“Hans Burkhardt: Paintings of the 1960s” at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts
The centerpiece of this show focusing on one decade in the long career of Hans Burkhardt — the Basel-born expressionist who began his career in New York among friends like Arshile Gorky and Willem deKooning, moved to Los Angeles in 1937, and died here, at 89, in 1994 — is a painting from 1968. It’s covered in a mazelike composition of gray and black slashes strangely evocative of both early Piet Mondrian and early Frank Stella. But it is far more visceral and energized — brutishly and elegantly so — and what would otherwise be its somewhat even field of marks is punctuated, perhaps even rebuked, by human skulls stuck among the thick paint and other raw materials. Some of those skulls, gathered by Burkhardt during trips to Mexico, are quite small.
Titled My Lai, the painting calls to mind lines from an interview between CBS newsman Mike Wallace and Paul Meadlo, a soldier who participated in the My Lai massacre: “Q: There were children and babies? A: Yes.” Later paraphrased to “Q: And babies? A: And babies,” the words were overlaid atop a photo from My Lai in a poster produced by the Art Workers Coalition. When the Museum of Modern Art in New York pulled out of a plan to help distribute the poster, the AWC — a group of artist/activists — displayed it in an unauthorized protest in the MoMA gallery where Picasso’s Guernica was then housed.
Unlike that explicit and now iconic poster, you might not look at Burkhardt’s painting and specifically get My Lai without looking at the title, any more than you might look at Guernica and get Guernica, the Basque town bombed by Hitler’s and Mussolini’s air forces in support of Franco during the Spanish Civil War. But one might look at Burkhardt’s My Lai and flash on My Lai, or Guernica, or Auschwitz, or Dresden, or Hiroshima, or the Sand Creek Massacre, or Rwanda, and so on. Burkhardt had a knack for tapping into something timelessly human in its intertwining of the fragile and the brutal. His painting testifies to humanity’s curse to repeat its uniquely human combination of folly, cruelty and death.
Not all is dark in this exhibition. Some of the paintings are buoyant, even lyrical, and many flaunt Burkhardt’s nuanced sense of color. But nothing here lacks an edge. In his ability to mix exuberance, intensity and awe with solemnity and angst, Burkhardt seems almost to have channeled the spirits of Chaïm Soutine and James Ensor, and to have been both a kind of long-distance artistic kin to Francis Bacon and a prefigure of neoexpressionists like Anselm Kiefer.
Burkhardt was always an expressionist, whether delivering quasi-abstract crucifixion-like compositions — of which there are some amazing examples in this show — or painting flower children, or bouquets of flowers, or abstracting American flags and Lucky Strike logos. In the exhibition’s catalog, Jack Rutberg — who has represented Burkhardt, and now his estate, since 1973 — makes an argument against what seems an exclusion of the painter from the history of 20th-century Los Angeles art. One might quibble with some of the specifics of Rutberg’s argument as to how and why this has happened, but viewing this museum-worthy exhibition, as well as examining the broader range of Burkhardt’s six-decade oeuvre, one sees little room for doubt as to the need to reconsider Burkhardt’s place locally and internationally, and to accept that the noirish and manic ends of “Sunshine and Noir” and “Helter Skelter” formulations of Los Angeles art history might have roots running deeper and broader than Raymond Chandler, Ridley Scott and Charles Manson.
Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 357 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; through Dec. 24. (323) 938-5222 or www.jackrutbergfinearts.com.
“Marco Brambilla: Living the Dream” at Christopher Grimes Gallery
Imagine what the view might be like ascending from Hell, through purgatory, to Heaven in a glass elevator, and you get some idea of the premise behind Marco Brambilla’s Civilization (Megaplex), a high-def video projection that is the centerpiece of his exhibition at Christopher Grimes Gallery. Of course, the remaining question is just what you might see as you pass from one level to the next on such a journey, but Brambilla has filled in all the blanks — hundreds of them — with vignettes pulled from films ranging from the mainstream to the obscure.
Having worked in commercial film before redirecting his energy toward a gallery context, Brambilla clearly has both the access to and the knowledge of digital editing gear, and he puts it all to work here. Most of the segments comprising this incredible trip last only seconds. All are looped, then collaged together with the edges of each vignette blurred into the next. Though you’re cognizant of the loops and the fragmentation, the experience registers as seamless, unending action.
The vignettes, culled from movies ranging from 10,000 BC to The Producers to Kurosawa’s Dreams to Ghostbusters, congeal into a world of roughly symmetrical composition spanning from down low to on high, and are experienced bit by bit as the scenes scroll past your eyes, like an old-master last-judgment scene camped up and set in motion. All of this is appropriately set to a selection from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
Brambilla’s hell is less supernatural and surreal than it is fascist, corporate, consumerist, modernist and postmodernist, and the more you look, the more you realize that whether Hell, purgatory or Heaven, all these zones appear populated by void-headed, pleasure-seeking go-alongs lorded over by flexing masculine enforcers. The biggest differences between Heaven and Hell seem to be the color balance of the atmosphere, the air quality and the degree of perspiration.
In the back gallery at Grimes, Brambilla offers another video work, Cathedral, which deals in a different conflation of fiction, myth and constructed reality. Footage of holiday-rush shoppers at a Toronto mall is edited with kaleidoscopic effects, yielding a banal yet oddly compelling experience that is yet another cocktail of Heaven, Hell, purgatory and the world outside your door.
Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; through Nov. 22. (310) 587-3373 or www.cgrimes.com.
Patricia Faure, RIP
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Gallerist Patricia Faure, a mainstay of the Los Angeles gallery scene for decades, died in her sleep on October 21 at the age of 80. Faure began as art dealer Nicholas Wilder’s assistant in the 1970s. For 15 years, she and friend Betty Asher ran the Asher/Faure Gallery, one of a handful of venues that helped raise the profile of the L.A. gallery scene in the ’80s. In 1994, she opened her own gallery at Bergamot Station, where her corner space was a cornerstone of the complex for 10 years before she began phasing out of the business.
Faure, who was known as Patty, always had a twinkle in her eye, and she had a good eye, not just as a dealer who launched and represented some of the best artists in Los Angeles during her career but also as a photographer. As a 2005 show of her photos at the gallery of her friend Margo Leavin revealed, between her early career as a fashion model and her later vocation as gallerist, and parallel to her life as a young mother, Faure enjoyed a life behind the lens. She worked for Francesco Scavullo, Elle, Jardin de Mode, Marie Claire, Vogue and The New York Times. Her show at Margo Leavin included a shot of Peggy Moffitt and Bill Claxton sailing in the ’50s; a 1958 group portrait of the Ferus Gallery stable recently made familiar in the documentary The Cool School; a 1970 shot for Rudi Gernreich’s UNISEX line; and pictures from her 1971 “Artists Exercise” series featuring Billy Al Bengston doing calisthenics and Ken Price and Ed Moses on the tennis court.
There was a tweediness about Faure but also an elegance and a hint of naughtiness, all of which were captured in a 1965 portrait of her, shot by friend Helmut Newton. In 2003, she printed the Newton photo on the invitation to her 75th-birthday party at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. What Newton captured was always there, and in her older years, Faure had about her the manner of an angel who sometimes listened to a devil sitting on her shoulder. With the pleasure she took in personally touring visitors through shows, and her trademark line, “Isn’t that good?” both revealing her genuine enthusiasm for art and subtly masking her salesmanship (though she maintained that art couldn’t really be sold but rather sold itself), Faure was equal parts an institution, a living treasure and a walking and talking history book.
Some might mark the death of an art dealer with the sense of loss one would attach to the demise of a used-car salesman, but as with most professions, the gallery business has its more and less likable shopkeepers. Faure set the bar for likable, and now sets the bar for being missed.