By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Karen Liebowitz, Blow-up Leviathan (2007) (Click to enlarge)
Satoru Hoshino, Spring Snow No. 3 (2007) (Click to enlarge)
If you read the title of Karen Liebowitz's show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery — "Leviathan" (from the Manifesting Prophecy Series) — you might be expecting something religiously and politically loaded. But you probably wouldn't expect the four large oils on canvas and related studies that grab hold of the old-master tradition of giving image to religion and myth, scramble its sociocultural DNA, throw it into a Freudian full nelson, and give it a cosmopolitan makeover.
The exhibition's centerpiece canvas depicts a young woman wearing a no-frills black bra beneath a frock seemingly appropriate for bedroom or poolside. Or perhaps for the beach, where she sits in the painting's middle ground, backdropped by a tempestuous sky. Perched atop a barnacled rock, she prepares to blow up an inflatable toy on the scale of a Macy's parade float. Never mind the valve stem the size of a plantain, the leviathan to which it is attached is a stretch of serpent flesh so long it slithers diagonally across the composition, pushing through the painting's foreground and extending beyond the picture plane.
The odd eroticism of giving breath to what is simultaneously a toy, a life raft and a monster makes a compelling narrative, and the composition and illusionism carry it over, but what really makes the painting is the way the creature morphs and comes to life as you scan its length. At the business end, it's gray, shriveled and unquestionably vinyl, but moving across the picture, it gradually flushes with color, it plumps, and its multiple orifices and fins seem to quiver. It's an impressive accomplishment, creating a special-effects sequence within a single, still, painted image — the sort of feat that has caused some to call the Venetian painter Tintoretto cinematic. Liebowitz's work also occasionally slips into some of Tintoretto's failings — a tendency to gloss over discontinuities, or to let the drama and overall resolution of the images carry some less-resolved areas here and there. But they do carry.
Such sexualized pop/myth adventures continue in a painting of a beach-siren quintet — imagine if the scouting team for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue tapped into the Amazonian talent pool — hanging out in a cave and fashioning a net. In a third canvas, a young heroine holds onto the beast as it hurtles through the water, unsure as to who is catching whom — Hemingway's old fisherman meets Xena, Warrior Princess. The warrior appears triumphant in a fourth canvas, scantily clad and straddling the creature with a fishnet saddle, striking a bull rider's pose with one hand gripping the reins, once again blowing — this time sounding a shofar.
You can almost hear that ram's horn blasting, but other sounds are percolating up in the background. As a way of getting beyond the verbal stumbling that comes up in analyzing art — and tapping into the iPod generation's proclivity for matching soundtracks to every one of life's experiences — I often ask students to try to name what soundtrack would best go with the implications, flavors and attitudinal infusions of a work of art. After all, there's a big difference between a domestic scene that calls to mind Paul and Paula's "Hey Paula" and one that gets Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" stuck in your noggin.
It doesn't work with Liebowitz's until you're willing to give up the categories you think these paintings belong in and, in so doing, give up the operatic and orchestral pieces loaded with timpani and French horn. Consider what odd sorts of paintings these really are, and pretty soon, Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" is welling up in your head and then fading into the Spice Girls' "Wannabe." Next comes a crescendo of Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and a triumphant climax in Irene Cara's "What a Feeling" (Flashdance theme), followed by a denouement of Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion." Now you've got it, and now you know that the religiously and politically loaded images you expected when you read the show's title are hanging right there in front of you.2525 Michigan Ave., B-4 (Bergamot Station), Santa Monica; Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 9. (310) 828-8488.
Walead Beshty at China Art Objects Galleries and Redling Fine Art
One can make much, perhaps too much, of Walead Beshty's show spanning the spaces of China Art Objects and Redling Fine Art in Chinatown. With titles chronicling the circumstances and materials of their making, and alternate titles like laundry lists of color names and terms ranging from familiar to esoteric, it's easy to turn the viewing of this work into an esoterica of its own. But what's most compelling about Beshty's photograms, made by manipulating paper, photographs printed from negatives exposed by airport X-ray machines, and cinderblockish ruin objects cast from shredded photos and documents mixed with a binding agent, isn't the location of the airport or the date of the source material indicated in the title, but rather the direct experience of these objects and images where the conceptual meets the phenomenological — where gamesmanship yields to, and yields, gut feeling. China Art Objects Galleries, 933 Chung King Rd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat. noon-6 p.m.; thru Feb. 8. (213) 613-0384. Redling Fine Art, 990 N. Hill St., Suite 210, L.A.; Wed.-Sat. noon-6 p.m.; thru Feb. 9. (323) 230-7415.