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

September is the start of the “new” art season.  This Fall is uniquely the launch of the Getty Initiative called “Pacific Standard Time”.  PST is a region wide examination of the art of Post-War LA from 1940-1980.    Never has there been more reflection on the history of contemporary art making in SoCal.  Many of the exhibitions presented below are formally part of PST.  It is a rich history in which we all can be proud.

Lee Mullican
at Marc Selwyn (mid Wilshire through Oct. 15).
Lee Mullican (1919-1998) along with Gordon Onslow-Ford and Wolfgang Paalen formed a San Francisco group known as Dynaton in the early 1950s.  Subsequently he moved to LA, was a professor at UCLA, and regularly showed to an appreciative audience in Los Angeles.  His abstract, palette knife paintings are at the same time naturalistic while also seeming mechanical.  This leitmotiv used since the 50’s is seen regularly to this day.  But it is treat to see this style executed by a master. 

Amy Yoes
Amy Yoes
& Hilde Overbergh at CB1 (Downtown through Oct. 16).
Amy Yoes has built an organic, towering piece of ornamented architecture in the grand hall of the gallery.  I think of this construction as a sculptural model that she might use to produce highly effective silver gelatin photographs of invented architectural spaces (also on view).  Viewing her photographs is to see the intersection of James Casebere and Barbara Kasten.
Pairing the Belgian artist, Overbergh with Yoes is inspired. Overbergh reconstructs and re-contextualizes composition based on architecture.  Her paintings have a distinct feeling of architectural space though they are indeed abstractions.

Hilde Overbergh

Alexis Smith
at Thomas Solomon (Chinatown through Oct. 22).
Alexis Smith (born 1949) trained at UC Irvine with Robert Irwin and Vija Celmins.  Her conceptualist/minimalist approach to collage mines the moral lapses and warped psychology of modern America.  Solomon’s small collection of Smith’s collages is a terrific overview.

Leon Kossoff
at LA Louver (Venice through Oct. 8).
Kossoff’s greyed palette, heavy brushwork, and paintings that look labored over are perfect examples of late 20th century British painting.  It is not a SoCal approach that is for sure.  I find it curious that LA Louver is Kossoff’s exclusive worldwide representative.  After 30 years representing the artist it speaks of the integrity and dedication of Peter Goulds.  He is a dealer cut from old “cloth“.

Wes Christensen
at Santa Monica College (Santa Monica through Oct. 8).
I am a fan of Wes Christensen.  His small paintings are intricately and meticulously produced.  Their poignant, implied narrative frequently has a potentially sinister hook.

Fay Ray
at Shoshana Wayne (Bergamot through Nov. 5).
The images that Fay Ray selects to compose her collages are culled from the commerce of female image advertising.  I think I post this exhibition because between Ray’s work and that of Tm Gratkowki (see below) there is strong collage work to be seen up-now-in-LA.

Karen Carson
at Rosamund Felsen (Bergamot through Oct. 8).
Karen Carson continues to be an innovator and restless creator. Her work (this is her 18th solo show with Rosamund Felsen) frequently seems to have an architectural inclination.  In these paintings she has schematized facial expressions - coupling them with her invented typography.  The architecture of these works describes “La Condition Humaine”.

David Jien
at Richard Heller (Bergamot through Oct. 22).
Jien’s calm small paintings tell tales - sort of in the style of Indian Mughal Court paintings.  But his protagonists are an odd mix of Star Wars/Lord of the Rings characters.  All-in-all they are highly engaging and my memory continues to reflect on what I saw.

Craig Kauffman
at Frank Lloyd (Bergamot through Oct. 15).
Frank Lloyd continues to produce exhibitions that inform about art history in addition to being aesthetically beautiful.  Kauffman seems to be on everybody’s lips in these days of Pacific Standard Time.  The works in this exhibition are from the early 1960s.  Susan Larsen wrote: “They had the sleek good looks of a well-made machine animated by strong sexual overtones.  As such, they are late twentieth-century counterparts to the mechanic-erotic visions of Duchamp and Picabia.”

Don Bachardy "Chris Burden"
Don Bachardy
, Julius Shulman, Malcolm Lubliner and Carlos Almaraz at Craig Krull (Bergamot through Oct. 15 & 29).
Craig Krull as added the former Samuel Freeman gallery space to his usual space to exhibit these four artists each of whom has captured the essence of the artists and artistic life in SoCal/LA.  I love seeing portraits of the artists whose work I know and admire.  Nobody does that better than Bachardy.  Nobody shows us the utopian, Modernist aspirations of the built environment better than Shulman.  Lubliner’s photographs document the social networking of artists and patrons.  The juxtaposition of the life of Carlos Almaraz and his artistic output defines unrestrained exuberance.

Julius Shulman

Carlos Almaraz

Christopher Murphy at Lora Schlesinger (Bergamot through Oct. 22). Murphy is one of Los Angeles’ best young painters.  His crisp technique is exact and, even from across a room, readily identifiable as his .  His figures are painted with a slight impasto and reside on a very flat ground.  They become more real than photographic.  The implied narratives are intelligent and wry.  It is his totally unique manner of realist painting that consistently causes me to seek out his work.

Beatrice Wood at Santa Monica Museum (Bergamot through March 3, 2012)This exhibition is up through March - that is quite a stretch.!  I really like Beatrice Wood (1893-1998 (yup, 105 years old and the last 25 years of that life were amongst her most productive)).  I have come to appreciate her as much for her role in the art world and as a feminist as for her aesthetic product.  This exhibition best catalogs her unique ceramics.  The Oceanside Museum of Art recently had a very small but highly effective show that demonstrated Wood’s political and humanist views through her drawings and paintings.  Kudos to OMA.  SMMoA’s show would be hugely better with an OMA “take” in addition.

Betye Saar at Roberts & Tilton (Culver City through Dec. 17).
Betye Saar is a Los Angeles original.  Her Black visual-voice and the strength of her assemblage causes her work to be instantly recognizable.  This small exhibition is a good way to be reminded of the hallmarks found repeatedly in her work over the last 40 years.  It is interesting to note that she found influence in Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers
(an architectural landmark that is today receiving much interest within the arts community).

Tm Gratkowski at Blythe Projects (Culver City through Oct. 22).
Gratkowski’s large collages demonstrate a painter’s approach to collage but with a sculptor’s sensibility for how volumes are constructed and spatially relate.  They are very pleasing to experience.  With their content mostly whited out, I appreciate them emotively.

Sara Bright at George Lawson (Culver City through Oct. 15).
Ms. Bright received her MFA from UC Berkeley (I don’t see many of those beasts in the art jungle) and is now in NYC.  Her figurative abstractions are effective and remind me in their economy of HK Zamani
and Philip Guston.

Richard Allen Morris 1968
Richard Allen Morris and Ben Sakoguchi at CardwellJimmerson (Culver City through Oct.15).
The gallery continues their investigation of the LA region - their exhibition format predating the hoopla of PST by more than a year.  The current show represents the work by artists who were present when Pop Art was born but who, because they didn’t become famous, went on to other themes as “the notion of a non-famous Pop artist (is) a contradiction in terms?”.

Ben Sakoguchi 1968

DJ Hall at Koplin Del Rio (Culver City through Oct. 14).
DJ Hall is a consummate realist.  Easily identified by vibrant paintings of women, lunch, and swimming pools is Hall’s archetypical Southern California “brilliance”.  My respect for the artist now grows reflecting her painterly growth.  She has become a student of plein-air painting and the fresh gestures of a looser approach to portraiture.  This shift in technique coupled with nostalgic reflections on growing up in her family show, in this exhibition, that even the best can get better.

Matt Johnson at Blum & Poe (Culver City through Oct. 22).
Johnson presents a diverse group of six new sculptures that show ingenuity and free, wide-ranging curiosity.  He functions much like Tim Hawkinson
but with a much more formal bias.

Chad Robertson at Western Project (Culver City through Oct. 8).
Robertson is interested in creating paintings that are “visual music”.  He pastiches political imagery, personal photos, clip images from media into a maelstrom of rushing color and pictures.  Rather than trying to follow the implied meanings, I find myself just “jumping into” his visual whirlpools.

John Divola
John Divola and Judy Fiskin at Angles (Culver City through Oct. 29).
John Divola is one of the LA Basin’s - in fact one of the world’s - great photographic artists.  This isn’t a Divola show.  It is a Judy Fiskin show with a couple Divola and Amir Zaki large format photos thrown in.

Judy Fiskin
Fiskin’s small, reductive, vernacular architecture photographs are as defining of the genre as Louis Baltz
.  It is nice to see her small Dingbat photographs - - but I find her videos made between 1997-2010 (6 of them shown here) to be really sublime and well worth watching.

KAWS at Honor Fraser (Culver City through Oct. 22).
There are two large paintings in this exhibition which are quite arresting (one pictured here).  The exhibition is dominated by smaller works that, in their simplicity, demonstrate their cartoon roots.  They put me off.  The fact that I include KAWS in this issue of “Best Picks” is solely because bigger is vastly better.  Graphic design is legitimate creativity.  At its best it becomes Pop.

Joel Kyack at Francois Ghebaly (Culver City through Oct. 30).
Kyack received his MFA in 2008 from USC.  This exhibition is more effective as a sum of its parts.  That in no small measure is due to the intimate nature of the gallery space.  Why see the exhibition?  Because it is fun, quirky, invitingly experiential.

Chris Barnard at Luis de Jesus (Culver City through Oct. 15).
Luis de Jesus has moved from Bergamot to fine new quarters on S. La Cienega near Blum & Poe.  I think this is a good move for what has been shaping up as one of LA’s best art venues.  As compared to his exhibition with Sam Lee in early 2010, this body of work by Barnard is less abstract.  The interest continues to be in the military-industrial complex.

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Get out, look at art, have fun.
Doug Simay 9/18/2011 

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