Category: Leah Ollman

Art review: Elias Hansen and the Reader at the Company

February 2, 2012 |  5:00 pm

Elias Hansen, "We made it far enough"
Whatever Elias Hansen looks to be cooking up in his arrangements of beakers and buckets at the Company, his enterprise feels somewhat private, surreptitious. Could be moonshine, could be meth. Mostly, the sculptural set-ups of hand-blown glass, rough-cut wood, rubber tubing, water and light bulbs feel like props in a narrative of personal exploration, experimentation, expanded consciousness. They complement well the other half of this intriguing two-person show: bold declarations painted on wood and printed on posters by the street artist who goes by the Reader, among other names.

The two are old friends from Washington, where Hansen lived before moving to upstate New York. The Reader, who recently had his first gallery show in Seattle, has made his anonymous/eponymous mark nationally on buildings by covering them with giant letters spelling out READ. His DIY literacy campaign’s most compelling gesture here is a black and white drawing in lumber crayon on a large (66-by-81-by-10 inches) surface of repurposed planks. “OPEN YOUR EYES” commands a drawn banner stretched across the image of an open book, three alert, disembodied eyes hovering in a triangle around it.

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Art review: 'Kienholz Before LACMA' at L.A. Louver

February 2, 2012 |  4:30 pm

LeadThe embarrassment of riches that is Pacific Standard Time just keeps getting richer. One of the latest offerings by a participating gallery is the stirring “Kienholz Before LACMA” at L.A. Louver. Its 22 relief paintings and assemblage sculptures were made in the decade leading up to Edward Kienholz’s notorious 1966 survey exhibition at the county museum, then just a year old as a freestanding institution and, thanks to Kienholz, generating some major blow back.

Museum trustees chafed at the exhibition (whose curator, Maurice Tuchman, collaborated with L.A. Louver on the present effort). County supervisors declared it “revolting” and “repugnant,” condemned it as pornography and attempted, unsuccessfully, to shut it down. A lifesize tableau installation depicting a sexual encounter in the back seat of a car may have provoked the greatest ire, but Kienholz’s smaller, wall-mounted, pedestal and freestanding works — like those shown here, some of which did appear in the LACMA show — also possessed ample power to rankle and disturb. They still do.

Consider “Mother Sterling” (1959), a dressmaker’s form whose caged lower portion is packed with the heads and assorted limbs of countless dolls. Whether suggesting a graveyard, junkyard or assembly of vulnerables huddled under protective cover, the whole reeks of anguish. “America My Hometown” (1963), too, strikes a tone of grotesque elegy. Stuffed teddy bears with soiled, matted fur encircle a small cabinet as if giving it a group hug. A bluish flood light glares out at us accusingly from within the furniture, lined inside with an American flag like an inverted military coffin.

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PST: Ceramic arts through the years

January 28, 2012 |  2:00 pm


Pteter v


Peter Voulkos has been called a hero, a catalyst, an inspiration. Billy Al Bengston referred to him as a "germinator" for the way he planted the seeds of abstraction in postwar L.A. art. Through the force of his raw, muscular ceramic sculpture and intense personal magnetism, he made those seeds flourish.

A new Pacific Standard Time exhibition at Scripps College takes a look at the pioneering work of Voulkos and his peers, John Mason and Ken Price. "Clay's Tectonic Shift" traces a period in the late 1950s and 1960s, when ceramics broke free of its traditional ties to function and craft and entered the mainstream art world.

But yesterday's revolutionaries soon turn into today's historical figures, and Voulkos et al. are no different. Contemporary artists using clay recognize the importance of what that older generation made happen, but they're pursuing recognition for the medium still, trying to enact yet another shift in the perception of clay's viability as a sculptural material.

Here's an Arts & Books article on how clay keeps breaking the mold.

--Leah Ollman

Photo: Peter Voulkos Untitled, 1956. Credit: Scripps College



Art review: Whitney Bedford at Susanne Vielmetter

December 8, 2011 |  6:00 pm

Whitney Bedford, "Untitled (Yellow Swell)"
Whitney Bedford’s hauntingly beautiful new works at Vielmetter draw from a strand of maritime painting tradition exemplified by J.M.W. Turner, incorporate a bit of the Gerhard Richter signature smear, and cast a loving backward glance at old engraved illustrations. They are temporal and stylistic hybrids that hold together spectacularly well.

Bedford has been painting shipwrecks for nearly 10 years and most of her recent works could loosely be categorized as such. Her real subject is the sublime — nature’s fearsome, awesome power to evoke it and paint’s exquisite potential to describe it, to become it. “Untitled (Yellow Swell),” among the smallest panels at just 18 by 24 inches, depicts a placid sea with electrifying intensity. The ocean is a thick slab of purple beneath an acid yellow sky; the stillness belies an atmospheric toxicity.

On the grand scale of the largest paintings (up to 8 by 12 feet), the L.A.-based Bedford keeps the horizon extremely low, texturing the roiling sea with dense black ink hatchmarks, dangling in the sky oddly languorous streaks of lightning, tilting ships in the tempest and staging a consistently tense friction between flat brown planes and luminous turquoise gestures, concrete gray and that buzzing, ozone-charged yellow.

A small group of glass vials and a vaporizer (made in collaboration with Dane Mitchell) are more esoteric, and less interesting, attempts at capturing a scent specific to the expanse and volatility of the sea. The paintings more than manage that visually, delivering both a jolt of immediacy and a lingering, time-release intrigue.

-- Leah Ollman

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-2117, through Dec. 21. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Image: Whitney Bedford, "Untitled (Yellow Swell)." Credit: From Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, photograph by Evan Bedford.

Art review: Aaron Morse and Matthias Merkel Hess at ACME

December 8, 2011 |  5:30 pm

A terrific double bill at ACME pairs paintings and collages by Aaron Morse with ceramic sculpture by Matthias Merkel Hess. Separate and equally compelling, the shows feature two of L.A.’s most engaging younger talents.

Morse is driven by the vexed urge — irresistible, yet futile—to make sense of the big picture: the past, the present, how they connect, where we’re headed. Looking at disparate parts from a distance (the show is called “Earth From Space”) helps to make sense of the whole, and Morse envisions every scene from above, afar, or in cross-section. His collages depict evolutionary markers from the big bang to upright man in a giant zigzagging timeline. In “Men and the Sea,” he paints a slice of the vertical spectrum from aquatic menagerie below to dense metropolis above.

Ambitious, accretive, awestruck, Morse is part history painter, part archivist, part cosmic philosopher. The textures of his works, whether on paper or canvas, are richly evocative of time’s passage. A crinkled, crusty canvas piece at the entrance to the show feels like a physical trace of a geological process or, more macrocosmically, a relief map of broad terrain. Morse favors colors that seem slightly faded, and illustrations more than one step removed from their original sources. As a result, his work invokes vaguely out-of-date instructional materials, and comes to rest somewhere between documentary record and painterly guess. It can feel muddled (in good ways and bad) and chaotic (the same), but its relentless, vital energy is a perfect match to civilization’s irrepressible, disorderly course.

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Art review: Ricky Swallow at Marc Foxx

December 8, 2011 |  4:30 pm

Ricky Swallow, "Blowing Hats
Each of the little alchemical wonders in Ricky Swallow’s show at Marc Foxx started as a cardboard tube. The Australian-born, L.A.-based Swallow cut, folded and otherwise altered the humble, functional tubes of various diameters, turning them into jaunty tabletop sculptures cast in bronze. Three “Penguin Pots” in soot black stand in ascending sequence, angular handles aimed in one direction, extended beak-like spouts in the other. Two bone-white mugs, both split in half, nest into each other like double parentheses. A cigarette sends up a waft of blue smoke in the shape of a French curve.

The transposition of an everyday object into something else, materially and psychologically, brings to mind Therrien and Gober, as well as the ceci-n’est-pas sly humor of Magritte. Four small, gray top hats, stilled at different points in a windblown tumble, make “Blowing Hats” a stop-motion animated sculpture, one with the bittersweet charm of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton antics. Figures are implied throughout, gracefully distilled into a pair of half-pipe legs or a row of coat buttons.

Swallow dips into an Art Deco idiom when he renders letters and numbers out of snippets of tubing, and elsewhere adopts a sort of Cubist approach to a single subject’s multiple planes. Art historical echoes resound among these works, yet they have distinctive character of their own, a highly appealing mix of modesty, tenderness, elegance and wit.

-- Leah Ollman

Marc Foxx, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 857-5571, through Dec. 22. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Image: Ricky Swallow, "Blowing Hats." From Marc Foxx.

Art review: Judie Bamber at Angles

December 8, 2011 |  4:00 pm


The seven works by Judie Bamber hanging now at Angles make a stab at answering the show’s interrogative title: “Are You My Mother?” It’s a rare question for a daughter to ask, but Bamber’s subject is the mother she couldn’t have known, the woman who lived and loved prior to the artist’s birth.

Bamber bases her modestly scaled watercolors and graphite drawings on photographs taken by her father. An earlier series by the L.A. artist transposed snapshots of him as a young man, and other previous works explored aspects of female sexuality. In this group of images, memory and sexual identity collide as Bamber pieces together a portrait of her mother as a young woman.

A few of the scenes are typical domestic snapshots: woman curled up on the couch with a book, or seated with light evocatively casting half her face in shadow. Bamber introduces a sense of time’s slippage in a second view of her mother reading, this one with a subtle doubling of the subject’s shifted limbs. All are gorgeously drawn, meticulous but not fussy, akin to Vija Celmin’s touch.

Things get more complicated, emotionally, in the images of her mother nude, pensively examining her body in the mirror or sprawled out on blood red carpet, laughing. Bamber’s scrutiny of these private performances feels at once like both a breach of intimacy and a precious manifestation of it

--Leah Ollman

Angles Gallery, 2754 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 396-5019, through Dec. 23. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Image: Judie Bamber, "Mom With Tan Lines #1." From the artist and Angles Gallery. Photograph by Brian Forrest.

Denver's Clyfford Still Museum opens door on elusive artist

November 19, 2011 | 10:30 am


Clyfford Still Museum
What we know about the artist Clyfford Still has been enough to position him as one of the leading figures in postwar American painting. What we don’t know, however, fills volumes and vaults.

Still dropped out of the commercial scene in 1951, not long after he stunned the art world with his huge canvases covered in craggy shapes, intensely-hued and fissured with thrusting verticals he called “lifelines.”   “Still makes the rest of us look academic,” remarked Jackson Pollock.

Still exhibited and sold his work only rarely after retreating to rural Maryland in 1961. When he died in 1980, his will specified that the entirety of his estate (which amounted to over 90% of his life’s work) would be given to an American city that would create permanent quarters for its exhibition and study.

The just-opened Clyfford Still Museum in downtown Denver is an elegant concrete and cedar structure resonant with the visceral quality of the artist’s work. Inside are more than 2,000 paintings and works on paper, as well as the artist’s archives, sure to answer questions that have nagged at art historians for years.

What did Still’s early work look like, leading up to his signature style? What was he up to in his barn studio those final two decades?

Read more on the new Denver museum and Clyfford Still.

-- Leah Ollman

Photo: The experience of the collection is enlivened by natural light that enters the galleries through a series of skylights over a perforated concrete ceiling designed by Allied Works Architecture. Credit: Clyfford Still Museum 

Art review: 'The Mechanical Bride' at YoungProjects

November 14, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Mechanical Bride at Young Projects Kurt Ralske The Enraged Algorithm 2010 foreground B
“The Mechanical Bride” features three artists, but substantially more bodies and visions come into play in this stimulating show at YoungProjects, a hotbed for innovative approaches to moving imagery.

Kurt Ralske reimagines films by a range of 20th century directors, tampering with their spatial and temporal characteristics to create something akin to extended paintings. John Carpenter’s digital projections depend on the movement of viewers to activate their imagery’s lyrical swell and flow. The show takes its name from Marshall McLuhan’s 1951 book, which examines the media landscape (press, radio, movies, ads) through discrete critical entries that could be read in any order. In the work of Ralske and Carpenter, too, beginnings and ends factor little or not at all. All is rich, fluid middle, technological wizardry that delivers primal, sensual satisfaction.

Ralske, based in New York, meddles brilliantly with what he calls the “relics of cinematic history.” He compresses Murnau’s “Faust” into a three-minute, paradoxically slow and utterly intriguing montage summation. He renders Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” as a single, densely abbreviated photographic print. The longest, brightest and slowest shots from three different Ozu films are extracted and become the building blocks for Ralske’s own short, largely abstract loops that read as barely moving mosaics of pattern, tone and color — oozing inkblots, vibrating graphs, morphing stripes. Ralske is, ultimately, a high-tech sculptor of time, digitally manipulating given materials to evoke gorgeous visual texture and a stirring sense of dislocation.

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Art review: Siri Kaur at Blythe Projects

November 10, 2011 |  6:00 pm

Siri Kaur, "Jamie," from Blythe Projects
Siri Kaur’s photographs at Blythe Projects are all nouns, no verbs: barn, man, boat, goat, tree, owl. This, then this, then this. They typify the most basic of photographic precepts — point and shoot — which is not to say they are hasty snapshots. Far from it. If anything, they err on the side of preciousness, each subject a carefully set gem of private poetry. Radishes in a plastic bag on the kitchen counter. A goat alone in a leaf-strewn grove.

An image of a dead bee and broken robin’s egg on a windowsill is unusually poignant, a still-life teetering between bleakness and promise. And a portrait of a seated young man with mismatched socks emits a quiet buzz of friction, triggered by the mix of humility and elegance, warm amber and cool green.

Tenderness prevails throughout the L.A. artist’s work, but the whole doesn’t manage to exceed the sum of its parts. There is little in the way of connective tissue, as in Liza Ryan’s work, which comes to mind here and makes more effective use of sequencing and image combination to effect some synergy. Kaur’s pictures are bound simply by their stillness and interiority, and by their beautiful dusk and dawn light, which helps turn up the emotional volume in the absence of a more compelling approach.

-- Leah Ollman

Blythe Projects, 5797 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (323) 272-3642, through Dec. 17. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Image: Siri Kaur, "Jamie," from Blythe Projects


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