I call it ORANGES

Art Reviews, Cultural Bric a Brac, Jargon Free

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

I am an independent writer living in Los Angeles. I write Visual Art Reviews, General Cultural Essays, and Book Reviews.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Thoughts on a Year of Art

This was my first full gallery year in Los Angeles. Here are the ones that struck me:

1. Charles Ray, Regen Projects: The best sculpture I’ve seen in years, and I stand by my claim absolutely that Ray is the best pure sculptor in the city. Ten years to complete, his Hinoki tree, made from Japanese Cypress, took over Regen II with its chalky orange bark, twisting broken branches, and light, buoyant existence. You get close and pour over the carving, its thousands of hatch marks pervading the surface. Ultimately, the work is an exercise in the slowing of time, and I will follow the aging of the wood over the course of my lifetime.

2. Medieval Treasures from the Cleveland Art Museum, the Getty: Simply put, a wonderful journey through time. Like the Sinai show of 2006, the Getty presented objects that needed little introduction but vast amounts of time to savor and enjoy.

3. Vincent Johnson, LAXART: Johnson basically took an old Los Angeles air raid siren from the cold war, restored it, and set it right in the middle of a gallery. Gleaming red and confrontational, this found object was endlessly interesting in its own right. Johnson told me that many such colossal engines of noise sat atop tall poles all around the city, sentinels of a troubled age. Johnson left the key in the ignition, a foreboding gesture for contemporary times.

4. Becca Mann, Roberts and Tilton: I was surprised no one really reviewed or discussed this show. Perhaps it was because Mann’s paintings have an overly recognizable pale, washy pallet so pervasive in contemporary painting or maybe we are just not used to seeing a specifically American view of the 19th century, imagery out of civil war history, mining camps, and westward expansion. This was an incredibly sad, creepy show, full of lost relatives and haunting evocation straight out of Poe. In the art world, we usually get our Poe through Baudelaire, our romanticism through silly skulls and lace, and our history from revisionists and polemicists. Mann finds and presents all of these things but in a thoroughly original, beautiful way.

5. Slater Bradley, Blum and Poe: Slater Bradley has not convinced me in the past, but his awakening of lost 19th and early 20th century histories through his use of his doppelganger finally got me. He somehow linked scrimshaw carving, Thomas Edison, Mental Illness, and Singing in the Rain to list just a few of this influences. Bradley seems quite the hipster darling, but don't hold that against him.

6. Vija Celmins, Hammer Museum: Celmins is interested in the humanity and engagement of drawing, especially as a counterpoint to mass reproduction. Taking old photographs, images of sky, sea, and dirt, Celmins’ unbelievable, superrealistic talent is astonishing. I honestly thought the Hammer show would get repetitive and have a sort of “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” feel, but it never did. The show just grabs you, and you are happy to stay around a while.

7. Jeni Spota, Sister Gallery: Perhaps the most charming show of the year, Spota’s tiny paintings inspired by Pierre Paolo Pasolini’s religious visions emerged from their canvases as if Spota plucked the images from a soup of unmixed oils. Her effort somehow sustained the metaphor of order from chaos without being heavy-handed, somehow managed to address religion without being offensive or juvenile. Admittedly, the use of Pasolini is far from daring, but it was a nice show nonetheless.

8. Video Art from China, Morona Kiang: I did not see all of this show, and to see all of it would have been a daunting, ten hour task. However, the works I saw, especially Ai Weiwei’s Chang’an Boulevard, 2004 and Chin Chuih-Jen’s The Factory, 2003, convinced me of the possible depth of Chinese video art. This is was a show that asked you to study, to explore, and find art you’ve never seen before.

9. Scott McFarland, Regen Projects: Most critics remain underwhelmed with McFarland’s photography. Afterall, there is a long, perhaps now tired lineage of manipulated photography, especially during a year of Gursky and Wall retrospectives. However, I was taken with this show and McFarland’s altering of natural surroundings, ruins, urban parks and gardens was subtle enough to be very interesting to the eye, calling you to carefully search each photo for the changes.

10. Kim Dingle, Kim Light Gallery: This has to be my guilty pleasure show of the year. I did not want to like the paintings, all of young girls running amok with large birthday cakes. However, I like that Dingle noticed that so many painters use paint as simply icing these days. I like her ability to just acknowledge that trend and have fun with it. This show was silly, but in a good way. The little girls misbehave in a wanton, joyful way, all future princesses and Sex in the City terrors but currently just cute and childish in a way that matches their age. I don’t want to fail to mention that Dingle is very proficient with paint and these were professional, highly finished works.