomas Hart Benton,” a trompe l’oeil image of an oversize wagon plummeting from the rooftop of a tall building. The project, for an actual test facility, was never realized.

Henderson’s 7-by-10-foot photographic close-up of a crumpled map from 1977 flaunts his capacity to make intimacy monumental. Six chillingly realistic drawings of smashed lamps, ripped pillows and upended furniture bring destruction home. The interior décor may be dated, but the fury and chaos are as timely today as they were when all these works were made.

 -- David Pagel

Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art, 8568 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 815-1100, through May 14. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.cardwelljimmerson.com

Images: Top, Terry Schoonhoven, "Impromptu Conestoga Road Test After Thomas Hart Benton"; bottom, Victor Henderson, "Untitled." Credits: Courtesy of Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art

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