A Fair to Remember
An amazing thing happened Thursday night when I attended the opening of Art Los Angeles Contemporary. Afterall this was my third art fair in as many weeks. Quite to my delight, I loved it. The previous two fairs didn’t jade me or my retinas. I must admit to having been slightly queasy at the prospect. I really was fully expecting to be aesthetically bushwacked. But the exact opposite was true.
An art fair where discoveries out pace the known is truly a marvelous event and this fair delivered exactly that. The layout is familiar but the art is not. All too often the term Contemporary is equated with raw, unpolished and slapdash (and if that is your thing, there’s plenty of that to go around here too.) The surprise and delight that I encountered was an abundance of intellect, polish and aesthetic engagement. In the six highlights that follow, five have resonated extremely well in the past 24 hours. The sixth is an example of initial impact that had me impressed and at least partially in awe but that soon became empty and worse vacuous in a short span of time. But more on that later.
I first encountered the work of George Stoll at Paul Morris in New York probably more than a decade ago. Elegantly cast Tupperware containers and cups cast in luscious shades of Beeswax, presented on pedestals. There was at once something so familiar about them and so utterly foreign. The matte surface absorbed light, the color palette a little off but never dissonant. These objects have travelled with me. They made me appreciate Tupperware so much so that now every time I encounter one, especially a well-worn example at a flea market or yard sale, I think of Stoll and the sculptures that I covet. Two wonderful examples are on display at Maloney Fine Art‘s booth. A gallery here in Culver City, Maloney has an exhibition up of his work which I’m dieing to see.
Schuebbe Projects from Düsseldorf has a handsome installation of pencil drawings by Franz Burkhart. I was immediately drawn to these vaguely titillating scenes of nude women in pastoral landscapes and nondescript pre-coital gestures. They immediately referenced the naturalist movement photos of late 30’s Germany and somewhat laughable amateur pornography of 50’s nudie magazines. The drawings are all from 2010 and 2011 and while Burkhart is a skilled draughtsman, the drawings are really only a delivery mechanism for a rather theatrical staging of the banality of nudity. Framed in vintage molding, they conjure a collectors attic finds, something that might be shared with a guarded few. Or might be fodder for embarrassment. They are great and available individually.
In a somewhat similar vein yet with vastly differing results is the work of Alexis Teplin shown at the booth of Sarah Gavlak from Palm Beach Florida. Teplin uses vintage found photographs of nudes as the ground on which to paint brushes strokes of color. These gestures, laid down with confidence and panache, all take their cues from the Black and White images of the nudes on the ground. And rather than coming of as gimmicky or trite, they resonate and amplify the human form. It’s probably one of the best examples of the interaction of photography and paint in recent memory. They are intimate and witty. Sly and elegant yet never jokey or irreverent.
A single Painting by Robert Russell at Francois Ghebaly‘s booth quietly beckoned me from afar. Deftly painted in muted blues and grays, the image in soft focus is of a book whose title is barely legible. A quick chat with the gallerist on hand confirmed the phrase “This is not to be looked at” apparently a catalogue from an exhibition at MOCA several years ago. So quickly one realizes that this is art about art and a quick visit to the artist’s pages at the gallery confirms this. But it’s as much art about seeing as it is about art. There’s the ever so soft whiff of post modernist snarkiness but instead of leaving you with the bitter ash of dogma in your mouth, you are sated with conceptual underpinnings of truly accomplished paintings. There’s a meditative aura of desire for acclaim. There’s also no small amount of hero-worship or quasi religious piety. The out-sized book floats lugubriously in the ether. I do believe that living with this painting would be a constantly surprising adventure.
In Sculpture my favorite piece was a multiple by David Adey at Luis de Jesus Gallery. A ceramic lamb sprouts a white/lilac neon halo. At a mere seven inches tall, the object could be overlooked were it not for the radiance of the extremely bright neon. It strikes me as the perfect marriage of medium and message. It is, I must add, expertly crafted with the white cords of the transformer exiting the lambs ass unapologetically. Indeed the divine can reveal itself in unexpected ways.
Adding to Adey’s success was the fact that the glow of the neon revealed a modulation in the surface of an adjacent painting of Heather Gwen Martin whose work I reviewed in a previous post. Were it not for the glare of the neon light, I might have missed that Martin’s painting contained a modulation of contrasting reds, one in a matte surface and one in a gloss. All this noticed in the din of activity of the opening night’s festivities. Martin’s painting, it must be said, continues her bravado paradigms handsomely.
Which brings me to my last entry of initial awe and lingering disappointment. I turned the corner and saw a large watercolor by Ken Solomon at Josee Bienvenu Gallery. Measuring easily four by seven feet, its scale impressed immediately. The image is a screenshot, if you will, of a Google image search with the word Lichtenstein. 45 thumbnail images of iconic Roy Lichtenstein paintings are expertly rendered in watercolor along with the Google logo and layout that has by now become so familiar. I can honestly say that I loved it last night thinking that it was a rather deft comment on how we consume images and how readily they are available for us. Yes it was art about art, but last night I also was convinced that it somehow had its finger on the pulse of the now. But let me explain why it faded in fondness as quickly as it produced my infatuation. The technique is accomplished but so accurate as to be soulless. In my estimation it could just as easily been a digital print. Yes, I noticed that one of the Paintings depicted is actually an Ed Ruscha but even that didn’t resonate. And as brimming with recognition of visual iconography as it demonstrates, it seems dated out of the gate. It doesn’t have a real voice. It is neither judgemental nor affectionate. And throughout the day it became soulless, pointless and trite. Even the press release paragraph offered by the gallery offers crutches of artspeak double talk: “He freezes screens to capture an enemy that drifts away, conspires and multiplies at the speed of light. Link after link, brush stroke after brush stroke, and with a good dose of humor the artist sends warning signals of a potential Google Tsunami.” Really? Really? For resonant commentary on media consumption one need only view the watercolors of Dave Muller. Now that’s art!
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, Friday January 28th, 2011