Category: Sharon Mizota

PST, A to Z: ‘Cruising’ at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives

March 28, 2012 |  4:46 pm

Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.

"Lesbian Couple, Hollywood"

To see “Cruising the Archive: Queer Art and Culture in Los Angeles, 1945-1980,” you have to do some cruising yourself — not necessarily in a libidinal sense, but between three small venues: two in Exposition Park and one in West Hollywood. Consequently, the exhibition feels a bit fragmented, with a single artist’s work often spread across multiple spaces, but it’s very much in keeping with the sprawling structure of Pacific Standard Time and the diversity of the queer community itself.

Drawn from the collections of the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, the materials on view are a mix of art and documentation from a spectrum of artists, from relatively well-known names — Don Bachardy, Gronk, Sister Mary Corita Kent — to those who remain completely anonymous. The show also encompasses a wide array of sexual identities and movements whose aims and attitudes weren’t always aligned. The result is an unruly history of queer culture in Los Angeles that is inspiring in its depth and vibrancy.

The ONE Archives began as ONE Magazine, founded in 1953, and the display at USC's Doheny Library is largely devoted to the history of queer publications including PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education, which later became The Advocate), The Ladder, The Lesbian Tide, and more obscure titles like Edith Eyde’s Vice Versa: America’s Gayest Magazine, hand-typed in editions of 10 from 1947-48, and Transvestia, dedicated to straight-identified male cross-dressers, published by Virginia Prince (born Arnold Lowman) starting in 1960. There’s also some fascinating early 20th century sheet music from the collection of Ralph W. Judd with titles like, “My Regular Girl is a Feller,” and “I Only Want a Buddy…Not a Sweetheart.”

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PST, A to Z: ‘Perpetual Conceptual’ at Los Angeles Nomadic Division

March 28, 2012 |  4:45 pm

Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.

Setting out to see “Perpetual Conceptual: Echoes of Eugenia Butler,” I almost drove right past it. The exhibition is organized by Los Angeles Nomadic Division, a non-profit arts organization whose name reflects their lack of a permanent gallery space, and the show takes place in three storefronts in a nondescript strip mall in West Hollywood.

Having never set foot in Eugenia Butler Gallery, the late 60s-era space to which “Perpetual Conceptual” pays homage, I’m not sure whether these cold, roughly finished retail spots do it justice. However, they do seem a fitting place to show work that for many still stretches the boundaries of art.

Although it only operated from 1968 to 1971, the Eugenia Butler Gallery exhibited the work of a number of influential artists, including John Baldessari, Ed Kienholz, and Joseph Kosuth. Yet, like other women gallerists, Butler’s legacy has often been overshadowed by the attention paid to her male contemporaries over at the Ferus Gallery. The larger context female gallerists operated within was explored in the PST exhibition, “She Accepts the Proposition,” on view last fall at Crossroads School. It looked at the impact of five women gallery owners, including Butler.

The main part of “Perpetual Conceptual” is a group show of works by artists whom Butler championed. It’s up until April 21, but the works in the two adjoining spaces will change over the course of the exhibition, each one given over to a particular artist. When I visited, there were installations by Adam II, The Late Paul Cotton, and Butler’s daughter, Eugenia P. Butler.

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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.


More art reviews from the Los Angeles Times

-- Sharon Mizota

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

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.


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.

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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Art review: Robin Rhode at L&M Arts

March 22, 2012 |  4:05 pm

obin Rhode, "36 Ways a Dice can Roll / Dice"South African artist Robin Rhode is known for ingenious, storyboard-like narratives depicting a lone figure (sometimes the artist, sometimes not), interacting with drawings on the wall or the ground behind him.

For his first solo outing in an L.A. gallery, Rhode also ventures into more conventional modes of sculpture and photography. An oversized rubber stamp in the shape of the moon and crumpled images of abandoned post-Katrina houses both feel labored, but most of the works on view at L&M Arts are actually quite magical.

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PST, A to Z: ‘Sight Specific’ and ‘In Focus’

March 19, 2012 |  9:05 am

Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.

Pacific Standard Time has included medium-specific exhibitions devoted to film, ceramics, music, and printmaking, so it’s only fitting that photography—nearly ubiquitous in contemporary art—should have its turn in the spotlight. Two exhibitions, “In Focus: Los Angeles, 1945-1980” at the Getty Center, and “Sight Specific: LACPS and the Politics of Community” at the University of Southern California’s Fisher Museum of Art paint somewhat different portraits of the medium’s role in the region. While the former is a small, tightly focused sampling of images created in L.A., the latter is a sprawling chronicle of an organization, the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies, which operated from 1974 to 1985.

Although the Getty is the flagship institution for Pacific Standard Time, its own PST exhibitions have been relatively modest. This holds especially true for “In Focus,” which includes just 31 images, all drawn from the Getty’s permanent collection. Organized into four rather conventional categories—experimental images, street photography, architecture, and the entertainment industry—they are pretty much the pictures you expect to see of Los Angeles: Judy Fiskin’s tiny, cameo-like portraits of stucco houses, miles of tract housing documented from the air by William A. Garnett, and a fabulous image by Garry Winogrand of two women, dressed to the nines, walking towards the swooping lines of the Encounter restaurant at LAX. The images are exceptional, but the show is a bit flat-footed.

Gm_05384201_webThere are a few pleasant surprises, however. Jo Ann Callis’ poetic, 1974 nudes, lying in the water like Ophelia, are partially obscured by mysterious layers of reflections—smoke, floral patterns, and other indeterminate shapes—making it hard to tell whether they’re “straight” photographs or composite images. And Robert Cumming’s 1977 photos of the awkward, behind-the-scenes spaces of Hollywood stage sets are simple but cogent exposés of the mechanics behind the illusion.

Anthony Friedkin, represented in both exhibitions, presents a similar, albeit more humorous image in “Sight Specific.” It’s a shot of a man who looks like he’s being swallowed as he works on the mechanical shark from “Jaws.” The image was featured in “L.A. Issue,” an exhibition organized by LACPS in 1979, one of its many wide-ranging shows.

“Sight Specific” presents groups of selected works from these exhibitions, which encompassed not only thematic shows of contemporary work, but historical ones featuring such luminaries as Edward Weston, James Van Der Zee, and Paul Outerbridge, Jr. Perhaps the most certifiably “L.A.” endeavor in this regard was 1981’s “Photoflexion: Photographs about Body Building,” It included images of the shiny, muscled bodies the world has come to associate with Southern California, as well as some curious older works, such as a turn of the century image by George Steckel that depicts a somewhat less emphatically muscled man sporting roman sandals and a pert fig leaf.

LACPS’s exhibitions of contemporary work were organized according to the artistic concerns of the day, only some of which were strictly photographic. There were shows on multiculturalism, theatricality, the relationship between word and image, expressions of time and duration, and “constructed” images, or scenes set up expressly to be photographed. In other words, LACPS artists were engaged with the same broad issues as their peers in other media.

As a consequence, “Sight Specific” feels a great deal more freewheeling than the buttoned up “In Focus.” As it turns out, post-war photography in L.A. was a much messier business than can be summed up with a handful of cool, black and whites.

Nettles Pack up“Sight Specific” does feature some stunning “straight” images, like Mark Klett’s dramatic shot from inside a snow tunnel—a vertigo-inducing swirl of textured light and shadow. But LACPS members, at least as sampled here, tended toward experimental and conceptual approaches, many of which did not necessarily involve traditional photographic skills. Bea Nettles used a pinhole camera to try to see everyday objects from the wonderous perspective of her small children. Bruce Yonemoto’s “Suspected Japanese Houses” from 1976 looks like a photocopy (it’s actually a diazo print, like a blueprint). With its whited-out ornamental shrubbery (many Japanese Americans worked as gardeners), it’s a subtle, darkly funny comment on stereotypes and racial profiling. And in “Construct XV” from 1982, Barbara Kasten photographed an arrangement of mirrors and colored plastic to create a geometric abstraction more commonly associated with painting.

To its credit, LACPS seems to have had no aesthetic agenda beyond the love and promotion of photography, in whatever form it appeared. And it filled a void in local support for such adventurous work between the demise of the forward-thinking Pasadena Art Museum in 1974, and the creation of a photography department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the mid 1980s. In this regard, its greatest impact may have been in fostering a sense of community.

Indeed, the first thing one sees upon entering “Sight Specific” is a wall papered with images of smiling people posing for pictures at art openings. In 1978, artist Daryl Curran began his series “L.A. Art Openings: 1978-79,” which evolved into “A Moment in Photo History,” in which he documented not just openings, but the lectures, parties and other events around which the L.A. photographic community coalesced. In each image he had someone hold a clipboard, like a Hollywood film clapper, detailing the name of the event, the location and the date. Sprinkled throughout the exhibition, these photos are a quiet undercurrent in this boisterous show, but in photographing the people behind the cameras, Curran was perhaps acknowledging LACPS’s greatest work of art.

--Sharon Mizota

Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr., (310) 440-7330, through May 6. Closed Mondays.

Fisher Museum of Art, University of Southern California, 823 Exposition Blvd., (213) 740-4561, through April 7. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Photos, from top: Darryl Curran, "Untitled," 1980, from the "Moment in Photo History" series. Credit: Collection of the artist. 

Garry Winogrand, "Los Angeles International Airport," 1964. Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles © 1984 The Estate of Garry Winogrand.

Bea Nettles, "Pack up your Troubles," 1981. Credit: Courtesy of the artist.


PST, A to Z: ''Round the Clock' at Vincent Price Art Museum

March 16, 2012 |  4:05 pm

Pacific Standard Time is exploring the origins of the Los Angeles art world with museum exhibitions throughout Southern California. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.

"'Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles" at the Vincent Price Art Museum is a thoroughly enjoyable, enlightening addition to the Pacific Standard Time project
A friend recently expressed frustration with Pacific Standard Time -- too big, too diffuse, too messy. The payoff, she felt, for driving all over the Southland was often underwhelming, with no "summing up" in sight. It's true, even if you have boundless amounts of time and energy (or, ahem, a blog project), you are bound to get only bits and pieces of the story.

Yet, this is also one of the virtues of PST. The scale, scope and rambling nature of the initiative allow for the exploration of corners of the Los Angeles art scene unlikely to surface in yet another grand survey.

All of this is a long way of saying that "'Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles" at the Vincent Price Art Museum is a thoroughly enjoyable, enlightening addition to the PST constellation. Showcasing the works of five Chinese American artists who studied and worked in L.A. from the 1940s to the present, it might be seen as an unofficial companion to "Art Along the Hyphen: The Mexican American Generation," which features similarly under-known artists.

"'Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles" at the Vincent Price Art Museum is a thoroughly enjoyable, enlightening addition to the Pacific Standard Time projectBesides bringing worthy figures to light, the two shows suggest that a segment of artists of color in L.A. were less concerned with avant-garde experimentation than with expressing themselves in established art media. When you have been shut out of the dominant culture, one response is to shore up your credentials (another is to buck them entirely, but that's another story). "'Round the Clock" complicates this narrative by focusing on artists (alas, all men), who balanced personal artistic projects with commercial work in the film, publishing and advertising industries. In this sense, the show disputes the primacy of traditional art media, not by eschewing them altogether, but by looking at works for hire (design, illustration, animation, etc.) as integral parts of artistic practice.

This mingling of art and commerce is most salient in the mid-century watercolor paintings of Jake Lee. Colorful, picturesque and chock-full of staccato details, they provide an unfailingly optimistic vision of downtown L.A., Chinatown and Chinese American history. It's no wonder Lee found work as an illustrator for the American Automobile Assn.'s "Westways" magazine and for the Air Force, documenting activities on military bases in the 1960s. His celebratory aesthetic dovetailed perfectly with post-World War II ebullience.

Milton Quon has also had a successful commercial career, with stints as an animator at Walt Disney Studios and as the first Chinese American art director at a national advertising firm (Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn, now known as BBDO). His watercolor street scenes and landscapes from the 1950s are stylistically similar to Lee's, although works from the 1980s and '90s reveal a looser hand and the subtle use of collage elements that provide some punch among otherwise conventional floral and leisure scenes. More interesting are his elegant, 1940's designs for Chinese restaurant menus that fuse calligraphic brushwork with clean, mid-century modernism.

Calligraphy also figures prominently in the work of George Chann, who followed a more traditional artistic path, exhibiting widely in the U.S. and internationally before eventually opening his own gallery in L.A. In abstract paintings of the 1960s and '70s, he mined the similarities between calligraphic strokes and gestural abstraction, citing Jackson Pollock and Mark Tobey as influences. The path between Asian artistic and philosophical traditions and modern art is well trod, but for Asian American artists such as Chann, it had a slightly different resonance. His "American Calligraphy" from the 1970s is densely packed with brushy flourishes in sumi ink and oil, but the letters are all in English.

"'Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles" at the Vincent Price Art Museum is a thoroughly enjoyable, enlightening addition to the Pacific Standard Time projectJohn Kwok worked as a freelance designer and portrait painter, but his abstract gouaches are easily the highlight of the show. Effortless and bold, in clear, high-keyed colors, they exude an astute feel for balance and gesture, infused with a sense of whimsy. An untitled work from the 1970s is a jumble of horseshoe shapes outlined against a clear blue field. Repeated, yet irregular, they create an unexpectedly complex space. In similar fashion, "Fugue," from 1968 features the intersection of two circles, rather like a Venn diagram, except that the collision has given birth, not only to a third, differently toned space in between, but to a burst of brushy black on one side and a series of hotly colored stripes on the other. The composition is at once inexplicable and immensely appealing, not unlike the interlocking layers of a piece of music.

Finally, there is Tyrus Wong, the best-known artist of the bunch, primarily for his concept work on Disney's "Bambi." Several of those early drawings are on view; they are surprisingly intimate (less than six inches wide) and achingly beautiful, as yet uncluttered with cloying, wide-eyed characters. In creating the mysterious, atmospheric scenes, Wong drew on his fascination with the ethereal landscapes of Sung dynasty painting. Like Quon and Chann, he injected Chinese aesthetics right into the heart of American pop culture. Wong went on to become a concept artist at Warner Bros., creating production designs and storyboards for movies such as "Rebel Without a Cause" and "The Wild Bunch." But his early work from the 1930s and '40s blends a really exquisite use of calligraphic line with the heft and chiaroscuro effects of Western painting. Since the 1970s, he has been designing and building snappy, elaborate animal kites, some of which are on view in the museum's atrium.

"'Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles" at the Vincent Price Art Museum is a thoroughly enjoyable, enlightening addition to the Pacific Standard Time project"'Round the Clock" suggests that for Chinese American artists at mid-century, the artistic path was a negotiated one, a wavering line between personal interest and practicality. Of course, this is true for many artists -- it's the rare superstar who makes a living making art from the get-go. But the show's conceit -- that these artists made valuable contributions regardless of the venue in which their work appeared -- prompts us to look at the line between art and commerce more skeptically. After all, what we commonly think of as art is often just a pricier version of an everyday aesthetic experience: a magazine illustration, a menu, a movie. There's no reason such quotidian things can't be just as uplifting, edifying, inspiring or beautiful.

-- Sharon Mizota

Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park, (323) 265-8841, through May 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Photos, from top: Jake Lee, "Olvera Street Gift Store Front," not dated, watercolor on paper, 19 x 26 inches. Courtesy of Chinese American Museum at El Pueblo Historical Monument, gift of Judy Deppman. © Jake Lee. Credit: Chinese American Museum at El Pueblo Historical Monument

George Chann, "Abstract in Green Field," early 1960s, oil and sumi ink on canvas, 72 x 49 1/2 inches. Courtesy of Janet Chann. © George Chann. Credit: Janet Chann

John Kwok, "Untitled," not dated, gouache on paperboard, 40 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the John Kwok family. © John Kwok. Credit: Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College

Tyrus Wong, "Bambi (At the Edge of the Meadow)," c. 1939, concept art, watercolor on paper, 3 3/4 x 5 inches. Courtesy of the artist. © Disney. Credit: Pamela Tom

PST, A to Z: ‘Common Ground’ at AMOCA, ‘Clay’s Tectonic Shift,” at Scripps

March 16, 2012 |  9:00 am

Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.

Two PST shows on the rich history of ceramic art in Southern California together form a single narrative. “Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California 1945-1975” at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, and “Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price, and Peter Voulkos, 1956-1968” at Scripps College in Claremont overlap in time period but are actually more like bookends, charting “before” and “after” states. The pivotal moment they bracket is the “tectonic shift” referred to in the title of the Scripps show, when ceramics expanded beyond the realm of craft and became a full-fledged fine art medium.

“Common Ground” is obviously the “before” show, whose narrative leads from Bauhaus-influenced potters to the early Abstract Expressionist leanings of artists like Voulkos, Paul Soldner, and even Billy Al Bengston (who seems to have made work in just about every medium). The exhibition is organized around the central figure of Millard Sheets, an important artist, but also an influential administrator who founded the ceramics departments at Scripps and later at the Los Angeles County Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design). All of the 53 artists in the AMOCA show had some connection to Sheets; many of them were hired by him as instructors, or as artists for the manufacturer Interpace Ceramics, where he served as corporate design advisor.

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Art review: Jocelyn Foye at Armory Center for the Arts

February 23, 2012 |  6:00 pm

Jocelyn Foye's "Dance, Opera, Draw"

Titled “Dance, Opera, Draw,” Jocelyn Foye’s modest exhibition at Armory Center for the Arts adds to a growing interest in cross-disciplinary collaboration, a blurring of the lines between performance and visual art.

Consisting of just three charcoal-covered canvases and a musical soundtrack, the show is minimal to a fault: It’s actually the remains of an event in which two dancers made charcoal imprints on the canvases while responding to an opera singer’s rendition of Richard Strauss’ "Salome." The whole idea sounds intriguing, but the results don’t live up to its promise.

The drawings are dark, murky things, only giving up faint traces of their creation: a few finger strokes here, some splotches there. Combined with the opera soundtrack, they take on a rather funereal air, but don’t really stand on their own as images or as installation art. Together, they raise a couple of questions: When is performance documentation also art? And how much do we need to know about the performance?

In Foye’s case, a crucial link seems to be missing. The drawings don’t tell us enough about the remarkable conditions of their creation — even the show’s brochure, with its photograph of blackened feet and hands, is more evocative. While it’s laudable to examine how movement manifests across different media, in this case, “dance” gets left out of the equation.


More art reviews from the Los Angeles Times

-- Sharon Mizota

Armory Center for the Arts, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 792-5101, through May 13. Closed Mondays.

Photo: Jocelyn Foye's "Dance, Opera, Draw," 2012. Credit: From Armory Center for the Arts.


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