Category: David Pagel

Art review: Urs Fischer at Gagosian Gallery

March 29, 2012 |  6:00 pm


Urs Fischer’s exhibition at Gagosian Gallery is a big disappointment. Titled “Beds & Problem Paintings,” it feels as if it’s been phoned in. Worse, its lackadaisical attitude is at odds with the spare-no-expense production of its slick, custom-made objects.

While effort, hard work and thoughtfulness are not the only ingredients that go into a work of art, they are almost entirely absent from Fisher’s pompous pieces.

The three sculptures (one in each of the three first-floor showrooms) are unimaginative rip-offs of works by Charles Ray and Robert Therrien.

Fischer’s two life-size beds are overshadowed by Therrien’s whimsically weird beds, which he has been making for a couple of decades, and Ray’s “Unpainted Sculpture” from 1997, an exact copy, in Fiberglass, of a crashed Pontiac. Fischer’s sculpture that resembles an ordinary wood table likewise borrows too directly from Ray’s 1989 “Tabletop,” which also uses hidden mechanisms to provide special effects.

Fischer’s preposterously big pictures, on nearly 12-by-8 foot aluminum panels, are portraits of people whose faces can’t be seen because they are blocked by images of disproportionally large objects: a sliced chile pepper, a mushroom and a steel bolt that appears to have wilted. Fischer’s men are pushed into the background by similarly Freudian stand-ins for their genitals: a mushy banana, an uprooted turnip and a steel screw that seems to have been made in the same place as Salvador Dali’s melting clocks or Claes Oldenburg’s soft sculptures.

In Fischer’s hands, tragedy is bypassed as history is immediately repeated as farce.

 -- David Pagel

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Gagosian Gallery, 456 N. Camden Drive, (310) 271-9400, through April 7. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

 Image: Urs Fischer exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. Credit: Mats Nordman

Art review: 'B. Wurtz & Co.' at Richard Telles Fine Art

March 29, 2012 |  5:40 pm

 B Wurtz sculpture
Good old American ingenuity doesn’t make the news these days. Nor does the attitude of can-do optimism, which seems to have been squashed by a rising tide of anger, disdain and bitter defeatism.

The spirit of DIY inventiveness lives on at Richard Telles Fine Art, where guest curator Matthew Higgs has brought together 26 works by 11 artists. Titled “B. Wurtz & Co.,” the quietly inspiring selection takes art back to the basics: individuals making things out of just about nothing.

In most religions, that’s a god’s job. But there’s nothing grandiose, overblown or entitled about the humble objects in this refreshing exhibition, which puts salt-of-the-earth honesty and homegrown improvisation front and center.

Most works are abstract, yet none disguises the materials it is made of. Scrap wood, plastic lids, bits of yarn, postal labels, coin wrappers and bottle caps are plainly visible in the casual yet composed pieces by Al Taylor, B. Wurtz, Judith Scott, Udomsak Krisanamis, Gabriel Kuri and Philadelphia Wire Man.

Collage predominates, its cut-and-paste aesthetic given sharp shape in subtly charged works by Richard Hawkins, Joe Fyfe and Vincent Fecteau. Doodling is a virtue in Martin Creed’s crisp compositions. And unsullied emptiness is filled with potential in Noam Rappaport’s clean canvases.

At “B. Wurtz & Co.,” imaginative handiwork never looked better, its democratic impulse a timely reminder of art’s place in everyday life.

-- David Pagel

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Richard Telles Fine Art, 7380 Beverly Blvd., (323) 965-5578, through May 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

 Image: B. Wurtz, "Untitled," 2009. Credit: Richard Telles Fine Art

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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Art review: Ali Smith, 'Flip Side' at Mark Moore Gallery

March 15, 2012 |  6:00 pm

Ali Smith, "Bend and Stray"
Digital technology may not have killed off collage, but software like Photoshop has made the art of cut-and-pasted paper look very last century. At Mark Moore Gallery, Ali Smith’s new paintings gaze back at collage with fondness and purpose.

With their rough edges, fractured compositions and unpredictable scale-shifts, the L.A. artist paints energetic pictures whose wild swipes and slashes are not expressive — in any way, shape or form. Rather than standing in as authentic emblems of inner turmoil or heartfelt emotions, the whiplash gestures in Smith’s paintings take on lives of their own.

Each of Smith’s oils on canvas is an exuberant ruin, a cartoon train-wreck of a composition that combines the unselfconsciousness of doodles with the deliberate kick of carefully wrought images.

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Art review: Tam Van Tran at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

March 15, 2012 |  5:15 pm

Tam Van Tran, "Bodhisattva"
There’s enough art in Tam Van Tran’s exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects to fill three solo shows, and each would be as stimulating and emotionally satisfying as the best exhibitions out there. Quantity and quality dovetail in “Adornment of Basic Space,” giving visitors a wide range of deeply engaging experiences.

Clay and paper are the main ingredients Tran uses to make his paintings and sculptures. To some, he adds recycled beer bottles, chlorophyll and algae, along with thousands of staples.

These unusual materials function formally, adding color, texture and density to Tran’s organically elegant abstractions. They also add meaning, linking his flexible fusions of mismatched media to the environment they are a part of and to the cycle of life, which no one escapes.

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Art review: 'Claire Falkenstein' at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

March 15, 2012 |  4:45 pm

Claire Falkenstein, "Values"
At Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, “Claire Falkenstein: An Expansive Universe” is a treasure trove of idiosyncratic gems by an artist who was once well known in the U.S. and Europe but is not currently thought of as an integral part of Los Angeles art history. That may change. In any case, don’t miss this opportunity to see 33 works Falkenstein (1908-1997) made from 1939 to 1981.

It’s a pleasure to discover her funky little collages on painted wood, jittery abstract gouaches and rock-solid clay sculptures, all made in San Francisco before she moved to Paris in 1950. Three pieces from her years in Paris stand out: a brass necklace that seems primitive and Egyptian; a dense little tumbleweed made of strands of copper and partially melted chunks of glass; and a 6-foot-long swirl of metal woven to resemble a space-age chrysalis.

In 1963, Falkenstein moved to California, where she settled into a beachfront studio in Venice and began working on many public commissions. She also made tiny sculptures that fused copper and glass, dot paintings that paid homage to Lee Mullican and elegant screen-like reliefs, all while experimenting with unlikely combinations of cast resin, Mylar and enamel.

Throughout the show, the sense of discovery is palpable. It matches the ethos of fearless experimentation that Falkenstein embraced as she hopscotched among media, finding surprises and laying the groundwork for such contemporary artists as Liz Larner and Pae White. Like Falkenstein, neither confines herself to a single medium and both are equally inspired by art, craft and design.

-- David Pagel

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Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 357 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 938-5222, through April 28. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Image: Claire Falkenstein, "Values," 1945. Credit: Jack Rutberg Fine Arts.

Art review: Delia Brown at Country Club at Martha Otero

March 15, 2012 |  3:00 pm

Delia Brown, "Guerrilla Villa"
The world economy is a surreal stew of cooked books, epic bankruptcies and uncertain ambitions. Its out-of-whack atmosphere takes queasy shape in Delia Brown’s 13 new paintings, most of which depict sexy women lounging around the beachfront pools and tropical gardens of the super-rich.

Sipping champagne, listening to music and posing like tourists, the attractive thirtysomethings wear bikinis, berets and fatigues, à la Che and rebels everywhere. In hot tubs, on patios and in designer dining rooms they act like college kids on spring break — not as brazenly, or as drunkenly, as on “Girls Gone Wild,” but purposefully and pointedly.

A sense of good-student seriousness runs through Brown’s domestically scaled oils on linen. If the members of a graduate seminar in French literary criticism, circa 1985, designed a book cover that was meant to make fun of themselves and their professors, it could be any one of the wickedly contradictory images in her exhibition at Martha Otero Gallery, in collaboration with Country Club Projects.

Titled “Last Exit: Punta Junta,” Brown’s suite of paintings refers to Tom Lawson’s 1981 essay, “Last Exit: Painting.” To his manifesto that defended painting from its postmodern detractors, Brown adds the sing-songy sound of a nursery rhyme gone south. “Punta Junta” evokes both the beauty of Caribbean vistas and the ugliness faced by start-up governments and wanna-be leaders, who presumably act on behalf of ordinary folks.

The conflict between leisure and labor, privilege and privation, is Brown’s subject.

Delia Brown, "In There Like Swimwear"
To make her paintings, she used her savvy as an artist to gain access to the vacation estates of some 1 percenters, who let her use their St. Barts retreats as the backdrops for such rebel fantasies as “Guerrilla Villa,” “In There Like Swimwear” and “Les Demoiselles de Saint Barthelemy.”

Brown’s pictures of conspicuous consumption gone wrong are nothing if not divisive. On one level, they are pricey items that cynically capitulate to the powers that be. On another, they present a world that has been turned upside down, its exclusive properties occupied by 99 percenters. In the absurd world captured by Brown’s realistic art, it’s hard to know where fantasies end and nightmares begin.

-- David Pagel

More art reviews from the Los Angeles Times 

Country Club at Martha Otero, 820 N. Fairfax Ave., (323) 951-1068, through April 14. Closed Sundays and Mondays.;

Images, from top: Delia Brown, "Guerrilla Villa," 2008-09; "In There Like Swimwear," 2008-09. Credit: Country Club and Martha Otero.

Art review: 'Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings' at LACMA

March 8, 2012 |  7:00 pm

Kelly Installation Gallery 3
You don’t need to be a film critic, or an English major, to know that movies and novels are more like apples and oranges than peas in a pod. It’s hardly uncommon to find that the film adaptation of a book is not as satisfying as reading it was. “I liked the movie but it wasn’t as good as the book,” people will say.

Something similar — yet significantly different — takes place in the visual arts. Like movies, lithographs and screenprints are often treated as lesser versions of paintings or sculptures, either inadequate translations of the originals or mere souvenirs that call to mind more ambitious, and expensive, masterpieces.

But that’s not always the case. At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings” brings together 99 prints, 16 sketches, three paintings and one sculpture by the 88-year-old New York artist. Drawn mostly from the collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, the sharply focused show has been organized by curators Stephanie Barron and Britt Salvesen. With lovely light-handedness, it demonstrates that Kelly’s prints are more like books than movies.

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Art review: 'The History of Bruce' at Stephen Cohen Gallery

February 9, 2012 |  7:00 pm

Bruce of L.A., "Tex Derrick"
One of the best things about Pacific Standard Time, the Getty-sponsored sprawl of exhibitions that has been taking place across Southern California since October, is that it allows viewers to travel back to a time when art and big business had little in common.

That’s also true of “The History of Bruce: The Extraordinary Life & Times of Bruce of L.A., 1948-1974.” The exhibition of more than 60 photographs and two vitrines full of memorabilia, at Stephen Cohen Gallery, takes viewers to the golden age of Physique Photography. Back then, Bruce of L.A.’s photographs of handsome young men may have scandalized prudes. But today they seem sweet: utterly innocent and playfully wholesome.  

Long before the Internet made all sorts of porn available 24/7, Bruce of L.A. marketed his signature pictures of oiled-up beefcakes the old fashioned way: first by mail-order advertisements in national magazines and then by publishing his own pint-size periodical, “The Male Figure.”

His 8-by-10s are gems. Their preposterous poses, silly props and threadbare setups do not get in the way of the guys, who seem pretty tickled to be having their pictures taken. Nothing explicit or untoward transpires in these endearing pictures, which traffic in anticipation and treat viewers as if our imaginations matter. That’s a lot more respect than we get from much of what passes for culture (and entertainment) today.


More art reviews from the Los Angeles Times

--David Pagel

Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7358 Beverly Blvd., (323) 937-5525, through March 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Image: Bruce of L.A., "Tex Derrick," circa 1960. Credit: Stephen Cohen Gallery.


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