Painting can and should have an air of magic to it. There’s an element of alchemy at work when pigment, brush and gesture are applied to a ground. The result, whether representational or abstract, always has the potential to transform into a retinal epiphany. I am unapologetically an optimist when it comes to art and its potential to persuade. Now going to an Art Fair is entirely another matter. My expectations and mood often run somewhere between dread and despair. So why, you may ask, do I go to these social gatherings of rampant financial ambition and social posturing? The answer is simply that I have never walked away from an art fair without finding something of merit. And on some excellent occasions, I get introduced to something fresh, a new voice perhaps singing an old song or an entirely new song altogether.
This year’s incarnation of Art Los Angeles Contemporary proved to be an amiable affair. If the buzzword of the moment is disruptive, there was no evidence of any seismic aesthetic activity. As usual, there was no end of gee whiz technical experimentation all of which impressed those who consider This Is Colossal to be a Fine Art Website (just to be transparent, I do not.) There were several deceptively sexy (well made pieces not actually sexual) works on display each of which had the resonant half-life of a cicada. I puckishly imagined changing several gallery names to Buyer’s Remorse. Yet once again, even with my curmudgeon on full display I spied several works of art that were undeniably GOOD. Here then my Truffles for 2015:
I immediately remembered the abstract panel paintings by Alain Biltereyst at Jack Hanley Gallery from previous years. Intimate in scale but monumental in intellect, these acrylic paintings have a modernist gravitas. They might echo Albers and Kelly but they are authentic in every sense of the word. Having seen them several times at this fair in years past cements my fondness and admiration.
While most of the assembled work on display was created in the past five years, an art historical treat was offered at Alden Projects. Small and almost ephemeral, a Sol Lewitt drawing from 1971 reminded me of the groundbreaking shoulders upon which all these other artists stood. If art can indeed be anything, then some of the credit (or blame, if you wish) must be laid at the feet of Lewitt.
1301PE Gallery in Los Angeles continues to have a challenging and intelligent roster of artists. Paul Winstanley and Kristen Everberg continue to hone both their iconography and sizable painting skills. Each is represented with one large example of their work at the 1301PE booth. The Winstanley is narrative, contemplative and inviting while the Everberg verges on abstraction. Two excellent examples by two extremely talented artists.
Represented by a single medium scaled painting called Dog-Eared. Kirstin Baker was a new discovery for me. The Painting, executed in numerous layers of acrylic paint both opaque and translucent, has the tactility of the book it conjures. The colors are boldly juxtaposed into a retinal frenzy. The tight edge-to-edge composition swings with a jazzy authority. I look forward to seeing more in the future. At Acme, Los Angeles.
Shirley Irons was also a new discovery. Her empty room painting is far from a portrait of a void. Rather it is flooded with light and potential. That potential is layered by the fact that this painting, one from a series, is sly depictions of galleries. Desire and projection enter the narrative landscape while her brushstrokes are at the service of evocative architectural depiction. At Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica.
And in the arresting image category, the winner is Eric Yahnker with an uncanny charcoal portrait of Hillary Clinton exhaling a spliff. I must admit, it took me a second to recognize the ex Secretary of State, ex Senator and ex First Lady, but once the synapses fired it was indelible. It’s a great rendering and Yahnker has the technical skill set of Robert Longo in his prime with the added punch of the invented narrative. Yahnker is also a polymath since the Hillary portrait is surround by another installation of his, this time 300 baseballs with forged signatures of distinctly non-baseball celebrities. The names I saw included, Eddie Money, Truman Capote, Annie Liebowitz and T.S. Eliot. I can’t venture a guess as to the meaning however both works charmed the Dickens out of me. I think they will you too. From The Hole, New York
A final mention must be bestowed on the elegant paintings of Enrico Bach at Weingrüll, Karlsruhe, Germany. Cool abstractions are generally not my cup of tea but Bach won me over with his effective and playful use of compositional shifts. Colors push forward and recede. Planes fold and pivot. And while the larger versions are acrobatic, it was the smaller version that moved me more, both literally and figuratively. I think they would even look better in a gallery or cool home setting, away from the cacophony of the art fair aisles.
Art Los Angeles Contemporary 2015 runs through Sunday February 1st at the Barker Hanger Santa Monica
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, January 30, 2015
Once again, occurrences in my everyday world make me recall art I have witnessed. As many of you know by now, I am pleasantly haunted by images and emotions of the great works of art that I have seen in person over a 30 year span of aesthetic curiosity. This journal of synaptic leaps has become a sub-category of TruffleHunting called Life Imitates Art.
The kitchen seems to be an interesting place for these moments to happen. I was toasting almond slivers in a pan on the stove and a wave of aesthetic ennui crashed over me. I had been here before. Without the cheesy special effects of Quantum Leap, I was transported back to 1982 in a town in Germany called Möchengladbach. This is where I first saw the sculpture of Richard Long and my relationship to the land and art was never to be the same. The installation that I walked into there was truly a thing of lasting beauty: A Large square room with eight Gray Paintings by Gerhard Richter, two deep gray squares on each wall, and a round slate circle in the center of the room by Richard Long.
The exhibition was at the, then, newly opened Museum Abteiberg. The building sits on a hill in the city. The architect for the building was Hans Hollein who sadly passed away earlier this year. He created a remarkable labyrinth of spaces on different levels. Every time I’ve gone, and I’ve been over a dozen times almost like a pilgrimage, I’ve discovered new artists and new perspectives on artists I had already known. A tribute to the curatorial sophistication and the architectural bravado respectively.
To this day that room in Museum Abteiberg in Möchengladbach remains the most spiritual installation of art I have ever seen. I’ve been to the Rothko Chapel; I’ve seen the complete installation of Barnett Newman’s Stations of the Cross. Christian Boltanski and Antony Gormley may have come close on occasion, but the one two punch of Richter and Long sends me swooning every time. I must admit that I do not know if the room is permanent since the Museum did a major renovation in 2007.
So there I was, knocked back on my heels by toasting almonds. The Macro/Micro shift between the almonds and stones made me giggle. Once again Life Imitates Art.
–Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, June 25th, 2014
I am first and foremost a fan of looking, a fan of art, a life long student of visual expression and insatiably curious about how people see. Which brings me to an intriguing inversion of experience in my daily life. There have been many times in the last ten years that life has reminded me of art rather than the other way around. Such is my encyclopedic retention of visual art experience that often my primary source material for recognition of a world around me has been interpretive and not factual. Thus Life imitates Art.
Driving down Fairfax on one of these crystal clear LA days I stopped at an intersection only to look up at a billboard for Pink’s new album or tour. I’m a fan. She’s an intrinsically good pop music artist. But Whoa! The shape of that mouth, a scream or high note, sent me immediately to Francis Bacon.
Here then three examples of Francis Bacon portraits, each of which exude more terror than sustained crescendo.
Life continues to imitate Art.
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, June 5th, 2014
The world of art-making is so vast. After I lived in Europe in the mid 80’s, I was floored by the ignorance in America of what I considered monsters of creativity that were household names on the European continent.
So it was not surprising that I should stumble across a treasure trove of excellent, engaging and rigorous work of Israeli artists currently featured on a benefit auction on Paddle8. The selection was curated with non-dogmatic vision by Sharon Zoldan an astute art advisor who specializes in artwork from Israel. The sale benefits the Stephen S Wise Temple here in Los Angeles.
In an effort to embrace good work, especially good art that might fly under the radar, I’m going to highlight nine artists’ work, all of whose art appears in the BENEFIT Auction. The work and the artists are all new to me. It is both the appreciation of evocative fine art and the sense of discovery that has motivated me to broadcast this post. Furthermore for those of you in the Greater Los Angeles Area I would urge you to visit the works in person on Sunday May 4th, 2014 from 10am to 3pm and again the following day May 5th, 2014 from 7:30am to Noon. RSVP with Melanie Fisher (mfisher2@WiseLA.org) at the Stephen S. Wise Temple.
The graphic line is most often associated with graphite or crayon or charcoal but there is nothing that says other media cannot be engaged. Tirtzah Bassel takes up just this challenge by drawing with Duct Tape. She has made large-scale installations of populated scenes in this medium. She is represented in this auction by a piece on Plexiglas titled The Gallerists. The figures have character and body language. The space in which they sit is economically delineated by perspective lines in yellow tape and a pedestal executed in the same color. The uncommon medium that so transfixes the viewer is merely an on-ramp to a remarkable tableau.
Black and White Photography can often seem so laced with nostalgia or preciousness. Sivan Reuven wrestles the medium from its quaint trappings. Her work is featured by several examples of her White Series. Reuven composes her shots as a modernist, stark lines and divisions observed in everyday settings. What is not shown is every bit the subject as what is. The Ping Pong Table is easily initially read as a landscape, horizon line with Moon. The table and net are registered and the perspective changes. Under further scrutiny, the player is playing by himself with the opposing side laid perpendicular to the surface. Each of these adjustments affects a parallel shift in metaphor. And in the hands of this remarkably gifted artist, the ordinary becomes sublime.
Orly Maiberg applies paint with an authoritative touch to evoke swimmers and a churning sea. Vacation and leisure time might be one’s first read. And one wouldn’t be wrong. But Maiberg’s subject is known in Hebrew as ha’tzlicha, the crossing of the Kinneret Lake, an annual sporting event. With this knowledge it’s not far to imagine the seeking of refuge, exile and escape. The Sea of Galilee is a site that holds great religious, cultural and national importance. Maiberg taps these allusions while never being illustrative. The metaphors are multiple and the tactile experience mellifluous.
Ofir Dor’s brushstrokes have velocity. Colors accelerate across the canvas and careen in twists and turns that offer the viewer’s eye a racing track of immense pleasure. That these brushstrokes congeal into expressive figure portraits of women can almost seem secondary but they do. The women, sometimes sensual often suggestive, are strangely anonymous. They are form and movement rather than feature or identity. But herein lies the electricity they exude. Dor, needless to say, battles masters like deKooning but he carves out a relevance all his own.
Ofer Lellouche by all accounts is considered a master and elder statesman of Fine Art in Israel. Having been introduced only recently, I can only agree with the moniker and the respect it evokes. Lellouche is represented in the auction by a tactile etching of Geraniums in black and white. The scale of the print is large placing the viewer deep in a flowerbed and at eye level with the plants. More leaves are drawn than flowers, which gives the pieces either the anticipation of pre-blossom or the ennui of post-blossom. The artist is obviously a classicist, which is refreshing indeed. Lellouche is also ample proof that the gold to be mined from the classic still life, portrait or landscape genres has yet to be depleted.
Neta Harari’s paintings hover between illustration, fantasy and nightmare. The depiction of violence is damn near impossible to pull off without pathos but Harari achieves it handsomely. Chaos and cacophony are present too. And those horses place the event either outside of history or in an out-take of Game of Thrones. One thing is for sure, impact is intended and achieved. An effective implementation of terror is the idea that the aggressors are visible but the victims not. This paradigm immediately puts the viewer into the roll of the victim. By not seeing, the heart is galvanized into empathy.
Moran Fisher may just be my personal favorite of this selection. It quite obvious that Ms. Fisher is a painter of remarkable talent, instinct and skill. Her recent work has involved what only appears to be effortless depictions of fabric, folds and drapes. But the subject is the human body underneath these fabrics. The watercolor here is liquid and assured. The translucence suggests silk or rayon. Pattern remains pattern. But the compositions electrify the eye and transcend the possible banality of subject matter. There’s so much sensuality to Fisher’s painting that it could make you blush. By my take, Fisher may be the freshest artist in this exhibit, but to my eye her touch holds the most fascination. I literally can’t wait to see more of her work.
I must admit to having an extreme fondness for any work of work that coaxes from me a macro/micro perspectival shift. Maya Gold’s painting does this in spades. The honeycomb-like grid pattern initially reads like a tile of a bathroom floor. Of course this same shape is also used in paving stones so it’s natural that one’s read changes when seeing the reclining figure placed in the center. But is this figure injured or relaxing? And the figure does not entirely lock the perspective as landscape either. The bird’s eye view is unusual for landscape anyway. And even though the hues are rather grisaille, the allusion to honey comb never completely fades away. Gold’s image and technique resonate like a passage of music by Mozart that you find yourself inadvertently humming.
Eran Shakine is the one artist whose work I was familiar. His line drawings, more like line paintings are narratively evocative. Some contain text that is often both witty and disturbing. The economy of touch could recall Julian Opie at times but in a more organic/analogue way. Shakine’s piece in the auction is from an older Pool series. Here he favored architectural depictions of Roman Baths. The execution also makes a strong turn away from the economical line drawing/painting of his recent work. Texture, saturated hues, drips and splashes match the moisture and liquid subject matter. The feel is a little less contemporary and delves into the timeless allusions of history and containment.
The entire auction can be viewed here. I have included links to the artist’s own websites when available. And click on the individual images to view larger/higher quality images of the works.
Please join the conversation in the comments section.
–Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, April 21st, 2014
Two Days! Today and Tomorrow! That’s all that’s left.
The Exhibition, which closes this Saturday, April 12th, 2014, is a massive installation by the Swiss Artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss and is succinctly titled Polyurethane Objects. The gallery is Matthew Marks, here in Los Angeles on North Orange Grove.
Entering the gallery one might easily mistake the greater tableau as an installation day at the gallery. Pedestals, buckets of paint, cigarette butts, power tools, coffee cups, a boom box, tires, moving palettes and box cutters lie around in varying concentrations of clutter. The detritus of a studio. The milieu of a work-in-progress workshop. But everything on display is placed with purpose. And everything, I mean everything is hand carved and painted. Trying to describe the sensation and the synaptic firestorm is perhaps futile. However, awe would not be a overstatement.
Just go and see for yourself. This is one of those rare opportunities to witness something in person that defies the imagination. And even when you’re there, it defies comprehension. An heroic endeavor that elicits wonder, laughter and ennui.
Matthew Marks Gallery, 1062 North Orange Grove, Los Angeles Through April 12th, 2014
–Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, April 2014
About fifteen years ago my dear friend Amy Weingartner introduced me to a particularly interesting term she coined. The descriptive phrase, as I remembered, was simply “Kennedy’s Children.” After a quick phone call, I was corrected. Her alliterative turn of phrase was “Camelot Kids.” Regardless, both descriptive monikers refer to those of us who were born during John F. Kennedy’s brief presidential administration. It places us squarely at the tail end of the Baby Boom generation, which is mostly defined as the post war surge in births from 1946 to 1964. I am a Camelot Kid.
It’s November and I just turned 51, one year shy of a full deck I’m fond of saying. I was one year and one week old when President Kennedy was assassinated. And I’ve been thinking a great deal about those fateful 34 months of his presidency. The intersection of personal and American history has always been of some intense interest to me. The intersection of art and political history is even more eclectic.
Take 1962 alone. Jasper Johns executed Diver, one of my favorite drawings ever. Andy Warhol had his first one-man exhibition here in Los Angeles in July of that year. Yves Klein died of a heart attack five weeks earlier at the inconceivably young age of 34. Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Ian Fleming’s The Spy Who Loved Me were both published in 1962. Lawrence of Arabia was the top grossing film that year but Lolita, Days of Wine and Roses and The Manchurian Candidate were also in the top twenty. On October 13th Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf opened on Broadway. Nine days later my father whisked my mother, then eight months pregnant, off on a four-hour drive away from Manhattan, to upstate New York, Bolton Landing to be precise. The reason: the Cuban Missile Crisis.
To dip one’s toe in this simultaneity makes for a richer understanding of an era. Art history is almost always taught without popular or political context. Conversely, history is too often taught without the richly accompanied texture of (high and pop)culture’s offerings.
On Friday, November 22nd we mark the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. What few people know however is that President Kennedy travelled to Texas a full 30 hours before his ride in the open-air limousine at Dealey plaza. He and Jackie didn’t overnight in Dallas but rather 34 miles to the west at Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth. The reason for his trip was political. The upcoming year’s reelection campaign was already starting and his goal was to mend rifts between the liberal and conservative factions of the Texas Democratic Party.
Less than a week before his arrival, descriptions of Suite 850 at Hotel Texas were released to the public. Fort Worth Press art critic Owen Day thought the accommodations lacking and came up with the idea of decorating the three primary rooms with significant art that would properly convey to the President and First Lady the cultural sophistication of Fort Worth. He recruited prominent collectors and civic leaders, including Samuel Benton Cantey III, Ruth Carter Stevenson, Ted Weiner and Amon Carter Museum Director Mitchell Wilder. This ad hoc curatorial bravado included paintings by Claude Monet and Lyonel Feininger, an oil on paper study by Franz Klein and bronze sculptures by Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso. And this was just the parlor. Jacqueline Kennedy’s bedroom had a distinctly impressionist feel with works by Pendergast, Van Gogh, Marin and Dufy. And the President’s bedroom carried a more manly sartorial flair including Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley and Charles M. Russell.
This story has moved me tremendously ever since I heard it about a year ago. It speaks to me as a heroic act of generosity on the part of the inspired and ambitious civic leaders who pulled it together. It moves me as a grace note to the events of the following day and the tremendous scar that it left on a nation. It also, with great significance, is a reflection of the leadership role that the President and the First Lady played in championing the arts. It can be argued that no President before or after paid the respect to arts that John F. Kennedy did in his lifetime. The proof of this might be best witnessed in the linguistic fireworks of his speeches. Kennedy wielded metaphor and images at the service of inspiration, hope and aspiration. This attitudinal shift from the bully pulpit of the White House happened right at a time when the capital of the fine art world had immigrated from Paris to New York; from the old school of European tradition to the wild west of American Avant Garde.
I have, over the last several months, gone through what some might call a crisis of confidence. No feeling artist is immune to these occasional bouts of ennui. Some of this existentialism was based on the transposition of the financial inequities of the American economy versus the role that Fine Art plays in society in general. In a nut shell: if there is a 99%-1% split in the American economic landscape then perhaps, just perhaps, there is a 99.9%-.1% split in the American Societal landscape for those who consider that Fine Art is essential. Crunch the numbers and this comes out to around 313,000 people for whom Fine Art might matter. Glass Half Full? Or Half Empty?
But the lessons of Hotel Texas hold firm. Fine Art, and culture in general for purposes of this argument, is not only cause, it is effect. It is not only the light which illuminates our soul but also the mirror with which to judge the human condition. It is also both symptom and disease. In the end it is a catalytic converter of empathy. Most people may be intimidated by art, but the transformative potential never wavers.
For me, Art matters.
By mid December 1963 a Washington D.C. DJ named Carroll James started playing the Beatles on WWDC Radio. In today’s lingua franca, it went viral. On December 26th, a few days more than a month after those shots rang out in Dealey Plaza, the Beatle’s first album I Wanna Hold Your Hand was released in America, administrating, many could say, a most fortuitous pop culture salve of optimism, hope and tuneful distraction.
Art Matters! Culture Matters! Pop Culture Matters! Pop Art Matters!
Art, Music, Film, Dance, Books, Poetry are not luxuries, they are essential to the fiber of human spirit. They create the weave of experience. They afford us insight that allows us to move forward.
–Mario M. Muller, November 2013, Los Angeles
The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth currently has an exhibition reuniting all the works that were displayed in the Presidential Suite #850. The Exhibition, Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy continues through January 12th, 2014
Click here to hear a three minute interview with actor Bill Paxton as he remembers hearing John F. Kennedy on the morning of November 22nd, 1963 in front of Hotel Texas.
One significant catalyst for my near obsession with the interdependance of art and political history is a fantastic book called The Judgement of Paris. In it Ross King traces the trajectory of Manet’s career in Paris from 1850’s through 1890’s. But far from a standard monograph, he weaves societal, economic, political and art history in a way that makes one wonder how any area of expertise can be appreciated without this wide angle lens. NY Times Review and Amazon page.
Video as an art medium defies conventional expectations and desires. It is often for this reason alone that so much of “video art” falls so miserably flat.
It was with an arched eyebrow of mistrust and doubt that I entered the Perry Rubenstein Gallery about ten days ago to sample the art of Candice Breitz. Let me state on the record, it is a winning state of affairs for an artist to completely delight a viewer with such subterranean expectations. Ms. Breitz is not only a gifted artist but also an astute analyst of fame, desire and pop culture. Intellect and ambition are wedded to wit and a musical sense of rhythm and editing. The effect is hypnotic.
There are three installations on exhibit. Each has its own particular charm but the winner for me was The Rehearsal in the far west gallery of the Rubenstein complex. Six vertical video monitors deliver interviews with different characters. And this is as far as I’m willing to go on descriptive detail. Let me take a moment to explain.
Imagine for a second that before you sat down to see Citizen Kane for the first time, you were handed a press release or a review that said “What you’re about to watch is an examination of a man’s rise to power, the costs that power extracts on the human soul and the loss of innocence and youth as exemplified by a sled named Rosebud.” What I’m getting here is that press releases are spoilers, plain and simple. But press releases, and for that matter even non-partisan descriptive criticism are only spoilers for great art which delivers the impact of the artist’s intention through their work regardless of chosen medium. Press releases are apologies for failed art that needs the crutch of verbalized intention.
This exhibition needs no crutch. The work delivers its content. And furthermore, were I to describe the mise en scene in greater detail, it would only limit the interpretative range of the art. This is one of the rare examples of video art that has emotional range and possibility.
It is with this in mind that I refuse to articulate some of the back-stories on display here. I will however address the ingredients of brilliance, strategies of narrative engagement and technical prowess. Experience the installations for yourself. Then, and only then feel free to read the explanations offered at the front desk. To do otherwise is to rob yourself of the pleasures of discovery, the magic of epiphany delivered in the dark galleries of video monitors.
Ms. Breitz uses actors in conventional ways to solicit empathy and narrative identification. Her technical skills as a filmmaker are without question, which is a blessing. Too much video art is just sloppy and unlike a fingerprint smudged charcoal drawing, much video art comes off as amateurish rather than authentic. It’s a matter of the tactile reality of the video medium versus the rough feel of a cold pressed piece of paper. Breitz defies convention with multiple screens and disjunctive editing that draws you in rather than alienates. Her editing is symphonic. The rhythms are jazzy and syncopated but she establishes a beat first only to under cut it with flash edits and staccato sequences that exhilarate. Tight close ups are used as punctuation rather than verbs or nouns.
I’ve stated on several occasions that I believe filmmaking to be the singular medium of the 20-century. When compared with painting or drawing, film is still in its infancy, much like Los Angeles is a pre-teen compared with the likes of New York, Paris or London. And unlike oil painting or India ink, film became an industry, thus delaying its mature use as a fine art medium. And because of this, I believe film to hold potential that far outweighs what we’ve witnessed thus far. Breitz realizes some of this potential in this exemplary exhibition.
Candice Breitz at Perry Rubenstein Gallery continues through December 14th, 2013
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, October 28th, 2013