The momentous transition from painted canvas to colored vacuum-formed plastic reliefs is compellingly sketched in a tight show of Craig Kauffman's artistic evolution between 1958 and 1964. Frank Lloyd Gallery has assembled 17 infrequently seen works.
Kauffman, who died last year at 78, was critical to the distinctive emergence of what came to be called the L.A. Look. Pegging art to the city in which the artist lived was popular in the 1950s and '60s -- Bay Area Figurative, New York School, Chicago Imagism, etc. But only the L.A. Look has been hampered by a sticky attachment to rather vapid civic clichés.
Chicago is not inherently identified with images in any distinctive way, New York isn't the only place with schools and figures don't just live in San Francisco. The L.A. Look, however, is invariably tied to banalities like surfboards and aerospace.
Because Hollywood ruled American popular culture while the U.S. was artistically insecure, some simply assumed art produced in Tinseltown's vicinity could not escape being superficial. New York critic Clement Greenberg's hugely influential 1939 essay, "Avant Garde and Kitsch," set muddle-headed terms of opposition that would operate for decades.
David Jien’s solo debut takes visitors into a world filled with adventure, danger and sex. Old-fashioned romance simmers beneath the surfaces of the 30-year-old’s super-cool drawings, suffusing their action-packed dramas with unexpected tenderness.
At Richard Heller Gallery, 15 page-size works on paper, two large landscapes and a scroll-scale panorama tell Jien’s life story — not literally, like so much of the self-infatuated navel-gazing that digital technology makes possible, but with a more generous, user-friendly mix of poetic license, youthful excess, dreamy passion and labor-intensive devotion.
Jien treats the facts of his biography — first-generation Taiwanese American, veteran tagger who spent time in jail and recent art school graduate — as raw material for the fantastic stories that unfold in his pictures. Titled “The Plight of the Who,” his exhibition gives form to a home-grown cosmology in which a band of animal-headed renegades on horseback battles legions of tiger-riding reptiles and blue, bubble-headed automatons. At stake is the fate of a newborn babe, not to mention life as it’s known in Jien’s imaginary land.
Inspired by such disparate sources as Nintendo, Persian miniatures, Chinese scrolls, Homer, Chaucer, Stanley Kubrick, Roald Dahl, Henry Darger and Trenton Doyle Hancock, Jien’s art brings far-flung elements into a form-savvy epic that is familiar and formidable and a thrill to get lost in.
-- David Pagel
Richard Heller Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 453-9191, through Oct. 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.richardhellergallery.com.
Image: David Jien, "The Who Riders," Credit: Richard Heller Gallery
“Burke + Norfolk: Photographs From the War in Afghanistan” is a fascinating conversation across time between 19th-century Irish photographer John Burke and contemporary British artist Simon Norfolk. During the 1878-80 Second Anglo-Afghan war, Burke made pictures (albumen prints represented here by present-day copies) melding Victorian traditions of expeditionary and ethnographic documentation. Norfolk, returning to Afghanistan in 2010-11, "moved in Burke’s shadow," as he puts it, tracking down similar locales and subjects: dwelling-encrusted mountainsides, groups of military officers and local types.
Burke’s personal politics are little-known. His pictures, while vaguely sympathetic to the natives, pose no challenge to the imperialist agenda. Norfolk, a photographer of conflict and its repercussions over time, operates from a position of grave disappointment and anger at the muddled mission and destructive path of the current invasion. His chronicle is steeped in ruin and loss, hypocrisy made palpable. A photograph of heaps of scrap metal gleaned from hospital beds and school desks, for instance, is offset by images of the sturdy infrastructure of U.S. military bases. Bamboo ladders and poles used in local construction are stacked at the base of a mountain whose peak is spiked with similar, higher-tech forms identified as “American-controlled electronic eavesdropping equipment.”
A bitter beauty prevails in Norfolk’s large color pictures, their bluntness and toughness sheathed in the seductive hues of dusk and dawn. Norfolk conducts a dialogue with Burke in this series, but as in all of his work, he is fundamentally sparring with time itself and the untapped forces of memory.
-- Leah Ollman
Gallery Luisotti, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-0043, through Nov. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Image: Simon Norfolk's "Jangalak Industries." Credit: From Gallery Luisotti
“Rear Window: Brought to You in High-Def” is a summer group show that has only the slimmest connection to Alfred Hitchcock’s film. One link between the 1954 movie and the 11 works in the 10-artist show at Patrick Painter Inc., nearly all of which date from the 1990s, is the fact that both were made with cameras by artists famous in their fields.
“Rear Window” is in color, as are half of the prints in the exhibition. These range from John Baldessari’s lushly tinted prints to Jean-Luc Mylayne’s snapshot-style pictures of birds to Ed Ruscha’s studio shot of a shiny car part, its grays and silvers suggesting black-and-white masterpieces.
Several photographs depict women, including Catherine Opie’s sun-bleached shot of domestic tranquillity on the rocks, Christopher Williams’ wannabe fashion ad and Dennis Adams’ subtly disturbing series of 26 portraits of Patricia Hearst, from child to bride and a whole lot between.
A row of windows, shrouded in shadow, is the focus of Craigie Horsfield’s richly textured C-print. However, the most resonant connections between the classic movie and the contemporary images are the least literal: a sense of mystery, memory’s capacity for distortion and the mind’s desire to find relationships where none may be.
Misperception, misinterpretation and the mistakes these miscues lead to is one of Hitchcock’s great themes. They are integral to Mike Kelley’s series of 34 playfully captioned stalactites and stalagmites. They also play a role in Reinhard Mucha’s nostalgia-tinged diptych and Juan Muñoz’s four small photos, which reveal the secrets behind a magic trick while maintaining just a hint of enigma.
At its best, that’s how the show works: Starting with a mad proposition, it gets in your head and doesn’t let you rest.
-- David Pagel
Patrick Painter Inc., 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 264-5988, through Sept. 16, Closed Sundays and Mondays, www.patrickpainter.com
Image: Dennis Adams, "Patricia Hearst, A thru Z," 1979-1990. Credit: Patrick Painter Inc.
Before founding Design Within Reach, Rob Forbes was a ceramic artist and teacher. As guest curator of Frank Lloyd’s summer group show, Forbes deftly braids his various skills and missions, selecting (and contributing to) a handsome assembly of objects and producing a sprightly, primer-like catalogue.
The 10 artists in the show come from California, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, England, Canada and Japan. Only Goro Suzuki will be familiar to gallery regulars. Unfamiliarity should pose no challenge, however, not only because all of the work is easily accessible and wonderfully vibrant, but because Forbes’ text guides us through the encounter, telling us what to look for (symmetry, contrasts, humor, texture, pattern and so on) in order to truly put the objects’ design within reach.
Painterly approaches to surface abound — in the jaunty, repeated shapes of Mark Pharis; Robert Brady’s bowl with a gestural swoop; Forbes’ own vessel awash in emerald streaks — as do bold assertions of texture, most notably in a lidded box by Bruce Cochrane that looks like a corroded metal relic. In terms of pure sensuality, the show peaks at Chris Gustin’s “Vessel With Dimple,” a voluptuous, twisted torso about 3 feet high, milky, fleshy and gorgeous. Also included are works by Svend Bayer, Wayne Branum, Jan McKeachie-Johnston and Sandy Simon.
-- Leah Ollman
Frank Lloyd Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-3866, through Saturday. www.franklloyd.com/
Image: Chris Gustin, "Vessel With Dimple." From Dean Powell
As books are increasingly made of pixels instead of paper, it's not surprising that their quaint physical form should become fodder for artists. Andrew Uchin's spare photographs of the covers, spines and other parts of old tomes at dnj Gallery look like little abstractions, but are also paeans to the appealing physicality of books.
Isolated on white grounds, the images sometimes evoke painting. An illustration from a children's book is mottled all over with abrasions, suggesting a very slow, quiet form of action painting. The back of “Voices in Stone” is a plain gray expanse punctuated by a white library checkout card. It looks as if it were carefully placed to resemble a Hans Hoffman painting.
Sara Jane Boyers has spent the last 10 years photographing Chinatowns across North America. The resulting images, a selection of which are currently on view at Craig Krull Gallery, are simultaneously documentary studies and appealing aesthetic concoctions. Depicting interiors, store windows and iconic "Chinese" objects in striking colors and compositions, they subtly reframe more familiar, kitschy images of Chinatown.
Boyers, who is not of Chinese descent, largely shies away from portraiture or traditional street scenes, smartly side-stepping their art historical and cultural baggage. She is, however, clearly interested in "Oriental" imagery and objects that can't help but evoke stereotypes. Traditional silk garments, Chinese calligraphy, and goldfish tanks all appear in her images, usually offset by something more gritty or contemporary.
In one image, delicate Chinese paintings of flowers lean against a wall dripping with dark stains. In another, a wooden sign that reads "MILK" in the cheesy script from Chinese takeout cartons hangs next to a convex mirror reflecting the bright lights and colorful, packed shelves of a modern grocery store. A third looks at a shop window from the inside, providing an awkward, sidelong view of its cloudy goldfish tank, beckoning lucky cat figurine and standard-issue "open" signs.
In images like these, Boyers offers a slightly skewed perspective on the things we typically associate with "Chinatown." Of course the experience of any ethnic neighborhood as an exotic place is never seamless, but by focusing on those moments and spaces in which stereotypes start to fray, Boyers quietly raises questions about our investment in such escapist fantasies. One image seems to sum this idea up nicely: a building facade, propped up after the structure has been demolished, is pure surface— preserved, but divorced from its original intent.
-- Sharon Mizota
Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through Sept. 3. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.craigkrullgallery.com
Photo: Sara Jane Boyers, "Milk, Fresno," 2009, Fuji Crystal Archive Print, 18 x 22" paper size, edition of 12. Credit: Craig Krull Gallery
Fourteen modest recent paintings by Abel Baker Gutierrez, all but one on wood panel, have the look and feel of oil sketches. The abbreviation of the paint-handling is beneficial. Rather than laborious finish, which would suggest a declarative statement, the sketchiness is a painterly equivalent of drawing. Wistful rumination and reflection emerge.
For his debut solo show at Luis de Jesus Gallery, what is Gutierrez asking us to join him in thinking about? Adolescent boys are adrift in watery fields -- rocking in small rowboats, engaging in rescues, giving and receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. In one, a pair of slightly askew legs is all that remains of a body disappearing into roiling blue water. (There's nothing sinister about the image, just the suggestion of falling backward into the deep.) Affection and loss are leitmotifs.
"Adrift," which homes in on a boy snoozing lazily within a boat's enveloping hull, juxtaposes a crimson shirt and white shorts in the watery scene. It's a quietly patriotic color scheme. Gutierrez has based his works on old scouting manuals and magazines, and you can't help but think the paintings are a call to "be prepared" on a more general, less dogmatic, nonetheless important level.
An exclusively male world imbued with homoerotic undertones -- not unlike those of Thomas Eakins' "The Swimming Hole" -- is characterized by conflict between isolation and mutual care. "Gazing at his Own Reflection" shows the sun-blasted, down-turned head of a youth who becomes a metaphoric Narcissus, gazing into a pool but unaware that he's seeing himself.
In the back gallery, a short video digitally altered from a found film is presented in negative rather than positive black-and-white. Seven young scouts (you can tell from the uniforms) jump and play in slow-motion on outdoor picnic-table benches to a dream-like musical soundtrack. Wild boys released from the social constraints implied by their specific clothing glow with quiet grace.
Luis de Jesus Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-7773, through Aug. 27. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.luisdejesus.com
— Christopher Knight
Photo: Abel Baker Gutierrez, "Rescue Breathing While Treading Water," 2010, oil on panel. Credit: Luis de Jesus Gallery
If you look at the art in the exhibitions you visit before reading the wall labels, you will probably think that the show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery is a three-artist effort. Its paintings, sculptures and photographs do not resemble one another. Made of different materials, in distinct manners and far-flung attitudes, each seems committed to goals all its own.
But individual pieces speak to each other. With a little patience you sense that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A quick glance at the wall labels adds a curious ripple: the exhibition presents works by only two artists.
The entryway and two east galleries are occupied by 12 intimately scaled paintings and five tabletop sculptures by Lavi Daniel. His oils on canvas and linen are the best he has made. Solid, muscular and brushed into existence with a perfunctory, get-it-done-quickly vigor, each is also dreamy and elusive: a lovely symphony of subtly modulated organic tints quietly electrified by otherworldly light.
Daniel’s sculptures are crusty lumps, patiently built from blobs of paint scraped from his studio floor over the last seven years. Think of a haystack in a painting by Monet rendered in 3-D by a ham-fisted model-builder.
Photographs of twins tend to set the eyes on a ping-pong course between the two faces, marveling over likeness, seizing upon distinction. Tomoko Sawada’s recent images at Rose trigger that same compare-and-contrast reflex, exercised not just within each picture but among them. All 22 photographs depict what appear to be sets of twins: the head and shoulders of two women, side-by-side, against a neutral background. All, however, are self-portraits of Sawada, who mines the multiplicity and mutability of identity with aplomb.
In past work, the Japanese photographer (based in both Japan and New York) has occupied the role of every student (as well as the teacher) in what looks to be a set of class photos. She sat alone 400 times in the same photo booth and, thanks to her performative modifications, each time the machine spit out a quartet of images that appeared to represent a different person. In the new series, “Mirrors,” Sawada assumes dozens of disparate personas, altering hair, makeup, expression, jewelry, posture and dress to become, in turn, tough, sassy, shy, plain, perky, cheerful, guarded, hostile, hip and frumpy, young, middle-aged, and old. Each small, color picture, about five by eight inches, features two of each character, often with only slight changes distinguishing them — angle of the head, color of a blouse, shift in attitude.
The range of personalities that Sawada manages to extract from her single self is remarkable, and the pictures are unabashedly theatrical, even with their mug-shot frontality and sober uniformity. Amusing additions to the role-playing genre of photography, they join work by Cindy Sherman, Yasumasa Morimura, Anthony Giocolea, Nikki Lee and others. Ever remaking herself and never unmasking, Sawada revels in contradiction. Like Whitman — like each of us — she contains multitudes.
-- Leah Ollman
Rose Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-8440. Through Sept. 17. Closed Sunday and Monday. http://www.rosegallery.net/
Photo: Tomoko Sawada, "Mirrors 2." Credit: Rose Gallery.