Last week I was in Los Angeles to visit my brother and while there I took in a sizable sample of the entire L.A. art scene.
On the afternoon of my arrival I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The last time I was in town, LACMA was about to unwrap their new Eli Broad Contemporary Art Museum but I couldn’t get in because the opening had been sold out for months. This time, I was able to explore the new building and its holdings without any crowds whatsoever.
LA County Museum of Art, from Wilshire Blvd.
You can take an outdoors escalator up the side of the building to enter on the third floor, where you get a nice view of Hollywood and surrounding neighborhoods. Click on the image below for a surprisingly decent full size shot taken from my cell phone (I would have used my travel camera, except that United Airlines managed to misdirect my force-checked carry-on bag via Denver even though I flew through Chicago, leaving me change-of-clothes-less and proper-camera-less for 24 hours).
Looking northward from the top of the LACMA escalator
On the third floor of the new building you find an exhibition of Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, and John Baldessari that includes some floating basketballs, a large cast “balloon” sculpture, a huge camoflage painting, and some Kellogg’s boxes. The other half of the floor contains an exhibition called “Color and Form” that focuses on German artist Imi Knoebel and a few others including some John McCracken (with a few colored planks) and, most memorably, Peter Halley with a nice group of pleasing super-saturated paintings.
One floor down is a show that relates well to Color and Form, a retrospective of Blinky Palermo. I quickly walked through a William Eggleston exhibition which had a few photos worthy of close inspection but which mostly didn’t do much for me. Occupying the ground floor are some fantastic Richard Serra cor-ten steel sculptures, swirling in and out and around and around tilting this way and that. With nobody else in the gallery, I could meander around them on my own terms.
I didn’t spend much time in the Resnick Pavilion which contained a weighty show of “Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico”, some massive sculptures from the Olmec civilization. Instead, I proceeded to the Ahmanson Building to review their excellent collection of American art. One painting that catches your eye is Granville Redmond’s beautiful semi-Impressionist “California Poppy Field”.
Granville Redmond "California Poppy Field"
A side gallery that I almost missed contained two huge beach paintings, one by Alex Katz and the other by Eric Fischl. I especially loved the Fischl both for its painterly style as well as its subject matter: the artist’s wife and his friends, including Martin Short and Steve Martin. (I’m currently reading Martin’s new novel, An Object of Beauty, which takes place in the New York art world.)
St Bart's Ralph's 70th by Eric Fischl
I finished up at LACMA with a slow, relaxing tour through their excellent modern art collection (some great Albers, a one-from-each-big-name room of AbEx painters, and more). It’s an excellent museum with so much to see and it was a great way to start the week.
On Tuesday I started off in Beverly Hills, always a fun place to walk around, and went to Gagosian’s huge, multi-room gallery that featured a fantastic exhibition of work from Joan Mitchell’s last ten years. Each of the fourteen or so large brushy paintings commands your attention and is worthy of contemplation from up close and further away. The gallery was completely empty (save for the watchful but friendly security guards); in fact, over the course of my entire stay I don’t think there was a single gallery visit where I was joined by another patron. Even on a snowy Tuesday in Chelsea you’ll find at least a few other gallery goers making the rounds, but I guess not so much on a gorgeous sunny day in Los Angeles.
Some Culver City galleries on La Cienega
I then headed south to visit the Culver City Art District where there are some 25+ art galleries lined up along La Cienega and Washington Boulevards just south of the 10 freeway. The galleries were completely deserted in terms of customers. Most were pleasant art spaces with reasonable lighting and a lot of room. George Billis Gallery, a regular stop of mine in Chelsea, has a Los Angeles venue with a different aesthetic and a SoCal focus. Few of the exhibitions in Culver City, however, stuck in my mind. One that did was Laurie Hogin’s “Stories of Love and Hunger from the Candy Planet” at Koplin Del Rio. The show consisted of skillfully painted fantastical scenes full of dragons, wild bunnies, and various other creatures in bright and textured colors. The artist writes that these paintings are commentary on our “current cultural context” where every need is fulfilled by some aspect of the free market. Although not really my thing in terms of style, these were indeed very interesting to look at.
On Tuesday night I experienced a completely different kind of art, the Roger Waters concert at the Staples Center where he recreated The Wall from 30 years ago. From amazing sixth row seats (thanks, Ted!) I was blown away by the performance, the music, the singing, the messages, and the incredible production. My brother and I marveled at the precision with which the projectors were able to light up bricks in the wall as soon as they were installed in place. In what you would think would be an emotionally draining performance, Waters finished off the night by saying that he was no longer the disaffected-with-rock’n’roll youth of his past but was now grateful and enjoying the present. Waters indicated that non-flash photography was OK and so if you search on YouTube you can find many snippets from his amazing concerts (but the snippets won’t do justice to the real thing!).
Roger Waters (below) with guitarist (above) at Staples Center
Wednesday I headed down to Santa Monica to start off the day with some breakfast and a stroll around the 3rd Street Promenade. The highlight there for me were the two art bookstores. Arcana is great if you know exactly what book you want, but it’s a little harder to shop there as most of the volumes are encased in plastic sleeves, and don’t expect any discounts. But for sheer art book browsing enjoyment, check out Hennessey + Ingalls Art & Architecture Bookstore. You can spend an hour or two looking through all manner of art-related books, from history to critique to catalogs to technique books.
I then turned to the Bergamot Station Art Center, a collection of art galleries about two miles off the beach across the street from a hazardous waste treatment plant. My expectations were low but in fact this is a very worthy art destination if you’re in town. The quality of the work was high, the galleries were interesting and diverse, the gallerists were friendly, and there seemed to be some “buzz” that was lacking elsewhere. The setup of the station makes it very easy to go from gallery to gallery. I’ll highlight just a few of the shows here.
Bergamot Station (it's nicer than it looks here!)
One exhibition that I loved displayed the work of Andy Moses at William Turner Gallery. Moses uses pearlescent acrylic paint on mostly concave canvases (curving towards you at the left and right edges) to create interactive paintings that change in appearance depending on your viewing location. They tend to read as “landscape” even though there is no explicit representation in the image. A few of the pieces are convex, bulging outward in the middle of the canvas.
Speaking of work that changes as you move around it, James Gray gallery had, in addition to some nice abstract paintings by Sheila Newmark, one of the most dramatically interactive Patrick Hughes paintings that I’ve seen. Hughes is known for his “reverspective” pieces that are painted in three dimensions in such a way that perspective cues are reversed so that as you move your head, the piece appears to move along with you in a perceptually fascinating way. (I’ve tried painting two of these myself using my own abstract style and while I’ve gotten the effect to work, it’s not as dramatic as in Hughes’ paintings.)
Martin Mull, the actor and comedian as well as fine artist, has a show of intriguing paintings at Samuel Freeman. These low-chroma oil paintings, some on paper some on linen, are often semi-surreal composites that look like they’re taken from snapshot photos from some time in the past.
Even more photorealistic is the work of Yigal Ozeri at Mark Moore Gallery. I’ve seen Ozeri’s work numerous times at Mike Weiss in Chelsea and it was a pleasure to stumble upon it in Los Angeles. The show features portraits of “Lizzie [Jagger] in the Snow”, continuing his exploration of the female model in nature. Ozeri often paints oil on paper, a not-so-common combination but one which helps make his paintings feel a little closer to their photographic source material. They’re exquisitely painted (though we don’t know if they’re entirely by the artist’s hand) and in this series some of the most visually interesting paint handling occurs in the depiction of the model blowing smoke at the viewer. (They’re also completely sold out, so somebody else must be looking at art in LA!)
On my last full day in Los Angeles, I first headed back over near LACMA to visit some of the West Hollywood galleries. In clicking through one of the LA gallery guides, I saw that there was a James Sienna show at Daniel Weinberg right on Wilshire Blvd. I love Sienna’s work and the Weinberg show is full of gorgeous art objects: intricate patterns painted in enamel onto aluminum supports hung flat against the wall. One of the paintings, the tiny (less than 8×10 inches) “Infinite Loops” reminds me of a kind of maze drawing I made as a kid and also makes for an interesting comparison with the Brice Marden show at Matthew Marks and one of the John Zinsser paintings at James Graham & Sons. All three have paintings comprised of overlapping, interweaving ribbons of color that “play” with the edge of the support. Marden’s work is huge and purposely shows signs of painting, scraping, blending, hiding, and revealing. Zinsser’s not-quite-as-large “Circle of Thoughts” makes it appear that its thick yellow loops of paint were applied in one long continuous stroke. Sienna’s very small work makes you think the artist used a magnifying glass, thin brushes, and endless patience to render so smoothly and flawlessly. (Resting against the wall on the floor at the gallery were paintings by Andrew Masullo, whose Nozkowski-like paintings I had recently seen at Feature Gallery in the Lower East Side).
Sienna's Infinite Loops
Marden's Third Letter
Zinsser's Circle of Thoughts
Although the ACE gallery itself can be physically imposing, the staff that work there couldn’t be friendlier or more helpful, and the gallery’s two exhibitions were worth exploring. In the very last room, Heather Carson has “sculpted” out of fluorescent light bulbs and supporting fixtures art objects that are inspired by the squares of Josef Albers. By using white bulbs of slightly different color temperatures, you read both the bulbs and the shadows and lights produced on the wall behind them as being different colors. While you don’t get the same depth effect of a top Albers painting since these are more about the “architectural underpinnings” of Albers’ homages, I thought these were very creative sculptures. In the rest of the huge multi-room gallery, John Millei’s “Maritime” show features very large mostly abstract paintings inspired by aqueous themes. Several of them are inspired by surfing and are about capturing the swirling water, with the bottom half of the paintings full of thickly applied curving stripes of paint and the top portion looking more like a dark Rothko. The remainder of the paintings are huge, mostly monochromatic abstractions of the hardware that make up ships and their surroundings. By painting the foregrounds very dark and the backgrounds in silvers and grays, one gets a sense of atmospheric perspective even in a work that reads as abstract.
Finally, I headed downtown to check out Los Angeles’ “Gallery Row”. I had been expecting a couple dozen galleries based upon the Gallery Row website, but there are only a handful and they’re scattered about in much less of a “row” than Culver City. The map I found at one of the spaces indicated only about six galleries “proper”, one or two of which weren’t open or weren’t really art galleries. So, I was a bit disappointed with the scene. However, I did see the work of Mira Schorr at CB1, which I was interested in because Schorr had recently been a guest speaker at a New School lecture that I attended. Also, Bert Green Fine Art had two separate exhibitions of wall-based sculptural objects that were creative and well-made: the biomorphic, tentacled creatures of Laurie Hassold and the nautical gray mixed media collisions of Jocelyn Marsh.
The most exciting part of my downtown trip, however, was finding “The Last Bookstore” in Los Angeles on Main Street, where I found a couple of interesting looking books at bargain prices (one on design and another on creativity). As I was eating lunch outside at a nearby cafe, I witnessed the filming of a scene, though for what I don’t know. It’s one of those interactions with the movie industry that makes you realize what a pain it must be to make a movie: I watched them close off traffic, “roll ’em”, “action”, drive a 1950’s car about 30 feet with an actress leaning her arms up against a glass window (that had to be windexed in between each take), until “cut”. They did this at least five times while I was eating lunch.
Filming a scene for something (?) on 4th & Main
Thus ended my brief but art-full visit to Los Angeles… That’s a wrap!