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Current Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions:
Doug Simay's Best Picks

Coleen Sterritt at Overtones (Venice through mid February).  The exhibition at Overtones is curatorially shared by Donna Napper (formerly of den Contemporary) and Overtone’s leader, Elizabeta Betinski.  It is a fine exhibition – the standout masterpiece being a large new sculpture by Coleen Sterritt that fills the street-frontage window.  We have Donna to thank for bringing Sterritt’s artistic results back into the public eye.  Overtones has moved westward down Venice Blvd. a couple blocks west of Centinela.

Joel Shapiro at LA Louver (Venice through Feb. 14).  Shapiro has been making his iconic sculptures for a very long time.  His are animated, geometric abstractions with loads of biomorphic metaphor.  In this show the new work is dominantly constructed of wood with finishes done in oil paint or casein.  One can always recognize Shapiro’s work and it is their beauty and subtle new variations that keep his sculpture alive and fresh.


John Divola at Gallery Luisotti (Bergamot through March 7).  Anybody reading my “Best Picks” knows that I think Divola is one of America’s most important photographic artists.  In this exhibition he shows very new work that reflects on the structural theme that he first used in launching his career 30 years ago (photographing the interiors of vandalized buildings that have spray painted additions to their interior). In this series he has spray painted black circles (thus the series title “Dark Star”) on interior white walls.  Christopher Knight has written a flattering and accurate review of this show: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/01/review-john-div.html  To compare this Divola work with Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist painting of the mid 19-teens is exactly correct. 

Richard Shaw at Frank Lloyd (Bergamot through Feb. 14). Shaw is the undisputed master of trompe l’oeil ceramic sculpture.  He got his MFA in 1968 and has never faltered in pursuing the highest craft of clay.  His work reflects the Northern California aesthetics as shared by William Wiley and Robert Arneson. 

Amy Bennett at Richard Heller (Bergamot through Feb. 14).  Richard Heller continues his recent roll of showing technically superb painters.  Amy Bennett paints oil-on-panel scenes of vacation spots at the edge of forests by the shore of placid lakes.  The work is luscious and straightforward and finds its strength in the same sweet, sublime way as the mid-20th-century painter Fairfield Porter. 

Russell Crotty at Shoshana Wayne (Bergamot through Feb. 21).  In a surf-crazed state, Russell Crotty must certainly be one of the longest lived enthusiasts.  His volumes of doodles and sketches that slavishly record the wave, the surfer, and these two-as-one ranks with On Karawa for devotional practice.  I am not a fan.  If these drawings were his personal practice – OK.  But brought into the marketplace the work appears now as “cute”.  Cute is not an intellectually positive word.  

Alex Couwenberg at William Turner (Bergamot through Feb. 21).  Couwenberg has been getting a lot of view of late.  His last show with Peter Blake in Laguna Beach was as rich as this exhibition.  The abstraction is very 60’s and nostalgia for the 60’s and 70’s now seems to hold the art world’s fascination. 


With financial retrenchment shaking out the art market, I applaud the swelling interest in our 20th century art history.  Ultimately it is connoisseurship that underpins art history and thus the marketplace.  Here’s to a “flight to quality.” 

Hammer Museum (Westwood): Oranges and Sardines (through Feb. 8), Gouge (through Feb. 8), Other People (through March 15), Aaron Curry (through Feb. 1).  It’s Hammer time.  In this instance Hammer gets 4 stars – one for each of  these terrific shows.  “Gouge” is a tremendous survey of the modern woodcut from 1870 to now.  Educationally this show is superb.  “Other People” pairs portraits from the Grunwald and Hammer collections.  I am a big fan of portraiture and it is great to see John Sonsini and Jenny Saville next to Conrad Felixmuller and Gustav Klimt.  Curry’s sculpture is engaging and uses its appropriations with dignity. 

John Sonsini, "Gabriel", Doug Simay Collection

Sunnin Lebanese Café (1779 Westwood Blvd – just north of Santa Monica Blvd.)  Doug’s rule for driving the major LA freeways – off by 3 pm and not on again until after 8 pm.  Today one can see art in the galleries until 6 pm and then museums are open until 8 or 9 pm, as a rule.  So there is no reason to close an art viewing day until 7 pm.  Follow art with dinner and driving becomes late but sweet.  For example, on Thursdays one can do all the Santa Monica and Culver City and Westside galleries until 6 pm.  Finish the gallery day in the eastern edge of Culver City (Western Project) and then drive north on Overland (jog 4 blocks west to Westwood Blvd. when Overland runs into the Mormon Temple) and continue north to the Hammer Museum.  After 6 pm the parking rate in the lot below the museum is $3 and museum entrance is free.  Then dinner is just a half mile back down Westwood Blvd.  Sunnin Café is superb.  It has a Zagat’s 20 food rating.  Given that it is a café and take-away it is cheap.  But for Lebanese food and the colorful experience of being in a popular Lebanese meeting place – this café earns a solid “A”. 

Sush Machida Gaikotsu at Western Project (Culver City through Feb. 7).  Japan-born Gaikotsu earned his MFA at University of Nevada Las Vegas.  Damn, that art department produces some terrific painters.  The five paintings in this show are marvelous. His is a form of Pop art that is much more like the late Matisse cutouts with an Oriental twist than Warholian. Really wonderful paintings.

Moira Hahn at Koplin Del Rio (through Feb. 28).  This Anglo woman paints like a Japanese master.  Her watercolor on paper paintings seem in the style of Japanese Nishiki-e painting in the Edo period.  In her work animals (cats) stand in for human-like characters in the “tales” being told.  For me there is a tremendous resonance with the work of her contemporary, Masami Terakoa. These paintings are as great in their craft as it is possible to be using tricky watercolors. 

Farrah Karapetian at Sandroni.Rey (Culver City through February 14).  This installation of eight panels of very large photographic contact prints presents the artist as a self-portrait of her physical form and the shadows that might be her spirital form.  It is a concept of “holographic” image taken from a primitive viewpoint. 

J. Bennett Fitts at Kopeikin Gallery (West Hollywood through March 7).  Fitts large format color photographs update the Lewis Baltz modernist view of Post-Modern LA warehouse architecture by adding organic forms (trees with shadows) (as if Isamu Noguchi had his ear).  Significantly this is another inaugural show for Paul Kopeikin who re-opens in his third LA gallery location of the last 18 years.  It is a very pleasing space for photographic work and well represents the “ghost” of White Room gallery that years ago had been here and not survived.  Kopeikin is now next door to Tasende. 

Tasende Gallery (West Hollywood).  Jose Tasende celebrates his 30th year as a gallerist.  Tasende’s shows are always measured and restrained.  His galleries are calm sanctuaries in the at-times-maddening art scene.  I respect his long term faithful representation of his artists.  Give your self a few minutes to see the magnificent sculpture by Fletcher Benton and Lynn Chadwick.  The huge 2008 Fernando Botero painting of a circus family is killer Botero.  I never thought I’d say that. 

Martin Denker at Benjamin Trigano (West Hollywood – closed).  Larger than large photographic prints assembled in a computer from hundreds of other photographic images.  Brain salad. 

Lucien Clerque at Louis Stern (West Hollywood through March 21).  There are so many pictures of Picasso that they seem generic.  Lucien Clerque was a great good friend of Picasso.  The photographs in this exhibition show the human and personal side of Picasso.  Picasso appears as a mortal everyman.  The power of Clerque’s work is the legitimacy of seeing “Picasso the titan” as a buddy and friend.  This is an excellent show.   

Anish Kapoor at Regen Projects (West Hollywood through February 28).  Of all the current shows in LA this is the NUMERO UNO.  Wow!  These drawings are paintings.  These abstractions are figurative.  These close-up macro views are cosmic in scale.  The works dance between one reality and another with ease and total license.  Miss this show and you’ve missed a great chance to see everything that painting has to offer –even if they are “drawings”. 

FADA Los Angeles Art Show (Convention Center – closed).  This art fair in the Convention Center was big and beautifully presented.  There were lots of carpeted walkways with large open booths and great lighting.  The 160 galleries represented art from old masters to very contemporary.  The quality of the work was undisputable.  The juxtaposition of art forms from the last hundred years through Contemporary fostered connoisseurship.  But I came away enervated.  I have been trying to figure why.  I applaud the high quality of work shown. I miss the sense of experiment and wild invention that more fertile times offered.  In the final analysis I think my let-down can be attributed to the economic fatalism that pervaded all.  The dealers weren’t expecting anything and were only hoping that enough business would cover the attempt (I saw few red dots and fewer patrons carrying out packages.).  Patrons wandered and politely looked – but face it “window shopping” is not what capitalism is about.  I guess it was the lack of optimism, generally, that seemed to dominate this congregation of art fans. Very sad. 

My LA rounds were cut short by a day when I had big car trouble.  I had to pack it in and return to San Diego.  So I missed out on the Chinatown galleries, a couple Downtown shows, and specifically Monique Prieto at ACME, Eric Zammitt at Sabina Lee, Astrid Preston at the Colburn School, and Kim Abeles at the Torrance Art Museum.  Methinks another day’s drive be in my near future. 

Get out, look at art, have fun.
Doug Simay 1/27/2009 

 

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