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Doug Simay’s Best Picks

While I was making my LA art rounds this month, I thought I was underwhelmed.  Now on review I realize that LA is rich with experiences as it always is.  I have the luxury of 2 or 3 days in the city on these trips.  I usually go to about 75+ galleries and at least a couple museums.  My “Best Picks” are what I most respond to when I execute my art rounds. Over the last 30 years of this endeavor I am constantly reminded to never overlook nor underlook the artistic terrain.  Los Angeles is, for me, as rich as any other urban art center in this world.  I love LA.

Karen Liebowitz and Nancy Blum at Rosamund Felsen (Bergamot through Feb. 4).
Karen Liebowitz has painted this huge (16 feet x 30 feet) acrylic painting directly on the gallery wall.  The effectiveness of this piece comes not only with the fine, final result but in considering the preparatory work that went into the final realization.  Nancy Blum’s floral inventions are similarly fantastical.  Both these artists show their resolute view of worlds not ruled by science - the exhibition’s title is “Magical Thinking“.
Nancy Blum

Jerry Uelsmann at Peter Fetterman (Bergamot through March 1).
Before there was Photoshop, there was Jerry Uelsmann.  Using mechanical, darkroom tricks Uelsmann has been constructing altered realities since the 1960’s.  Born in 1934 he had his first exhibition at MOMA in 1967.  Uelsmann’s second monograph, Silver Meditations, published in 1975 was all the inducement I then needed to accept that photography could be Fine Art.

Masayuki Oda at Lora Schlesinger (Bergamot through Feb. 25).
Oda takes common objects, re-interprets them uniquely in bronze, and then installs them so that their humor is evident.  While his work is very dada it also has all the playfulness of Tom Otterness.
Also on gallery view are graphite and pen and ink drawings by Eowyn Wilcox.  Happily, as this young artist demonstrates, there is always wonderful new talent entering the visual sphere.

John Divola at Gallery Luisotti (Bergamot through March 10).
The gallery is showing Divola’s most recent work. Using a robotic camera mounted and programmed to take a sequence of large format photographs of an even larger scene, Divola “stitches” the grid of sequenced images together forming a huge landscape within which the artist sits, looking back at the Gigapan camera. His work has always had a performance element (the Vandalism series, Dogs Chasing My Car in the Desert series).  This is the first time I have seen Divola’s self image in his work.

Alex Couwenberg at William Turner (Bergamot through Feb. 18).
Alex Couwenbuerg has been getting a lot of attention.  It seems there are many other folks who also like his work. His geometric abstractions are a layering of textures and finishes constrained by sharply incised geometries.  They are very nouveau-50’s.

Randall Mooers at George Billis (Culver City through Feb. 11).
This young east coast artist has studied at the Art Students League and the National Academy in New York.  His still life, oil on panel paintings are exquisitely done.  His work in oil exactly recapitulates the intentions and ethereal spirit made famously identifiable by the Southern California artist Martha Alf.

Brian Bress at Cherry & Martin (Culver City through Feb. 25).
Bress is a film maker.  He likes being able to plumb the possibilities of the pictorial plane by putting it in motion.  His video portraits in this show are very engaging - taking me back to my introduction to Bauhaus and Russian Constructivist performance.

Peter Alexander at Nye & Brown (Culver City)
On one hand the tinted resin slabs poured by Alexander seem reductively easy.  But the work has such luminosity and seeming weightlessness that they become “pure painting”.

Tanya Batura at Western Project (Culver City through Feb. 11).
White on white - ‘tis pleasing and arty and immediately intimates formalism.  I am reminded of Brancusi’s “Sleeping Muse”.

Kevin Cooley at Paul Kopeikin (Culver City through Feb. 11).
Cooley’s series for this exhibition seem to be about viewing phenomenon.  He isolates the camera’s vision to just a particular reality. Focusing on that perception introduces possibilities for all sorts of suppositions and narratives.  He has 4 videos on view in addition to his single frame photographs.  In one video we watch a pink inner tube beginning tossed around by surging oceanic waves that cyclically push the inflatable into a rocky shoreline inlet, only to draw it ocean-ward again.  Non-harmonic oscillation.  Even his still images are “non-harmonic”.

Tim Bavington at Mark Moore (Culver City through Feb. 18).
Bavington’s brilliant paintings explode off the wall.  Initially they seem formulaic and recall in part Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland; Gene Noland.  But Bavington (MFA from UNLV) behaves more like a Synchromist (Stanton Mac-Donald Wright and Morgan Russell) interpreting contemporary music (to quote the gallery’s press release) into a “translation of the aural and emotive to the optical and conceptual”.

Ingrid Calame at Susanne Vielmetter (Culver City through Feb. 11).
Ms. Calame’s work hasn’t been seen in LA for ten years.  Her painting’s structural formula continues to be the same - a traced record of urban surfaces.  Ten years ago she created her “surface maps” using cutout vinyl - the resultant paintings appearing like organic Matisse-like abstractions.  These contemporary drawings are colored pencil on mylar - giant topographical maps of urban surfaces.  No matter what the conscious decisions for composition are, now, as ten years ago, the results are quite beautiful and abstractly poetic.

Raffi Kalenderian at Susanne Vielmetter (Culver City through Feb. 11).
Raffi Kalenderian’s work is fresh and engaging.  He has the cartoonish exuberance of David Hockney.  His characters have personality and invite curious contemplation.  The physical joy of putting color and form into painting is evident.

Kenny Harris at Koplin Del Rio (Culver City through Feb.18).
Kenny Harris is a painter’s painter.  His deft technique coupled with a spiritual understanding for his subject make his travel inspired paintings evocative to any who love to travel.  In viewing his work, I not only see what he is referencing but also feel its spirit.

Esao Andrews at thinkspace (Culver City through Jan. 28).
Esao Andrews is technically skilled and displays all the usual trappings I associate with ever pervasive “neo-surrealism”.  This New York based artist seems to offer a different take than the common Mark Ryden-like approach.  Andrews’ paintings frequently represent haunted landscapes.

Daniel Richter at Regen Projects II (West Hollywood through Feb. 18).
I was not initially impressed with Richter’s very large and colorful paintings.  They seem facile and pretentious in attempting to mean more than they do (a fact certainly supported by the turgid press release).  But the work has continued to come back into my consciousness - replaying in my memory banks.  These are wild, anarchistic paintings populated by shadowy figures that conjure up paranoid fears of violent terror. 

Rosa Loy
at Michael Kohn (West Hollywood through Feb. 25).
Daniel Richter is a German painter.  Rosa Loy is German too and works in Leipzig (currently one of my favorite “schools” for German painting).  The Leipzig painters seem to share similar mannerisms. Rather than comparing and contrasting Loy’s work with Neo Rauch, I perceive the symbolism of Edvard Munch reflected in her work.

Roy McMakin
at Ambach & Rice (mid Wilshire through Feb. 4).
McMakin’s work, last seen at Quint in La Jolla, looks particularly fine in the intimate and domestic-like setting of Ambach and Rice.

Damien Hirst
at Gagosian (Beverly Hills).
I knew what I was going to see and I went to see it anyway.  I think of Hirst as a sociologist - I don’t think of him as a visual artist.  He certainly understands the “market” and the nature of fashion and society.  He demonstrates a terminus of Conceptualism.

Moshe Elimelech
at L2kontemporary (Chinatown through Feb. 11).
Elimelech’s works are watercolor on paper.  Watercolor is unforgiving and wants to flow.  Elimelech confines the medium with clarity, precision and great confidence.  Terrific body of work.

Montgomery Perry Smith
at Sabina Lee (Chinatown through Feb. 20).
I agree with the gallery’s press release for this artist.  Perry Smith “crafts seductive materials” into soft sculptures that are “delicate and demure”.  The work “speaks to the simple powers of beauty, modesty and taste.”


Cirrus continues the investigation of late 20th century art-making in LA by searching through and re-presenting materials from its archives.  The exhibition here is about reading history and being shown relationships.  I walk away remembering where LA of today came from. The artists and issues of today have evolved from yesterday. LA does have a rich artistic history.  Many players in that history are not famous.  I hope the story of this region’s artistic processes are never lost.  There is lot more to LA’s art scene in addition to the Ferus story.

George Chann 1970s
Round the Clock at Vincent Price Art Museum (East LA College through May 25).
This exhibition presents the late 20th century LA legacy of 5 Chinese-American artists.  It seems an important and overlooked facet of cultural identity within the Southern California melting pot.  PST has facilitated cultural introspection.  The Hammer presented an excellent look at African-American artists, MOLAA in Long Beach is presenting MEX/LA (seen on this trip; I found it to be an uninspired exhibition), and, of course, the white guys of Ferus are well covered.  The VPAM show is well produced, highly informative, and well-paced.  There are so many lessons available in this show in addition to seeing excellent painting. 

Matthew Marks Gallery
opens in Hollywood.  The new, giant white box gallery is gorgeous.  Ellsworth Kelly’s work looks fine in the inaugural show.  It all looks as expensive as one would expect from this New York dealer.  In coming shows I am hoping to see quality art here rather than investment grade fashion.

Get out, look at art, have fun.

Doug Simay 1/22/2012
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