Figures of Authority: Jean Conner, Jerome Witkin 

Works on view at Michael Kohn and Jack Rutberg galleries

Wednesday, Jul 2 2008

Jean Conner has long labored in the shadow of famed husband Bruce, but while she’s not the multimedial innovator he is, her intimate voice maintains the same rarefied sensibility. Conner’s crowded but coherent collages, in fact, maintain a tradition of poetic juxtaposition begun by the likes of Hannah Höch and Raoul Hausmann, refined by Max Ernst, and injected into the American art stream by the likes of Joseph Cornell and Jess. Heaven and hell converge in such ecstatic nightmaring, although Conner’s relatively gentle, and formally poised, approach goes easy on the apocalypse and stresses instead the charm of the unlikely, exploiting idiosyncratic jumps in scale and context. Some of her best pieces, in fact, attain an iconic gravity through a clarity and symmetry unusual to this normally tumultuous style. Conner always begins and ends with a sense of the image as a subject, a singular presence or place less confounding or confrontational than psychologically complementary: It’s somehow a version of you you’re looking at. Michael Kohn, 8071 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru July 9 in main gallery; on view into. August in smaller space during upcoming Warhol show. (323) 658-8088.

(Click to enlarge)

click to enlarge Jerome Witkin, Left Hand as Actor (1998)
  • Jerome Witkin, Left Hand as Actor (1998)

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Jerome Witkin, Left Hand as Actor (1998)

For his part, Jerome Witkin may be the greatest figure painter working in America today. He’s certainly among the most virtuosic and dramatic — dramatic not because he’s virtuosic, but virtuosic because the drama he wreaks even from his landscapes demands a command of brush and pen and pencil that animates his subjects fervidly but credibly. The vigor Witkin injects into his portraits and street scenes is not quite hallucinatory, nor even quite caffeinated, but is definitely the result of a near-eruptive passion for seeing, a passion that can only infect the viewer if it is articulated masterfully. Witkin’s art is all about pathos, but as much about the pathos of the viewer as of the viewed. His drawings infer a narrative context but not a narrative per se; that’s for us to supply, which inculcates our own personal traumas. Those people Witkin draws might as well be us, and those city blocks our hometowns — which explains their riveting strangeness. Jack Rutberg, 357 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; thru July 31. (323) 938-5222.

  • Works on view at Michael Kohn and Jack Rutberg galleries

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