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The photographs that caught our attention, and that we’ve included in the show, come from a recently initiated series of “object portraits.” In one, a starkly designed copy of the 1969 book Bauhaus floats against a garish, rainbowed backdrop. The other, black and white, presents a worn paperback version of Ursula Meyer’s 1972 Conceptual Art. The term “portrait” is apt. As any bibliophile will recognize, these books have character.
“The photographs were taken in the manner of a product shot/advertisement,” she says, “but it is important that the books themselves are used, well-worn copies, which emphasizes their use value as objects.
“What I find fascinating about these and other such subjects is that they demonstrate how so much of our modern collective memory is often indebted to a notion of history as it is determined or shaped by design.”
Michelle Mary Lee, USC
“I became interested in art,” says Michelle Lee, “when my first piano teacher, my mother, colored the music notes with crayons. C would be red, D blue, E green, etc. I became more interested in the colors than the notes. This eventually led me to pursue fine arts; however, I found my inspiration in music.” An accomplished pianist, Lee is also a member of the Los Angeles Flute Choir, and continues to draw on music for her art.
She’s a longtime Angeleno, with a BFA from UCLA, an MFA from USC and a job currently teaching art at her old high school, Marymount. The painting in the show, however — the 6-by-10-foot Reflectionsof Montparnasse — was inspired by a stay in Paris. In speaking of the work, Lee alludes to Kandinsky’s theories of the relationship between art and music. “The painting is built up similar to an orchestra,” she says. “The large passages in the painting parallel the bass instruments in an orchestra, while the smaller marks connect to higher instruments such as the percussion and woodwind instruments.” The effect is a dazzling wave of activity and sensation built up from layer upon layer of eager detail.
Karen Liebowitz, UCLA
In this great, bustling ballroom of an art world, there are paintings that linger in the corners, waiting to be discovered, paintings that come on strong and turn out sleazy, paintings that creep up from behind and charm you with clever conversation — and then there are paintings that appear at the top of the stairs and stun the room momentarily into silence. The paintings of Karen Liebowitz are of this last sort. Unflinchingly ambitious, impeccably graceful and fabulously attired, these are works that set their own terms, sweeping past the crowd of hand wringers still bickering over painting’s 21st-century relevance (is it dead? reborn? reborn and dead again? — who even remembers?) to take up, of all things, the dusty specter of neoclassicism. Draping contemporary bodies in mythological garb, invoking symbolism and allegory (some traditional, some invented), Liebowitz resurrects Western art history’s much-neglected tradition of histrionic spectacle to shore up some pretty big questions.
The Waking of the Gods, the 14-foot diva of our show (see opening spread), illustrates nothing short of “the ultimate apocalyptic manifestation — the arrival of divinity itself.” (The deities in question have been slumbering, apparently, for 2,000 years, abandoning mankind to its own destruction, and it’s up to a small band of female “helpers” — the ones in gold lamé and combat boots — to prod them back into action.) Liebowitz admits without irony to reaching for “philosophical grandeur,” describing the symbols and icons that fill her paintings “as vehicles” through which to approach “the large existential questions of life.” As she leaves the ivory tower to launch her career in the real world, one wonders if she realizes that that’s not really done anymore.
We’re certainly not going to be the ones to tell her.
John McAllister, Art Center
John McAllister’s story has an appealing air of American romanticism, evoking the likes of Pollack and de Kooning. He grew up in Louisiana, where his exposure to art was limited to books and magazines. He studied photojournalism at the University of Texas–Austin, then struck out for the big city, picking up an education in art history while working as a night watchman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Casper David Friedrich made a lasting impression, as did Frederic Church and Winslow Homer. In 2001, McAllister traveled to Italy, encountering Caravaggio, Bernini, Tintoretto, Veronese and Titian. The trip cemented his resolve. “I came back from Italy,” he says, “feeling I needed to do more in every way to make paintings that carried the same force as those I had seen.”