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Doug Simay's Best Picks

Three days in LA.  What a difference financial crisis makes.  I had my usual conversations-across-town.  But the nature of the conversations was gloomy.  I talked with dealers who were closing, I talked with those who were going to close if sales didn’t start happening real soon, and I talked with only a couple who were realistically resigned to wait and see.  Then this last week it hit the media fan - MOCA is on the brink of insolvency. It seems the hubris at MOCA (of the director and the Trustees) has decimated their financial accounts.  In the last year on the Board of the Oceanside Museum of Art, I have been learning about what constitute great museum boards and governance.  MOCA may end up being a study case for how not to manage a museum. 

Hung Liu at Walter Maciel (Culver City through Dec. 20).  Ethnically Chinese, Hung Liu received her MFA from UCSD and is without a doubt a masterfully expressive painter.  Now 60 years old she presents large paintings executed in 2008 that are sourced from self-portraits taken since she was a child.  Each of her “look-backs” are 12 years apart (the cycle length of the Chinese calendar) during her “Year of the Rat”.  Composed as right and left panels, her portrait is in the left panel with a graphical, metaphorical symbol in the right.  The paintings have spirit and it is intriguing to watch the artist watch herself age.

Tom Wesselmann at Honor Fraser (Culver City through Dec. 20).  For the last two years everywhere I go – there’s Wesselmann.  He died in 2004 but interest in him has never been greater.  This show has a good selection of work from the 30 years 1960s – 1990s.  His idiosyncratic, cartoonish, Pop Art is unique.  There is no mistaking a Wesselmann. 

Takako Yamaguchi at CardwellJimmerson (Culver City closing).  For the last couple decades Yamaguchi has been painting in her signature Modern/Deco style - far from the interests of the current fashions of art making.  Her newest paintings are highly stylized geometric landscapes that nod toward the most heroic of late Georgia O’Keefe landscapes.  They have a refined and crisp presence.  These are the best works to date by a dedicated and skilled painter. 

Ben Grasso at Kinkead (Culver City through Dec. 20).  These paintings intrigue me because I am always seduced by architectural-type-themes.  In this series the architecture paradoxically seems to disintegrate and explode into abstraction.  Not the best abstract painting I have seen in the last 6 months – but credible.

Sasha Bezzubov and Jessica Sucher at Taylor de Cordoba (Culver City through Dec. 20).  This exhibition of photographs documents centers of spiritual tourism in India.  The large scale images of these retreats and the pilgrims who seek them offers an insight I had forgotten about since the days of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  Remember – the Oregon yogi with the Rolls Royce collection. 

Mark Mothersbaugh at Los Angeles Center for Digital Art (Downtown through Dec. 6).  Mothersbaugh’s digital photo manipulations are at the same time familiar yet alien.  Visually familiar portraits make no attempt to hide the potential for the macabre and sinister.  These are humorous characters I would not turn my back to.  If Diane Arbus had a grandson who was good with a computer, then his name would be Mark Mothersbaugh. 

Louise Bourgeoise and Martin Kippenberger at MOCA (Downtown through Jan. 25).  This is a good couple shows.  Both of these artists were very resourceful and very creative.  Both were artist’s artists. Kippenberger’s phenomenal output filled a short 20 year career (he died in 1997 at 44).  Some artists turn anything that comes to their attention into art. So they make paintings, sculpture, music…  Bourgeoise is on everybody’s lips – but Kippenberger steals the show here. 

Lilith Rockett at fifth floor (Chinatown).  Rockett was one of Chinatown’s dealers from 2005 – 2007.  She exhibits her elegant highly refined ceramic functional ware.  What is most unique here is the very fine architectural space that this gallery’s designer, Robert Apodaca, has built.  Enjoy this space.  I wish the gallerist oodles of luck.  It is a brave soul who will stand behind their belief that art is in every design we use.  Reminds me of my days doing Simayspace:Design in the late 90’s – fun to be proud of if one is willing to pay the price of being between fine and applied art. 

Darren Hostettler at Sam Lee (Chinatown through Dec. 6). Hostettler uses images of fighters, missiles, and attack machines like vector drawings.  The visually lacerated  monochromatic background of these paintings is like drawing with tracer bullets. 

Cristi Rinklin at Jancar (Chinatown through Nov. 28).  Organic abstraction.  Worth the look. 

Krysten Cunningham at Cottage Home/Thomas Solomon (Chinatown through Dec. 20).  David Pagel referred to this sculpture as “grunge formalism” in his recent review.  Seems succinctly appropriate.  I am more fascinated with this space shared by three dealers (Solomon, Sister, and China Art Objects) and the paradigm shift this offers in marketing art.  Each month a new show is presented by one of the dealers in this association.  So each gets the space for a month every three.  It is a wonderful exhibition space within a former theater.  I also enjoyed a long discussion with Thomas Solomon as he recounted the days in NYC with his mom, Holly Solomon, with tales about the retinue of young art lions who later became contemporary art royalty.

Greg Miller at David Salow (Chinatown through Dec. 13).  Really big, really precise, really colorful photographs well-framed never fail to demand attention.  These works have some real substance and offer more than a superficial “read.” 

Marina Kappos at Happy Lion (Chinatown through Nov. 29).  Kappos large, theatric paintings make more sense than Lari Pittman with whom they stylistically merge.

Eric Johnson, Nancy Kyes, Macha Suzuki at Angels Gate (San Pedro through Jan. 11).  Of all the years I have gone to see exhibitions at Angels Gate, this is THE show.  What a fine sculpture exhibition.  I have seen (and recommended Suzuki) at Sam Lee in Chinatown.  Eric Jonhson’s work is as familiar to me as my broad collection of his work can attest.  But he is making new castings here that have simplified and opened a whole new realm of creation for him.

Rachel Whiteread at Gagosian (Beverly Hills through Dec. 20).  The familiar sculptural volumes (castings of “negative space”) that this artist is known for are updated in this exhibition of new work to be “positive space” forms polychromed in rich pastels.  Some works are grouped on shelves and look like 3-D Morandi’s.  I have not to date been a fan of Whiteread’s white castings.  But while these sculptures are formal and “serious” art-making – they are also beautiful.  That is a combo that always gets my vote.

Dennis Oppenheim at Ace Beverly Hills (Beverly Hills through December).  Don’t judge Oppenheim by his engagement rings that were installed near the San Diego airport.  Wrong work at the wrong location.  His current Cactus sculptures seen at ACE are glorious.  They are as ruggedly constructed as nature’s model.  And they are as naturally sculptural as their natural world counterpart.  They are playful and gorgeous examples of the nature/techno continuum.

Lamia Ziade at Benjamin Trigano (West Hollywood through Dec. 6).  These mixed media, sculptural wall hangings make Ziade look like the stylistic heir of Wesselmann.  But this work is far more promiscuous and libertine.

Elisabeth Sunday at Louis Stern (West Hollywood through Dec.13).  Thanks again to Louis Stern for showing work that is about art, not fashion.  Though these large scale photographs are sort of about fashion – women of the Tuareg (nomadic people of the Sahara) - the layers of diaphanous dress that they wear as personal shelter cause the subjects to look like flowing, living Rodin sculptures. 

Robert Longo at Margo Leavin (West Hollywood through Jan. 10).  I know Longo from his break-out images of Men in the City from 25 years ago and from large sculptures I saw 10 years ago.  Those were very seductive and theatric works.  This show of huge drawings tells me that he loves to draw.  I think better of him for that.

Darren Waterston at Michael Kohn (West Hollywood through Dec. 20).  I liked Waterston’s paintings more before.  His former works were metaphorically like looking in a stagnant puddle with a magnifying glass.  These paintings are like looking at the cosmos.  He has gone from a micro to a macro vision.  And with the Pat Steir-like pigment-falls – well, he is trying too hard.

John Divola at Carl Berg (mid Wilshire through Dec. 13).  I think that John Divola is one of America’s most important photographers in the last 30 years. This show supports that thesis.  His diptych photos of the LAX takeover of Playa Del Rey (the airport authority bought all the real estate between the LAX runways and the ocean to create a no-person buffer zone) was a stark reminder of what a home was really worth in the 1960s.  Not so different than what some homes are worth now.  It has been suggested that a solution to the mortgage crisis and foreclosed inventory would be to raze homes.

Patricia Chidlaw at Terrence Rogers (Santa Monica through Dec. 20).  Chidlaw’s painting seems to be getting more effortless – such is the nature of practicing one’s craft.  Her luminous landscapes are beautiful.  A couple paintings in this popular show are knock-outs.  At times I think I am seeing the spirit of James Doolin in her work.

Laura Karetzky at Lora Schlesinger (Bergamot through November 29).  Karetzky’s paintings are very unique.  The realism is finely wrought.  A central figure, ineffectively obscured, lends a cinema verite emotionality to the images of static landscape.  Representational painting has plenty of room to be relevant, even today, even with cameras watching our every move.  These works are a unique and powerful example that there is plenty of new life left in figurative painting.

Robbie Conal at Track 16 (Bergamot closed).  We are all familiar with Conal’s political “poster paintings” seen since the 1970s.  This extensive survey is visually and politically powerful.  As much as I am familiar with his work – to see this show was inspiring.  To quote Howard Zinn, “(this art is) the marriage of art and politics … playing a vital role in the movement toward a just society.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all.  And have a great December holiday season, too.

Doug Simay 11/25/2008

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