Category: Critics Choice

Art review: 'Charles Garabedian: Works from 1966-1976' at L.A. Louver

March 29, 2012 |  5:05 pm

Charles Garabedian Restaurant (The Waitress)
Ever since the avant garde went the way of silent movies, many of the most interesting artists of the last century have cast themselves as lone wolves — solitary souls whose genius is tied to the freedom that comes with being a go-it-alone misfit.

This romantic fantasy is mercilessly mocked by the 10 wickedly original paintings, sculptures and mongrel mash-ups in “Charles Garabedian: Works from 1966-1976.” In L.A. Louver’s upstairs gallery, the 88-year-old artist’s cock-eyed pictures and fractured forms replace the macho bravura of the lone wolf with the scraggily raggedness (and whiplash unpredictability) of a stray dog.

The two earliest works, “Daytime T.V.” and “Restaurant (The Waitress),” are scruffy, ill tempered and out of whack, both compositionally and emotionally. Each cranks up the loneliness of Edward Hopper’s best paintings, transforming the promise of solitude into the despair of distraction gone wrong. Their curdled surfaces look dirty. With uncanny efficiency, Garabedian makes looking feel like leering.

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Art review: Frederick Hammersley at L.A. Louver

March 29, 2012 |  4:35 pm

Frederick Hammersley, "Board and room"

Joy is one of those things that you have to experience for yourself. Reading about someone else’s just doesn’t cut it. And trying to tell people when and where to experience joy is humorously futile: It’s simply impossible to persuade people to be joyous.

Fortunately, art goes far beyond persuasion — and way beyond rational explanation — especially when it’s as lovely and loaded as Frederick Hammersley’s. At L.A. Louver, Hammersley’s first solo show in Los Angeles since his death in 2009 at 90, shows the mildly reclusive artist at his best: spreading joy by treating it as a gift — a surprise that comes unexpectedly, unbidden and through no power of one’s own.

Such sensible humility is out of step with the me-first assertiveness that defines our times. But it’s pure Hammersley. In 1968, he got a job teaching at the University of New Mexico and moved from Los Angeles to Albuquerque. Three years later he resigned. The solitude of the Southwest suited him and he stayed in Albuquerque, transforming his little home into a one-man workshop, with rooms dedicated to sketching, painting, reading, frame-building and record-keeping. For decades he painted in near anonymity.

His oils on canvas, many in hand-carved frames, are homemade and humble, each a smattering of intensely colored shapes curiously snuggled together or set side by side, their geometric perfection complicated — but not contradicted — by the slippery asymmetry of their patterning, which is punchy and funky and animated by participatory rhythms.

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Theater review: 'Two Gentlemen of Chicago' at the Falcon Theatre

March 29, 2012 |  2:02 pm

Two Gents Press 1
In "Two Gentlemen of Chicago" at the Falcon Theatre, the Troubadour Theater Company sets Shakespeare's lesser comedy "Two Gentlemen of Verona" to the greatest hits of the band Chicago, irreverently mixing the incongruous sources to create a theatrical hybrid that, despite being possibly more entertaining than either, manages to honor both. 

"Two Gentlemen," believed to be Shakespeare's first play, is most interesting for its inclusion of themes he would develop in later masterpieces: betrayal, cross-dressing, noblemen running wild in the forest. In the Troubadour version, each plot development is a springboard for an adapted Chicago song, from "If You Leave Me Now" to "Saturday in the Woods" to "Hard to Say I'm Sorry." That last one is the perfect way for the repentant cad Proteus (Matt Walker, who also directs) to make amends, except that, as he explains in an uneasy falsetto, "Everybody knows this song is way too high."

The Troubies, as fans call them, have been around since 1995, building a cult following with their Shakespeare/pop crossbreeds ("Fleetwood MacBeth," "As U2 Like It," "OthE.L.O.").

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Theater review: ‘Hello! My Baby’ at the Rubicon Theatre

March 28, 2012 |  3:15 pm

“Hello! My Baby”
Dramatist Cheri Steinkellner shrewdly sets her thoroughly charming new jukebox musical in a time before there were jukeboxes, in order to connect a new generation with a fading, uniquely American cultural legacy. Developed and launched with brio by Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre, Steinkellner’s “Hello! My Baby” is a ticket back to New York’s Tin Pan Alley heyday, when people enjoyed popular music the old fashioned way — they played it. 

Feeding the public’s appetite for popular hits back then provided livelihoods for the scrappy young sheet music pluggers whose streetwise story lines Steinkellner serviceably employs to thread (with occasional plot-advancing additional lyrics) more than 30 classic tunes by such diverse songwriting talents as George and Ira Gershwin, Gilbert and Sullivan, Eubie Blake and of course Irving Berlin, who began his own musical career as a plugger. 

The production abounds with promising fresh-faced talent, starting with Ciaran McCarthy as the neighborhood’s cocky top plugger, Mickey McKee, an aspiring lyricist whose dream of emulating Berlin’s success is hampered by one small detail — he can’t write music. The proverbial luck of the Irish pairs him with Nelly (Evie Hutton), a Jewish factory worker and pianist who’s more than his match in talent and spunk. 

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Art review: 'Aphrodite and the Gods of Love' at the Getty Villa

March 28, 2012 | 11:23 am

Aphro herm 2
If your image of Aphrodite's birth is of a lithe strawberry blond demurely covering her nudity as she gracefully surfs to shore on a cockleshell, in the manner of Botticelli's famous Renaissance canvas of Venus, her Roman version, you might want to imagine again. One common source of the myth (there are a few) could not paint a more different picture.

The Titans, predecessors to the Olympian gods, were the children of Uranus, ruler of the sky and a terrible brute, and the Earth-mother Gaia. The young Titan Cronus, in a bloody and successful struggle for power against his savage father, took his scythe and, with a fearsome blow, severed Uranus' genitals. He threw them into the sea.

Matter was fertilized by divinity -- albeit in a sexually charged act of violence -- creating a bubbling froth of sea foam (aphros, in the Greek). Aphrodite, embodiment of celestial flesh, washed up on the shore.

This epic story of patricidal rage and castration hardly invokes Botticelli's limpid sensuality. For a fuller, definitely stranger, sometimes even horrifying but finally truer interpretation, a visit to the Getty Villa is in order.

"Aphrodite and the Gods of Love," which opens Wednesday, is a fine exhibition that restores the fullness -- as well as the occasionally creepy eccentricity -- of the marvelous mythological figure. Organized by Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, which has a large collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, it has been somewhat reconfigured for the Villa's smaller gallery spaces by Getty curator David Saunders.

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Theater review: 'Anna Christie' at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego

March 24, 2012 | 10:37 am

 Anna_Christie18_web

The enduring dramatic power of Eugene O'Neill steers “Anna Christie” at the Old Globe into waters both risky and impressive. O'Neill's 1921 Pulitzer Prize winner about a life-battered tart receives an intimate, audacious rethink, stewarded by director Daniel Goldstein.

O'Neill's narrative teems with evocative details. From Act 1's seedy bar on the waterfront of 1910-era New York City and thereafter, “Anna Christie” is richly atmospheric, its simple plot ebbing and flowing like “dat ole davil sea.”

That last is the refrain of Chris Christopherson (an inspired Bill Buell), the sodden Swedish mariner who learns early on that the daughter he dispatched to Minnesota relatives 15 years ago is returning. This entails ousting Marthy Owen (Kristine Nielsen), his wry, booze-soaked bedmate, which cues up the title character (Jessica Love, valiantly unconventional).

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Theater review: 'Waiting for Godot' at the Mark Taper Forum

March 22, 2012 |  6:31 pm

Godot 1a

"Waiting for Godot,” Samuel Beckett’s existential classic, is held in such high regard by highbrows that average theatergoers may feel intimidated by the play, as though a pop quiz might be awaiting them after the curtain call.

But don’t let the passion of professorial types deter your visit to the Mark Taper Forum, which has mounted a marvelous revival of the work starring two esteemed Beckett interpreters, Los Angeles’ own Alan Mandell as Estragon and Ireland’s celebrated son Barry McGovern as Vladimir.

Under the incisive direction of Michael Arabian, the play is treated not as a symbolist pageant or a philosophical gag machine but as an encounter with two tattered souls whose plot is the master plot of our lives: filling up the time that has been bafflingly granted to us during our stints on planet Earth.

This isn’t the funniest “Godot” I’ve seen, but it’s definitely the most tenderly affecting. Mandell at 84 is as spry as a man half his age, but his pratfalls are those of someone with too much experience to pretend that bruises don’t hurt and beatings are a laugh riot. His comedy echoes down a corridor of years. McGovern, whose musical Irish voice could soothe the rankled hearts of terrorists, has the stern straight-man shtick down pat, but his eyes glisten with empathy even as Vladimir’s patience frays.

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Art review: Phil Chang at LAXART

March 22, 2012 |  6:00 pm

Phil Chang, "Cache, Active"
Phil Chang’s suite of 21 photographic works at LAXART look like slabs of old milk chocolate that’s just about to turn white. Each work is actually a piece of expired photographic paper exposed with either a negative or various objects placed directly on top. The paper was then left unfixed, which means the images were never set, and the works kept “developing” as they were exposed to light in the gallery. Hence their smooth, chocolate-y sameness.

Each however, has a rather evocative title like “Sea #2” and “Woman, Laughing.” Searching for traces of these images is a bit like looking at an Ad Reinhardt black painting — a rather existential experience as you search for minute variations in the darkness. Chang’s work did bring a smile as I searched in vain for some evidence of something as simple as “Three Sheets of Thin Paper.” But the chocolate refused to give anything up.

In this sense, the exhibition is both the aftermath of the work and an integral part of its making, a paradox that points to the tension between making art and exhibiting it. Does viewing complete the piece? And conversely, can a work be said to be finished if no one ever sees it? By blurring the line between making and exhibiting, Chang’s enigmatic show reminds us, quite starkly, that the conditions under which we look at art largely determine what we see, and whether we recognize it as art at all.

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-- Sharon Mizota

LAXART, 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 559-0166, through April 14. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.laxart.org

Photo: Phil Chang, "Cache, Active" installation view. Credit:  LAXART, Los Angeles.

Art review: Carolyn Castaño at Walter Maciel Gallery

March 22, 2012 |  5:20 pm

Carolyn Castaño, "Narco Venus (Angie)"
Carolyn Castaño’s latest exhibition at Walter Maciel Gallery serves as an ambivalent memorial to female victims of the Latin American drug trade. Four large paintings, each named for a real woman, depict idealized nudes reclining in lush, glitter-strewn tropical landscapes. The women are equal parts art history and pin-up poster, but there’s something sinister about the large, Rousseau-like vegetation that surrounds them. Studded with skulls and other images of death, ominous swathes of pure black press in, giving the figures’ white skin an otherworldly glow.

Smaller paintings feature the severed heads of male drug lords — a seemingly vindictive symbolic act. While Castaño restores the women to life, she tosses the men’s heads in the long grass. Still, they too are encrusted with glitter and sparkly flowers. Perhaps they died much as they lived: astride an undercurrent of violence papered over with rhinestones.

The paintings are darkly beautiful, but the highlight of the show is a video featuring Castaño as a newscaster rattling off a litany of sound bites on the history and status of women in Latin America. Alternating seamlessly between English and Spanish — often in mid-sentence — the work pokes fun at the quick-cut, non sequitur nature of TV news while rattling the viewer’s linguistic and cognitive circuits. It undoes what we think we know about Latin American women, clearing a space, hopefully, for something more real and complex.

RELATED:

More art reviews from the Los Angeles Times

-- Sharon Mizota

Walter Maciel Gallery, 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 839-1840, through April 7. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.waltermacielgallery.com

Photo: Carolyn Castaño, "Narco Venus (Angie)," 2011. Credit: Walter Maciel Gallery. Credit: Josh White.

Art review: Ben Sakoguchi at Cardwell Jimmerson

March 22, 2012 |  4:45 pm

Ben Sakoguchi, "Untitled"
To call an artwork a one-liner is to dismiss it. But what happens when you string a bunch of one-liners together, somewhat obsessively? You might come up with something approaching a worldview.

Such is the case with Ben Sakoguchi, best known for twisting the sunny designs of California orange crate labels into cutting critiques of cultural and political orthodoxies. An engaging mini-retrospective at Cardwell Jimmerson, ranging from the 1960s to the present, paints a much broader picture of his subversive thinking.

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