Category: Leah Ollman

Art review: Susan Sironi at Offramp

November 10, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Susan Sironi, "Bound in Illusion: Target Audience" at Offramp Gallery
Books invite metaphors: they are landscapes to be explored, windows to be seen through, pathways to knowledge. In her sparkling show at Offramp, Susan Sironi makes those metaphors palpable. She cuts through the covers and carves the pages of old illustrated books to shape three-dimensional tableaux (both illustrative and abstract) that resonate with the excavated contents, a kind of paper theater built of receding planes.

She tunnels into an edition of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," for instance, paring away the text and agglomerating John Tenniel’s delightfully drawn characters into the shape of a hand. A copy of "Gulliver’s Travels," the tale of another disorienting journey, is treated similarly, this time with the images comprising the shape of a foot. The scales of different illustrations get fused, the original spatial logic of each scene traded for a new, jauntily incongruous pictorial schema.

Sironi makes collages that toy somewhat interestingly with the illegibility of printed text, but her altered books are the main event. They hold their own in the company of work by other literary vandals, alchemists and dissectors such as Linda Ekstrom or Brian Dettmer.

With conceptual as well as technical deftness, Sironi turns a book on war films into a target made of concentric bands of fragmented images — soldiers, smoke, brambles, an eye — that also doubles as a lens. She uses one copy of a book on Japanese flower arrangement to craft a cool, syncopated mosaic of flora, and another to cut a nearly all-black, jagged-edged passage inward, a riff, perhaps on a reductive Zen aesthetic.

-- Leah Ollman

Offramp Gallery, 1702 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena, (626) 298-6931, through Nov. 20. Closed Monday-Thursday.

Image: Susan Sironi, "Bound in Illusion: Target Audience," from Offramp Gallery.

Art review: F. Scott Hess at Koplin Del Rio

November 10, 2011 |  4:00 pm

F. Scott Hess, "Self-Portrait as a Masterpiece of Creation"
F. Scott Hess’ new paintings at Koplin Del Rio give palpable answers to questions we’ll never know. They suggest allegories of uncertain moral persuasion. They give clear and reasonable form to situations obscure, improbable and deliciously ambiguous. A tsunami-scaled wave crashes into a beachfront house and a young woman greets it with ecstatic abandon. Five ballet dancers heave the waxen bulk of the dead French painter Bouguereau toward an open, upper floor window, as if to toss him out. A young woman, nude among equally ripe raspberry brambles, sucks her thumb and fingers her hair in the manner of a toddler.

Several discernible themes do emerge: aging and generational succession, natural cataclysms, violent upheaval, sexual energy and assorted human vulnerabilities. Among the strongest works are self-portraits, overt acts of exposure that Hess loads with autobiographical details of place and process. In “Self-Portrait as a Masterpiece of Creation,” he stands naked in his studio, facing us and holding a blank panel like a challenging mirror to our eager gaze.

Hess, who has lived and worked in L.A. for nearly three decades, is among the more visually generous painters around. His surfaces glow from within, thanks to his facility with Old Master techniques. His colors ring with vitality, his forms have convincing tactility and texture, and his compositions are taut. He drops multiple clues to his sources and influences — Velasquez, Beckmann, Freud, Rembrandt, Michelangelo — and something of the spicy strangeness of Tooker and even Balthus can be found in the work too. The paintings have verve to spare. Hess will be completing the large title painting, “In Transit,” in the gallery during the run of the show.

-- Leah Ollman

Koplin Del Rio, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-9055, through Dec. 22. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Image: F. Scott Hess, "Self-Portrait as a Masterpiece of Creation." From Koplin Del Rio.


Art review: Vivian Maier at Stephen Cohen

October 13, 2011 |  6:30 pm

Vivian Meier, "Chicago"
Even without its dramatic discovery story, the work of Vivian Maier would come as something of a revelation. Maier’s photographs, made primarily on the streets of Chicago and New York from the 1950s on, are characterized by a crisp formal intelligence, a vivid sense of humor and a keen grasp of the serendipitous choreography of daily life. Both the curious and the ordinary caught her eye and became interchangeable.

In one picture in her engrossing show at Stephen Cohen, a street corner trashcan stands midway between our befuddled gaze and a bystander’s. Filled to the rim with light bulbs, like a public repository for expired ideas, the wastebasket doubles as felicitous fact and found metaphor. In another picture, also shot in Chicago in 1968, the newspaper in a businessman’s hands splays outward, seeming to merge with the signage and reflections on the shop window behind him. Implicit title: Portrait of an Everyman at the epicenter of his own private urban whirl.

Not all of the 45 black and white images on view are brilliant, but each one is sensitive and visually acute. Cumulatively, they make a convincing case for Maier’s significance as a mid-century street photographer. And there are 100,000 more. Maier photographed on her time off from work as a nanny, and apparently never showed the pictures to anyone. She put them (black and white and color pictures and hundreds of undeveloped rolls of film) in storage, and the contents of her locker were auctioned off for nonpayment a few years before her death in 2009. The treasure trove of an archive is split between two collectors who are making new prints, like these, from the old negatives. Quite a story, fabulously illustrated.

-- Leah Ollman

Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7358 Beverly Blvd., (323) 937-5525, through Nov. 12. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Image: Vivian Meier, "Chicago," c. 1967-8. Credit: Stephen Cohen Gallery

Art review: Jow at Marine Contemporary

October 13, 2011 |  6:00 pm

Jow, "California Nights"
Spoken language has its musicality, written language its visuality, a purely graphic presence as shape and pattern. How those shapes and patterns translate — or not — into meaning has long been fertile ground for artists. Jow, a Canadian transplant to L.A., enters the terrain close on the heels of Tauba Auerbach, whose paintings and books of the last half-decade have cannily explored the visual potency of a variety of written alphabets. Jow, too, is drawn to code. In a previous series of works on paper, she took passages from novels set in New York and embossed them in Braille, forming the city’s silhouetted skyline out of the tiny raised dots.

In her slyly engaging new work at Marine Contemporary, Jow spells out song lyrics in Morse code in high-gloss acrylic and polyurethane. The text on all eight panels derives from songs about California from the ‘60s and ‘70s, exactly when text/image interplay in art surged and when hard-edged geometric abstraction like this was one of the norms as well. Jow courts a multitude of associations, creating wonderful visual/verbal double-entendres like “California Nights,” where the lines from a Lesley Gore song, in white dots and dashes against black, seem to recede in space like a light-speckled urban nightscape seen from above, a field of oncoming headlights, or — as suggested by the lyric that the shapes spell out — the moonlit froth of the incoming tide. A group of smart and snide drawings on old hotel letterhead and a mildly clever neon sign piece round out this snappy little show.

-- Leah Ollman

Marine Contemporary, 1733-A Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-0294, through Saturday.

Image: Jow, "California Nights." Credit: Marine Contemporary

Art review: Kelly Barrie at the Santa Monica Museum of Art

October 13, 2011 |  4:15 pm

Kelly Barrie, "Mirror House"
Kelly Barrie’s Project Room show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art consists of a single stunning picture called “Mirror House.” Its genesis is complicated and fascinating, beginning with a haunting newspaper photograph taken in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Barrie "walked the image out of his mind" by articulating its subjects in photo-luminescent pigment on black paper, using his feet. He then photographed the drawing more than 70 times — by its own light, stored in the pigment — and digitally montaged those images together to create one seamless, deeply evocative print.

Remarkably, the how of the image’s making doesn’t overwhelm the what. “Mirror House” is a gorgeous hybrid, reading at once as drawing, blueprint and photographic trace. The muscular trunk and branches of a tree dominate the foreground, screening the view of a house in skeletal outline. Both stand in floodwater, which can’t be seen as much as deduced by the reflection’s doubling effect.

Values are reversed and the field is largely bluish-black, but the image looks less like a negative than a ghostly nightscape, the tree a dance of milk-white streaks and smears, the house a pale, bony memory. Powdery scatters abut fluid smudges. Dense opacity yields to filmy translucence. Barrie, London-born and living in L.A., builds a tremendous textural and emotional richness through his inventive process — part gestural performance, part documentation, an alliance of physical presence and temporal retreat.

-- Leah Ollman

Santa Monica Museum of Art, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 586-6488, through Dec. 10.

Image: Kelly Barrie, "Mirror House." Credit: Santa Monica Museum of Art

Art review: Betye Saar at Roberts and Tilton

October 13, 2011 |  2:33 pm

Call it a serial retrospective, the sprinkling of Betye Saar’s work throughout a substantial spread of Pacific Standard Time shows. Whatever each exhibition’s context—overall survey of the postwar decades, focus on the evolution of L.A.’s African-American art scene, a look at art of the late ‘60s/early’70s as cultural critique—Saar’s work matters and is seminal to the particular art historical lesson being taught.

For a more concentrated jolt, and a sense of how Saar’s potent sensibility manifests on its own terms, head to Roberts and Tilton. Her “Red Time” installation there occupies a single, modest-size room and functions as a macro-assemblage in itself, a grouping of objects whose individual resonance deepens and grows more complex in relation to the others. The walls are painted an intense cherry red, and works are mounted high and low, suspended from above and resting on the floor. Each of them is red or at least partly so, and the references range from blood to fire, from the heart to the stereotypically oversized lips of a little black Sambo character, from the flesh of a watermelon slice to the fabric of a mammy figure’s dress. Red is the color of life and of power, of passion and pain—all of which pulsate at once within this richly textured chamber.

The found objects and assemblages here date as far back as the ‘60s, but the bulk of the work is recent. Saar has a crafty way with time that helps give the whole continuity and coherence. She steeps her work in memory but charges it with immediacy. New and old pieces alike look backward and by implication, project forward. Materials with a timeless, spiritual aura (a Haitian-style beaded and sequined flag, a Coptic cross, a tabletop altar, a sculpted Buddha) co-exist among objects referring to a distinct place and period—racist clichés from the material archive of American popular culture, ships and chains recalling the transport of Africans to slavery.

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Art review: Simon Norfolk at Luisotti

September 15, 2011 |  7:00 pm

“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

Art review: Leon Kossoff at L.A. Louver

September 15, 2011 |  6:00 pm

Leon Kossoff’s recent paintings at L.A. Louver are not the same from up close and from afar. Neither are they the same from one moment to the next, though their surfaces are long dry. Kossoff has said that he would like to draw as if the camera had not been invented, blaming photography for the sense-dulling notion that a vision, an image, a scene can ever be fixed. These vigorous, insistently mutable paintings from the last 10 years make a convincing counterargument, a solid case for perpetual flux.

Kossoff, now in his 80s, has painted portraits and aspects of the London landscape since his earliest days, the long-repeated subjects remaining stirring and fresh. Christ Church Spitalfields looms, as ever, a steep stack of stairs and pillars, archway and tower, but even more so a thrashing tumult of pigment — swipes, skeins, skids — that tames itself only as you step back from it. Kossoff’s portrait heads too are thickly encrusted around the edges, from his practice of applying pigment and scraping it off, applying and scraping, building up a surface that reads easily, elegantly, as the image of an individual but also as a tactile, temporal chronicle of change. A cherry tree with one double-crutched branch is Kossoff’s newest subject, and its form, varying with the seasons and the life passing behind it, fills eight panels here. The occasional wrinkly skinned pouch of pigment (echoes of the meaty, fleshy Soutine) reinforces what is intuitively felt in the encounter with all of these paintings — a resonance between living bodies.

-- Leah Ollman

L.A. Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through Oct. 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Image: Leon Kossoff's "Christ Church, Spitalfields." Credit: From L.A. Louver

Art review: 'Photography into Sculpture' at Cherry and Martin

September 15, 2011 |  4:45 pm

Richard Jackson, "Negative Numbers"
“Photography Into Sculpture” was a groundbreaking show when it appeared at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970, and it is significant still, in its reprised version at Cherry and Martin. On its first go-round, the show introduced to New York and the other cities on its two-year tour a new, expansive mode of photographic art that originated on the West Coast. This time, as a fine exemplar of the Getty-driven Pacific Standard Time initiative, “Photography Into Sculpture” reintroduces L.A. to a momentous chapter of its own history.

MoMA curator Peter Bunnell organized the 1970 show, spurred by his encounter with the work of Robert Heinecken (then teaching at UCLA) and crystallized by an exploratory visit to Los Angeles. Of the 23 artists in the show, most were from the West Coast and nine came from L.A. Cherry and Martin has rustled up most of the original pieces that Bunnell selected, works that dissolved the photographic image’s age-old marriage to paper, freeing it to swing with plastic, wood, glass, fabric and more.

Bunnell later recounted a revelatory visit to Richard Jackson’s Pasadena studio, where the artist showed him a set of negatives produced by a shutterless, handmade camera. Bunnell asked Jackson if he had printed the images and remembers the artist answering, “Am I supposed to? Must I?” The conventional, causal route from negative to print was no longer a given — in California, at least — but instead simply one option among many.

In Jackson’s “Negative Numbers,” two large film negatives are taped to plexiglass panels and propped up in front of bare light bulbs on a wooden table. In each image, Jackson’s ghostly figure appears behind a row of numbers — his Social Security number and draft number — that he wrote in the air with a flashlight during the exposure. That the government-assigned numbers are darker and more prominent than Jackson’s own faint bodily form gives this record of private performance a subtle political edge.

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Art review: Yoshua Okon at the Hammer

September 13, 2011 |  6:30 pm

Yoshua Okon 
Yoshua Okón, a video installation artist from Mexico City, stages partially scripted scenes in the unscripted world, using ordinary people whose own identities and histories are the true, underlying story. Equal parts absurd and provocative, his work thrives on incongruity, the convergence of artifice and reality, the intended and the unintentionally telling.

In “Octopus,” his new four-channel, 18-minute piece at the Hammer, Okón gathers day laborers, former fighters on both sides of Guatemala's civil war, and has them act out military maneuvers in the parking lot of an L.A.-area Home Depot. Half of the men are in black T-shirts and half in white, they scoot on their bellies across the asphalt aisles, hide behind hedges and aim their pointed fingers like guns at the presumed enemies in their midst. Cars roll by and shoppers pass with barely a blink.

Fragments from the semi-staged event are projected on all four gallery walls, one at a time, and simultaneously. The splintered presentation helps only minimally to enliven Okón’s slight, disconcerting riff on a deeply complicated historical phenomenon. Our government supported the coup that led to the military dictatorship that resulted in decades of oppression and violence in Guatemala, including the genocide of thousands of indigenous Mayans. Now these survivors of that trauma are here, disenfranchised yet again. Okón’s work makes smart sport of their invisibility but otherwise proves a weak vehicle for such a heavy conceptual load.

--Leah Ollman

Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. (310) 443-7000, through Nov. 6. Closed Mondays.

Image: A still from Yoshua Okón's "Octopus." Credit: From Kaufmann Repetto, Milan.


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