The odds might be stacked against you but you can’t win without playing the game. Winning, for me, is finding art that vibrates and resonates. Playing the game by extension means attending another Art Fair, this time Art Los Angeles Contemporary at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica.
When is a painting both a painting and a sculpture? Julia Rommel. The awkward nature of that brief Q&A comes close to approximating the tension and charm of one of Ms. Rommel’s works of art at Bureau Gallery from the Lower East Side in Manhattan. The painting as a whole is an attractive composition of Gray, Teal, Black and chalky Blue. Certain aspects have resonant echos of Richard Diebenkorn. Abstract by description but not necessarily by design. Upon further investigation, the painting becomes an object and far from a flat plane. The linen has been stretched over the support after it’s execution. Creases, fissures and folds attest to the effort. Asymmetry flirts your eye into revealing staples on the right edge while the left side is wrapped around, the painting’s surface disappearing from view. Here is a painting whose retinal pleasures are immediately shadowed by mysterious choices, which remarkably remain uncontrived, earnest yet playful. I could well imagine living with this piece and it never looking the same. I am vexed and enchanted.
While I had some curious encounters with several other pieces of art, one resonates more than others. Gillmeier/Rech Gallery from Berlin had as its center piece a gate made from black painted steel. It stood easily ten feet tall and its two doors could be opened and walked through. Each door’s design was a graphic variation of a hand. The sculpture is by Polish Artist Zuzanna Czebatul, who the thoroughly engaging dealer shared with me was a bouncer at a dance club. The piece had surprising resonance. Sometimes the most elegant statement comes from a simple idea extremely well executed.
Art Los Angeles Contemporary Continues Through Jan 31st, 2016 at the Barker Hanger on the grounds of Santa Monica Airport.
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, 2016
It must be said that Paris Photo, now in its third incarnation at the Paramount Studios in Los Angeles is simply the nicest fair I’ve ever attended. Location, Location, Location! Sure there have been decent tents in Miami. The nineteenth Street Armory in NYC had a certain charm. And for whatever reason I hold the leaky roof at Chicago’s Navy Pier fondly in my heart. But art presented on the faux streets of NYC and on the sound stages of Paramount Studios really sets the bar high, maybe impossible, to top as a venue.
The Great Eight of Paris Photo, Los Angeles, 2015
Mona Kuhn at Diane Rosenstein
Mona Kuhn’s work looks better every time I see it. Kuhn’s visual complexity has matured with each body of work she tackles and each book she publishes. Diane Rosenstein has selected three particularly stunning exposures of light, shadow and reflection. It’s also a great installation pitting three on two competing planes.
Cai Dongdong at Klein Sun Gallery
Wit is a powerful conduit for ominous content. Cai Dongdong delivers both. Somewhat pedestrian images in Silver Gelatin are cut and collaged and rolled with great tactile facility. A mirror is placed behind one cut out. A street redacted in another. And my personal favorite, a penis is replaced with a camera lens in a suggestive POV shot. Initially all these act as clever and deft comedy but they also succeed as metaphors for surveillance and privacy. Remarkably intelligent work. At Klein Sun Gallery
James Hyde at Luis de Jesus
Deceptively simple but never simplistic, James Hyde also intervenes on the photographic plane. His chosen image party crasher is paint. Three photographs containing circles painted in different colors trump the selection at Luis de Jesus. A double overlaid circle reminds one of binoculars. Other circles have mathematical precision to their placement. And a hole in the surface of a third, gingerly placed on the edge of a painted black circle turns out to be dead center of the square photo. Strange alchemy at work here.
Richard Coldicott at Sous Les Etoiles Gallery
A clean process oriented paradigm. Make cutouts on paper. Use said paper to make a photogram. Frame “paper negative” and resultant Photogram side by side as a diptych. Lather, rinse, repeat! The shapes that Richard Coldicott prefers have a modern beat to them. Their placements are equally jazzy. And there’s a decidedly warm analogue glow to the entire proceeding. While the paper negs that are either red or yellow are striking, the figure/ground reversal of the B/W versions pack the most punch. At Sous Les Etoiles Gallery
William Wegman at Marc Selwyn
Who knows how many generations of Wegman’s Weimaraners have been cast in his photographs! The tribute to him though is that they are as fresh, amusing and resonant as ever! In a new series pairing the deadpan dogs with Eames chairs, Wegman gleefully plays with figure/ground reversal as well. Or should that be dog/ground reversal? Maybe figure/dog reversal? At Marc Selwyn.
Izima Kaoru At Thomas von Lintel
While not as old as Wegman’s puppies, Izima Kaoru’s motionless models are equally resonant. Thomas von Lintel has an excellent example from 2003. The complex colors and composition draw you in. The narrative possibilities make you linger. A dozen years have not faded their impact.
Francois Fontaine at Leica
I will admit to be a dyed in the wool Film Aficionado. So while having a conversation in front of Francois Fontaine‘s salon style installation, faces and body language started catching my eye. Was that Robert deNiro? That’s got to be Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind. North by Northwest! And I bet that’s Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby. By fixing narrative moments and blurring the focus Fontaine has achieved something quite rare with Silenzio ! Mémoires de cinéma: a tribute without being derivative. At Leica.
Paris Photo Los Angeles runs May 1st through 3rd, 2015. Click here for show website and schedules.
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, May 2015
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