In Print: Jacob Samuel’s “Outside the Box”

25The Edition Jacob Samuel exhibition, titled “Outside the Box,” celebrates LACMA and the Hammer Museum’s joint acquisition of the collection of 43 print portfolios produced by Jacob Samuel in collaboration with a host of international artists from 1988-2009. Samuel generally works with intaglio techniques, such as aquatint and engraving, but his deployment of these techniques is as varied as the group of artists he has worked with over the twenty-two years of his studio’s existence. Above all, he responds to each individual artist’s concepts and visions, helping them translate their practices into a reproducible medium. Samuel offers expertise and guidance, but in his own words, he “just show[s]up.” The finished prints themselves run the gamut of styles, from abstraction to representation, from seeming spontaneity to carefully planned and arranged wholes, from the organic to the mechanical. This range of practices and subject matter makes for a compelling exhibition.

Among the most intriguing portfolios were those that emphasized process or performance. Marina Abramovic’s Spirit Cooking, as its title implies, was envisioned as a metaphysical cookbook of sorts. The images themselves are sometimes gestural and indexical—images were scratched into the ground with the artist’s fingernail, or spit bites performed with actual spit, or handprints done in acid-resistant ground. The images interact with the printed text, complementing it with gestural impressions that somehow relate to the words, and by creating a rhythmic separation that distinguishes one ‘recipe’ from the next. Ed Moses’ Abstraktion and Apparition is a series of etched abstractions that seem at once spontaneous and carefully crafted. Spontaneous, because the organic forms recall abstract expressionist paintings, and crafted, because these images are executed in a highly process-driven medium.

Also on display is Samuel’s expertise and skill as a technician. James Welling’s Quadrilaterals and Jene Highstein’s Five Works both rely on dense patches of black without irregularity, while the images from Josiah McElheny’s White Modernismare barely there, ghostly white on white forms. Joe Goode’s Storm Trees series features fluid and amorphous illustrations, while Barry McGee’s Drypoint on Acid prints rely on a process that allows the artist to draw directly onto the plate, mimicking the original pencil drawings.

Jacob Samuel is an interesting figure—a master printer whose collaborations have intersected the careers of some of the most celebrated artists of the day—and “Outside the Box” tries very hard not to let you forget it. Certain placards perhaps go into too much detail about superficial aspects of Samuel’s relationships with the artists (i.e. Did you know he shares a common interest in jazz music/rock music/surfing with artist X?). Certainly Samuel’s resume is impressive, and the brief documentary and interview in the exhibition brochure explain how these relationships are important, but at a certain point the information begins to seem gratuitous or redundant.  This criticism is minor compared to the depth and breadth of work on display.

- By Joe Capezzuto

“Outside the Box” will be on display at the Hammer Museum through August 29th, 2010.  The work on display can be seen atwww.editionjs.com.

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Low Double Standards

IMG_0346-e1279000387395In the underrated classic Los Angeles film L.A. Story, Steve Martin fails to get a reservation at L’Idiot, a fictional hot L.A. restaurant with a line out the door, ticker tape reading the income level and importance of each dinner guest, and paparazzi at entry and exit. As Martin and his dinner guest leave, paparazzi back away, screaming, “Never mind! They’re nobodies!”

At the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the opening of “Dennis Hopper: Double Standard” felt more like a cinematic tribute to Los Angeles stereotypes than a serious exhibition. Before passing away at the age of 74 due to complications from prostate cancer, Dennis Hopper had an uneven career in art, mostly dedicated to imitating his slightly older artist friends. But at the opening, it didn’t seem to matter.

The opening was much more exciting than the show itself. Curated by Julian Schnabel, the exhibition drew an eclectic crowd from all corners of the city, everyone obsessed with the scene moreso than with Hopper’s art. Wearing gowns of peacock feathers and skintight high-waisted bandage shorts, guests took pictures of people outside, pictures of themselves, and pictures inside the gallery. Waiting by the bar, a woman wearing six-inch red high heels whispered to me, “Just to let you know, Diane Keaton and Liv Tyler and the lady who used to be married to Charlie Sheen are inside. Diane Keaton! I almost peed my pants!”

Inside, Diane Keaton was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps she was obscured by the giant fiberglass sculpture of a Mexican waiter looming in the entrance, which might have been a cultural symbol of fear, or stereotypes, or something. Either way, it rang hollow. Hopper began his artistic career with painting in the 1950’s. Some early abstract pieces on small canvases show promise, or at least, the promise of promise, which fades later on. Equally unsuccessful works use found objects and graffiti, including an early drawing of a woman with a mustache scribbled above her upper lip. As commentary on femininity and pop culture, it falls flat and graceless.

Hopper was most renowned as a photographer though, and the black-and-white photographs from the 1960’s are the best part of the exhibition. In one of the loveliest pictures, a young, golden Jane Fonda wears a bikini and aims a bow and arrow into the distance, full of promise. Other subjects include Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ike and Tina Turner cheerfully posing with a giant inflatable Coke bottle.

After the year 2000, however, Hopper reproduced some of these earlier photographs to billboard size, with garish results. “I kind of hate this,” said one woman, standing next to a giant black and white reproduction of Andy Warhol, who is holding a droopy iris flower and oozing self-importance. The piece seems preoccupied with itself, more like a painting in a Hollywood comedy about the L.A. art scene rather than actual art.

And after looking at the umpteenth photo of Warhol, the title of the show begins to make sense. One wonders, did Hopper’s creativity lead to his fame, or was his fame a result of his access to renowned artists and celebrities? Are the two qualities really inseparable from one another? Was Dennis Hopper’s artistic fame a double standard? After all, Hopper starred in everything from Easy Rider and Blue Velvet to “classics” like Speed and Super Mario Bros., and dabbled in all types of art, equally embraced for his creative eccentricity as he was exiled for his drug use. But Hopper’s cinematic career was more interesting than his artistic one, and as a big survey exhibition, the show sells Los Angeles short. The art scene in the city is much more complicated and intriguing than this exhibition gives it credit for, and MOCA must have access to many more talented artists.

But as the night wore on, no one at the opening seemed to care. The guests stood at tables outside, drinking from clear plastic cups, and everyone watched one woman yelling and dancing to DJ tunes by herself. A plump MOCA photographer leaned against the wall, waiting to capture the L.A. moment.

- By Cassandra McGrath

“Dennis Hopper: Double Standard” is on view at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA until September 26. For more information, please visit www.moca.org, or call 213-626-6222.

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The Gardens of LACMA

201006_0325-460x306At around 4:00 PM on Sunday, June 27th, Guy Hatzvi of Farmlab, in association with Metabolic Studio, was rushing down to Marina Del Rey to find a replacement pump for the installation project entitled “Bldg. 209: Garden Folly (Indexical of Strawberry Flag)” that was to officially open to the public at the LACMA Campus in the next hour. Fortunately, he knew exactly what he was looking for: it’s a type of aeroponic generator that allows for a nutrient-rich water solution to be drip-fed through a series of I.V. tubes connecting a system of sick strawberry plants. The project was conceived by Lauren Bon, the founder of both Farmlab and Metabolic Studio, and her team of dedicated employees had been setting up the installation all week. But at the last minute, of course, the original pump broke down, and it was up to Guy to get a new one up and running by 5:00 PM.

This one task—obviously essential to the success of Bon’s operation on its opening night—was actually just a small tributary within the vastly ambitious constellation of works now going on at LACMA under the title of EATLACMA. In a sentence, this one-year-long, multi-faceted commitment from the Museum sets out to delve into the social, artistic, cultural, environmental, and humanitarian meanings behind natural food growth. In fact, this undertaking is so large, it’s hard to do it justice in a simple blog post, so I’ll just focus on the garden installations for now:

Along with “Bldg. 209: Garden Folly (Indexical of Strawberry Flag)”—which itself is indexical of a much larger work entitled “Strawberry Flag,” located three miles west of LACMA at the Veterans Administration of West Los Angeles (a bus will soon be available to take visitors in between the two sites)—there are also five other installation gardens on or around the LACMA campus.

One is called “Promiscuous Production: Breeding is Bittersweet” by the National Bitter Melon Council (yes, it exists). This tunnel-shaped, bamboo structure doubles as an experimental breeding ground for the hybrid, never-before-seen, BitterSweet melon. Through the age-old process of cross-pollination, visiting participants can actually partake in the experiment themselves by attending a series of day-long events intended to promote community, generate discussion, and—don’t forget—make melons.

A little bit further east is “Food Pyramid”—conceived by Didier Hess—which is a solar-powered, aquaponic garden that simultaneously questions the traditional food pyramid most Americans grew up on; presents an eco-friendly, soil-free alternative to gardening; and cultivates all the necessary ingredients for a delicious fish taco—including the Tilapia.  It’s also aesthetically pleasing, peaceful to be around, and fun to contemplate with friends.

Just off the southeast border of the LACMA complex, on the corner of Wilshire and Curson, sits your typical traffic circle, the median point between pedestrian walk signs, the border between east-bound and west-bound traffic. But now there is also a garden of radishes, as planned and planted by Islands of LA in a project they call “The Roots of Compromise.” The traffic island itself is controlled by a variety of bureaucracies, and together, they agreed upon the root vegetable of the radish as the appropriate plant for their shared circle of land. The resulting food is representative of this small, but successful compromise.

Way over on the west end of LACMA, a crooked, polygonal potato garden lays flat and almost unnoticeable between the Ahmanson and the Art of the Americas buildings. But, according to the little placard placed in the soil, amidst at least 12 types of potato plants, “The varieties [of potato] exist as a result of coincidences, accidents, planning, violence, and careful custody over thousands of years. Through tracing their different backgrounds, a history of human desire appears.” The placard also directs viewers to a website, allowing them to cellularly interact with the incredible stories behind each strain of potato. The website is www.potatoperspective.org, the project is titled “The Way Potatoes Go 8000-BCE-Present: A Potato Perspective on an American Matter,” and was developed by sa Sonjasdotter in collaboration with the communities of the Potato Park (yes, it too exists).

Finally, on the north end of the LACMA campus, just below 6th street, there stands a small, Roman theater of sorts, not unlike a miniature version of the restored Theater of Caesaria. Beginning November 7th, this is the site of what shall be known as the “Public Fruit Theater,” a magical little installation concocted by the people of Fallen Fruit. In this theater, there will be only one performer (depending on how you look at it, that is), and that performer is a tree. Visitors are invited to come watch the growth process of this concrete-locked tree as if they were witnessing the slow arc of a character’s development on stage. In this way, the episodic relationship between the tree, the viewer, and also the other audience members creates a story, much like the ones we look for in theatre.

But back to Guy, and his aeroponic generator. Come 4:30 PM, he’s able to make it back to LACMA, and set up the device just in time for the first waves of curious onlookers. I observe the fragile configuration of hanging strawberry plants he helped set up, each interconnected by small life-lines of dripping nutrients, each literally holding on by a thread of survival, completely dependent upon one pump. I know it’s supposed to be representative of the plight of the Veterans in Los Angeles, but it’s also symbolic of the six gardens themselves, and beyond that, EATLACMA as a whole, and beyond that, the city of Los Angeles. I could go on and on, but you should probably just visit for yourself, and that way, become part of the garden.

For more information on EATLACMA, please visit http://eatlacma.org/about/, or call (323) 857-6000.

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photoAfter unknowingly attempting to attend a film during the release of the new TwilightSaga movie, Eclipse at the Arclight in Hollywood last night I was shocked to find the parking garage closed with a sign saying “full”. Aggravated in disbelief, I turned around to head home, and noticed a metered spot had just become available outside the theatre. I swerved into the space, scooped my sweater out the back seat and went to read the meter only to find that it is now $3.00 an hour to park in Hollywood (or 5 minutes a quarter). I took off to try to make the film only to discover the prices at the Arclight had gone up again.

In a town where change is omnipresent and the increase of day-to-day expenses make us feel we are in New York, there are less and less opportunities to experience the arts on a budget (did I mention the yellow plastic sunglasses in a 3-D film that will cost you your Popcorn and Diet Coke?) However, there is a beacon of hope nestled in the heart of Century City beneath the towering buildings that won’t cost you a penny and is sure to blow your socks off without wearing any yellow sunglasses.

The Annenberg Space for Photography, which has been open for a little over a year now, is as much an experience wandering through the curvy, camera-shaped building as it is seeing the photographs inside. Much more than just a traditional display area for prints, the digital projection gallery has two 7’x14’ seamless glass screens with real-projection imaging systems that exceed the level of image quality offered by Blu-Ray players. Watching photographs appear and fade with this caliber of stunning clarity and saturation paired with surround sound music will make your eyes and ears meld into one – taking the photographic image to the next level.

For the second year runningArclight the Annenberg Space for Photography is proud to host ‘Pictures of the Year’, a collection of the most outstanding documentary photography from 2009, recognized by Pictures of the Year International (POYi). With over 45,000 entries submitted from all over the world, the show is a pure visual story that explores humanity far beyond the greatest headline stories of 2009. Held for 65 years in Missouri, Los Angeles is fortunate to have the 67th annual exhibit return after it’s west coast debut last year.

With so many photographic stories being covered, the show is broken into four Categories: The United States War and Economy, The Human Experience, Ecologies and Economies, and The Globe. What makes the Annenberg Space for Photography unique is the digital features that play in the projection gallery. No longer is photography just a printed subject in a frame, but a visual story being told in a cinematic way, giving the viewer a greater insight to what is occurring inside the frame.                                                                                    67-CAA-01-SincS-A-01                    Be sure not to miss Stephanie Sinclair’sPolygamy in America” about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) community in Eldorado, Texas. Also, Kitra Cahana’s portraits of teenage runaways who gather once a year in a different American national park are sure to drop your jaw.

Every now and then we come across photographs online or in magazines and newspapers that we cannot escape – they stick with us and often become permanent representations of a time or place. The images from ‘Pictures of the Year” may only exist for one moment but can last a lifetime. And that’s totally worth a free admission.

- By Gray Malin

The exhibit runs through October 10th and more information can be found on the Annenberg website, http://www.annenbergspaceforphotography.org/. Hours are Wednesday – Sunday 11:00-6:00pm.

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Forced Rebellion

4642590394_3ce12defcc_oIn the early 1960’s, special operatives from the CIA secretly recruited and trained over a quarter of the Hmong people—a minority ethnic group who lived in the mountains of Laos and were known for their combat skills—to fight against the north Vietnamese Communists. They were dubbed the “Special Guerrilla Unit,” and by the time of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, over 12,000 of them had died fighting in battle, many more injured. The remaining survivors were left to fend for themselves in Communist territory, and under constant threat of governmental persecution. Many were forced to flee to Thailand, and in the 1990’s-early 2000’s, were again forced to return to Laos. Fearing sustained persecution, thousands of Hmong  fled to the jungles to live a nomadic lifestyle, where they remain targets of attack.

For three weeks in early 2010, artist/photojournalist KC Ortiz willingly joined and lived with the last surviving members of the Hmong people in the jungles of Laos. The process of gaining access to this seclusive, nomadic, and persecuted group took Ortiz two years.

Ortiz’s images—all in black-and-white—which hang in the back room of the newly established Known Gallery on Fairfax under the title “Forced Rebellion,” reveal a stark, multi-generational, Flying Dutchman society. Constantly on the move, the Hmong cannot afford to plant crops, or build permanent shelters; the jungle, their only real home, serves as the background for almost every photograph. Most of the subjects hold AK-47’s in their arms, sometimes alongside a newborn baby. Their entire demeanor is one of defense. They stare into the lens of the camera solemnly, almost judging it—and by extension, the viewer.

Ortiz got his start documenting graffiti artists in the Chicago area (the work of his former subject, Pose, a major name in the street-art movement, is on view in the front room of Known Gallery), and his journey toward covering more remote, often subjugated cultures in the world is one of extreme courage. He has shot photographs of Vietnamese cancer patients, Burmese migrant workers, the Hong Kong lower class, and Delhi Tuberculosis victims. Word has it that his next mission is the Colombian drug trade.

Here in LA, it’s often too easy to dismiss socially conscious photojournalism, as if it were simply some type of clever “hook.” But seeing Ortiz’s work, and reading about what went into it, one can see it is just as personal as any other form of photography—or artwork, for that matter. He, much like the Hmong soldier posing center-frame with his rifle, stands for rebellion: a conscious, slow, determined, little-seen, and worthwhile rebellion.

Known Gallery is located at 441 North Fairfax Avenue. KC  Ortiz’s “Forced Rebellion” is on view until June 12th. For more information, please call (310) 860-6263, or visit www.knowngallery.com.

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Tales From New York: Skin Fruit!

skinfruit100405_560In 1985, world-renowned Greek art collector Dakis Joannou acquired One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank after viewing the work at Jeff Koons’s “Equilibriums” exhibition in the Lower East Side in New York City. In many respects One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank functions as a keystone piece indicative of the ideology and focus of Koons’ artistic practice, which is built on ways of seeing, both internalizing and realizing the self.  A pristine Spaulding basketball with goose pimpled treads is suspended in the center of an airtight water chamber, devoid of oxygen, motion, and any traces of the human hand.  The object through which we are most familiar by our ability to touch is only available to us behind a veneer of glass.  By manufacturing a strong divide between the viewer and the object inside the case, the tank becomes a source of kaleidoscopic reflection manipulating the appearance of any surrounding art objects. The introspection Koons arouses within the viewer speaks to the inspiration of his curatorial feet for “Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection”, which just ended its three-month tenure at The New Museum in New York City.

In a friendly twist of roles, Koons selected works from Dakis Joannou’s own collection to create a fantastical spectacle that transformed the floors of the New Museum into a fun house of contemporary art: towering sculptures constructed of fragmented matter; a daily performance of a passerby who strips from their street clothes into a loin cloth and crown of thorns, only to hang from a crucifix outfitted with a bicycle seat; and even a full-on chorus of museum guards singing “this is propaganda” in a tone similar to a Gregorian chant.

The fourth floor of the exhibit proves to be the most visually diverse and confounding as the elevator opens and the viewer is aligned with David Altmejd’s The Cave, a towering shard of glass that divides and refracts Charles Ray’s Fall ’91, a female mannequin outfitted in a blue skirt suit.  She would be considered dainty and feminine if not for her enlarged proportions and nine-foot stature.  Positioned directly across from the mannequin is a sparkling and bedazzled streetwalker, Liza Lou’s Super Sister, who cocks a gun against her wide hips.  The positioning seems intentional as it signals hyper femininity and sexuality that become conflated through the single prism of The Cave.

Descending upon each floor, the viewer not only witnesses the complete invagination of the body and its vulnerability, but the viewer themselves become untangled, and unglued in their efforts to gain understanding. The human form is continually considered and reconsidered through a literal and metaphorical dissection of “skin.” Like Urs Fischer’s melting wax sculpture What if the Phone Rings—in a constant state of decay as the candles that are lit inside the mold cause the sculpture to melt and disintegrate on the floor.

Perhaps it is this type of embedded catharsis within “Skin Fruit” that makes it linger with you days after you left the museum, reminding us that art is a living entity which sheds its own skin.

- By A. Moret

Related Los Angeles news:

This Sunday, June 13th, at 10 AM, the A.N. Abell Auction Co.—a family business run out of the City of Commerce since 1916—will hold its Spring Fine Art and Antique Auction. Normally, this event is the LA Art World’s best kept secret, as it is confined to invitees only. But this year, everyone’s invited. And among the amazing items up for grabs are two exemplary works by iconoclastic, American contemporary artist, Jeff Koons.

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Art Unites, But Not United

Gallery800_openingFor those not lucky enough to have someone who works in art department as a personal acquaintance, let me let you in on a little secret: they are some of the most talented and diversely knowledgeable people you will ever meet. They are the ones responsible for the physical “look” of any film or television show you see. Give an average person a ream of paper and they can load a printer for you; give someone in the art department a ream of paper and they are likely to produce a mind blowing installation of a thousand origami cranes.

And that was the main reason I was so excited to check out the “Art Unites” exhibition at Gallery 800 in the NoHo Arts District. Gallery 800 showcases the work of members of the Art Directors Guild, IATSE Local 800. With nearly 2,000 members who work in film, television and theatre as Production Designers, Art Directors, and Assistant Art Directors; Scenic, Title and Graphic Artists; Illustrators and Matte Artists; and Set Designers and Model Makers, Local 800 is most certainly chock-full of creativity and talent, so I was expecting an inspiring afternoon.

I couldn’t imagine what the work of these artists would be like when left to their own devices without the constraints of a crazy production schedule, some pretentious director’s vision, or a caffeine addled brain (okay, so maybe the caffeine stays). I obviously made the rookie mistake of expecting too much, however, because even though it pains me to say it, I was disappointed with what Local 800 had to offer. I expected the work to be prolific, and while it was technically skilled, very little of it was moving or innovative. The number of traditionally themed oil and acrylic portraits, landscapes and florals felt stale and ordinary. Where the heck were my paper cranes?

Also, while I think the idea behind Gallery 800 is an admirable one, having 30 artists featured together without a focus or theme left the show a bit disjointed. Putting an art exhibit together provides the curator an opportunity to make a commentary, but this seemed more like an overtly random collection—much like a student show. I found myself standing in the middle of the gallery trying to suss out a common thread and just when I thought I had finally found one – because what self respecting Art History major can’t over analyze an exhibit to find the deeper meaning – nothing.

Issues of personal taste and lack of cohesion aside, I do believe in what Gallery 800 is trying to accomplish by giving the unsung heroes of  many of our favorite films and programs their own platform. While I didn’t enjoy the show as a whole, I don’t doubt that there is an abundance of talent in Local 800 as there were definitely some bright spots. So while I wouldn’t make a special trip to the 818, if you find yourself in the valley this summer (because it isn’t hot enough where you live), stop by Gallery 800. Just don’t expect to find any paper cranes.

Gallery 800 is located at 5108 Lankersheim Blvd. in North Hollywood. For more information, please call (818) 763-8052, or visit www.artdirectors.org/?art=gallery_800.

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deFineArtsLA: Stuff It!

BREWER_frick_N_frackGrowing up on a farm in South Carolina affords memories of a childhood of which few could dream—the apple orchard where barefoot we would run, yes. The chorus of cicadas droning in the sunset, yes. And the wood-paneled living-rooms adorned with the stuffed heads of dear, oh yes, sweet Carolina.

I know most of you probably think taxidermy is a little abnormal. Creepy.  Backwoods. It both fascinated and terrified me as a child. I’d look up at the buck head mounted above my grandfather’s fireplace and imagine how it got there—the old Quasimodo-type hunched over a pile of loose skin, a long needle and thread pinched in his thick fingers haunted my imagination.

Taxidermy is much more than a backwoods craft, though. It’s an art whose roots stem back to the 18th Century, when hunters began to have the skins of prized hunts mounted to preserve them as trophies. It wasn’t long before taxidermists were getting creative—take the work of Walter Potter, who constructed whimsical dioramas with mounted animals mimicking human life.

A recent trend in the field is rogue taxidermy, the fabrication of mounted animals which do not have live counterparts. If ever you visit Wyoming, you may see a jackalope, the famous horned jackrabbit so fast that it can’t be seen by the human eye.  If this Friday you visit La Luz de Jesus in Los Feliz, you can see even more. Robert Marbury will curate the “Rogue Taxidermy Show” with his partners Scott Bibus and Sarina Brewer of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists—the organization who coined the term in 2004. Taxidermists working in the field use “recycled” animals—from roadkill to discarded livestock—to create a bizarre and fantastic body of work. The show runs from May 7th through the 30th, and promises to deliver high art, in both concept and craftsmanship. They even will have a live demonstration on the 8th! If you’re an animal lover, don’t worry—no animals were killed for the sake of a mount—all the sources are recycled. It’s nice to know that 3000 miles from home, taxidermy is alive and well.

By Helen Kearns

“The Rogue Taxidermy Show” opens on Friday, May 7th and runs until May 30th at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Feliz. Reception begins at 8 PM on the 7th and ends at 11 PM.  For more information, please visit www.laluzdejesus.com, or call 323-666-7667.

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Wish Fulfillment

1207582406_c456cce5d6On an overcast Tuesday afternoon, when the traffic from the nearby 10 and 405 freeways is just starting to pack in, Bergamot Station in Santa Monica looks and feels more like an industrial depot center than one of Los Angeles’s prime gallery  hubbubs, and local art-dealer hot-spot of international acclaim. The parking lot if half-empty. Lonesome employees rumble by with crates full of water-cooler jugs. Sporadic patrons drift in and out of massive gallery spaces. On the whole, the place seems cold, even uninviting.

That is unless you accidentally stumble into the hallway of the Santa Monica Museum of Art—denoted only by a metallic sign that says “Museum”—and find yourself wondering what all the small, clay objects are doing strung up on the wall, as if hanging from massive, marker sketches of keys, backpacks, doorknobs, and necklaces. It’s this quaint collection of colorful figurines which, from first sight, breathes humanity into an otherwise blue atmosphere. For good reason too: every ornament on the wall is made by an artist below the age of 18—mainly ranging from 5-years-old to 10.

It’s called Wall Works: Project Icons and is the brainchild of clay and found-object artist Anna Sew Hoy. In collaboration with SMMA and six participating schools from around the Los Angeles area, Hoy asked children from kindergarten through 12th grade to describe their personal wishes, and transform them into pocket-sized “talismans” to help visualize their fulfillment. The wishes themselves, as written in the kids’ own handwriting, and paired with photographs of their corresponding talismans, can be viewed in conjunction with the exhibition. And all it takes is a quick glance at one or two of these wishes to get you digging through them like a treasure chest filled with jewels of innocent brilliance.

“I wish for a talking star to play with me,” writes Karina, who’s  yellow clay star sports sunglasses and a full rack of teeth.

“I had a limen tree so I can have limen juice,” says Megan. And no, this is not simply poor spelling, because Megan’s talisman is neither a lemon nor a lime. Not yellow nor green. It’s in between. It’s a limen. Why no sports drink has come up with this word combination before is beyond me.

It’s interesting: most of the younger kids’ wishes have to deal with fruit, or animals, mice in particular. And the pocket icons they create to represent these wishes are all courageously distorted versions of reality—imperfect, and yet lovely. Only when the children and their respective handwriting grow older, more refined, do the wishes become more realistic and abstract at the same time. Earnestness and anxiety replace playfulness.

“To be good at soccer,” one boy announces. “To be a better basketball player.” “To have a bigger garden.” “To be an architect.” Most all are sports and career related, with the occasional plea for world peace thrown in the mix. The older kids’ clay talismans also become more defined and mimetic, while losing some of the accidental whimsy of of their younger counterparts.

Extrapolating the results—or at least my observations—of Hoy’s project into the greater art-world, I can see how a place like Bergamot Station can seem so cold, the warm humor of its art lost in the jumble of warehouses and parking spaces. It’s the fulfillment of those older childens’ wishes for bigger and better things taking over the goofy vitality of those younger, fruit-and-mouse wishes.

And yet still, when you look at the wall of hanging talismans, they all pretty much look alike, old and young together. Each one the subject of natural distortion—due to the imperfect nature of clay-work—and each one something more than just a good luck charm. They are tactile. You can feel the wishes with your fingers. You can see it. It’s not just an airy idea. It’s a creation.

Anna Sew Hoy’s Wall Works: Project Icons can be viewed at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in Bergamot Station until May 31. For more information, please visit www.smmoa.org, or call (310) 586-6488.

Posted in Art, Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Exhibitions, Galleries, Mixed media, Museums, Neighborhoods, Santa Monica No Comments »

What’s What in the Art World at Large (And What To Do in LA)

yves_saint_laurentWe may be geographically far from, well, everywhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep up with all the arts endeavors across every which pond.  So here’s a bit of news (for the very serious and elite readers) and a bonus round of what’s going on in LA that really deserves your attention (for those who care about little outside LA county).

First, a stop in Paris at the Petit Palais.  The Parisian museum brings to the fore the artistic achievements of none other than Yves Saint Laurent.  Curated by Florence Muller and Farid Chenoune, the exhibit, called Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective features gowns, menswear, some of the designer’s treasured personal items used in creative pursuits, and it highlight themes used throughout the many collections in Saint Laurent’s illustrious career.  One ticket to France, please! {Global Post}

Onto Italy.  In Milan, our very own Placido Domingo’s Operalia competition has commenced.  Founded in 1993, Domingo’s opera competition is meant to find the cream of the crop amongst new talent in opera.  The singers represent not only a range of vocal categories (from coloratura soprano to the lowest bass), but also an array of countries around the world.  The competition ends May 2 (this Saturday), so you’ll have a new vocalist’s career to follow starting Sunday, May 3rd.  We have a feeling it will be meteoric.  {Culture Monster}

Not to shower the French with too much attention, though they don’t mind, Sotheby’s has made quite the announcement prior to the upcoming auction season.  The storied (and once thought lost) private collection of legendary Parisian art dealer Amrboise Vollard is set to meet the auction block.  His career was spent promoting such up-and-comers as Picasso, Cezanne, and Renoir and Vollard’s collection includes not only paintings, but such enticing items as prints, drawings, and artist books.  The sale will be held in London on June 22, so brush up on your British colloquialisms.  {ArtInfo}

Back at home, there is much to celebrate.  Dig into your pockets just a bit to buy yourself a ticket to the Architecture and Design Museum’s official Grand Opening!  For $75, you’ll mingle with a veritable who’s who of the architecture and design world in LA at the reception tomorrow night (April 27), (hint: you can also find them anywhere from Father’s Office to Tar Pit on weeknights), check out the first exhibit, and bid on things at the silent auction.  {A+D Museum}  Also, if you haven’t uploaded his schedule into your iCal already, Gustavo Dudamel has returned to the LA Phil – he’s conducting pretty regularly from now through May 8 on a number of concerts all worthy of splurging for tickets.  {LA Phil} This is your last chance to see LACMA’s exhibit Renoir in the 20th Century.  The exhibit closes May 9. {LACMA} Last, but certainly not least, turns out that parodies of Wagner and his Ring Cycle abound.  LA Times’ Culture Monster shows us the best of the best. {Culture Monster}

Posted in Architecture, Art, Bring Your Flask, Classical Music, Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Downtown, Exhibitions, Fashion, Festival, Food & Drink, Galleries, Miracle Mile, Museums, Music, Neighborhoods, Old School, Painting, Personalities, Photography, The Social Scene No Comments »