Art Around Town: Korty, Grinnan and Butzer

David Korty, Untitled (Seated Figure with Blue Background) (2008)
Karl Puchlik

David Korty at Michael Kohn Gallery

David Korty’s larger project as an artist, as evidenced at his first solo show at Michael Kohn and previous exhibitions at other venues, seems distinctly, unabashedly and optimistically modernist. Korty, who for a few years drifted between experiments in revisiting approaches of Impressionist and Postimpressionist painting (generally to lovely and compelling ends) before his more recently concretized formulation of a kind of cool and muted, soft-hard-edged fauvism, has seemed like an artist in search of a style.

Such a claim might read as an allegation of trend-following. But in the case of Korty, it seems less about nailing a hip signature — well, maybe a tiny bit — than about rising to Baudelaire’s Modernist call a century and a half ago to find the “small-m” modernity, in its distinct spirit and beauty, in each age. And while Korty’s particular combination of lush but quieted colors, simplified shapes and articulately angular lines mixed with others as fluid as noodles following French curves might not amount to the stylistic program I’d choose to capture the world I see when I open the morning papers, I can’t deny its applicability to my imaginary better version of the world.

And that better world, which I gladly inhabit when I can — that place where friendly people browse in bookstores, text in peace, lounge in midcentury furniture and commit no transgression greater than stressing out the IT guy by putting their ice-blended beverages too close to their computers — is clearly where Korty, who belongs to the more optimistic of the tribes that have divided Baudelaire’s imperative into half-empty and half-full visions, prefers to operate.

Korty is an astute artist, formally and socially. Astute enough to notice and convey that a racing stripe on the sleeve of a stretch-velvet zip-up topping flared Lycra gym pants worn on a body holding a cell phone while sitting in a bucket chair yields a combination of shape and line unfamiliar even a few years ago. Astute enough to know that his style, though indebted to well-worn precedents, only makes sense in a post-psychedelic, postelectronic, post-IKEA world where design, as the skin of consumerism, has become the incarnation of our dominant faith. Astute enough to know that amid the calm of his images, one also picks up hints, as one does from a friend who has an undivulged problem, of alienation and detachment.

Baudelaire wanted artists who could capture the pageant of “floating existences” that populated the modern world. Korty sees a handsome world in which existences have become wireless.

Michael Kohn Gallery, 8071 Beverly Blvd., L.A., Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; through Nov. 1. (323) 658-8088 or

Katie Grinnan at the MAK Center

Art and Architecture seldom come together as interestingly as they do at the MAK Center, where sculptor Katie Grinnan’s multipart project “Polaris” inhabits the house R.M. Schindler built in the early 1920s. What’s impressive about the interface between the project and the structure itself is that Grinnan’s work, while it was created for this site, isn’t exactly site-specific. In fact, it’s more specific to a site distant in place and time.

The first of three Locus Remix shows to be presented at the MAK, with each show involving one person addressing a distant locale, Grinnan’s project focuses on Kukulkan’s Pyramid in the ancient Mayan city of Chichén-Itzá in the Yucatan. A sculptor as notable for her cultural smarts as for her cleverness in handling material and form, Grinnan is no stranger to dealing with unexpected referents and sites, nor to matters of transplantation. She once created something of a monument to modern ruins and took it on a cross-country road trip to see how it played in politically charged locations including Crawford, Texas, and New Orleans.

Utilizing photographic and video documentation of the Yucatan site, Grinnan sculpted a scale model of the Pyramid, and, from a mold, cast multiple impressions in Friendly Plastic, a water-soluble crafts product that has become one of her signature materials. These minipyramids are painted and in some instances affixed with ink-jet-printed photos from the site, then variously inverted, tipped on their sides, stacked and arranged in rows. This is an overt mimicry of Brancusi’s Endless Column, an allusion to Minimalist sculpture à la Carl Andre and Donald Judd, and an adoption of modular design strategy that, while unusual for her, here makes sense to both of the sacred sites she addresses.

One sculpture converts a Brancusian stacking of the pyramid form, this time erected in welded steel, into a three-tiered equipment rack housing a trio of DVD players. With each piece projecting a diamond-like image conceived by digitally stacking right-side-up and upside-down views of the pyramid, they combine their efforts to create an equally Brancusian apparition on the wall — a conflation and a kind of conspiracy of the architecture of the ancient Americas, Modernist sculpture and design, and new technology.

In Grinnan’s typical mash of materials and commingling of the 2-D, 3-D and 4-D, other plays upon erecting and inversion — on the relationship between object and space, on the overlaps and separations between the ancient and the modern, and on connections between multiple cultures — work their way out through the house and on the grounds.

Grinnan’s triumph here is in her ability to work with equal parts respect and curiosity for her sites, and a sense of permission (from herself, and from the forebears whose influences shaped her sites and her project). Where other artists might get stuck in a rut or run amuck, Grinnan succeeds in producing work that’s engagingly and distinctly hers, while treading lightly upon and offering an expansive take on a mélange of hallowed ground.

MAK Center, Schindler House, 835 N. Kings Rd., West Hollywood; Wed.-Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; through Oct. 26. (323) 651-1510 or

André Butzer at Patrick Painter

As was hinted at in a few canvases included in his show at Metro Pictures in New York last spring, and as is fully evident here, André Butzer, a Stuttgart-born, Berlin-based artist with no shortage of paint or bravura, has made a notable shift from what was seen in his two previous shows at Patrick Painter. Those outings offered an assortment of figures looking something like the love children of Betty Boop and the figure from Edvard Munch’s The Scream, as if painted by Jean Dubuffet, Art Brut (outsider art) advocate and master of the raw and the crude, brought back from the dead and doped with a diet of designer testosterone. But those figures, crammed into the formats of their canvases and treated as portraits or character studies, and occasionally paired with others or offered with accoutrement, now spill into ensemble casts and full scenes in wide expanses of canvas, but with no more elbowroom than before.

Butzer is skilled in balancing between the playful, graceful, brutal and dreadful, in both imagery and aesthetics, and he makes no shortage of nods to artists from whom he’s learned his craft, including Munch and Dubuffet, as well as Guston and Basquiat, and a host of German neo-expressionists whose precedence and permission he has taken with abandon. One is tempted to see in this work a kind of endgame race to the finish with no reward in sight beyond a medal for painterly extremism, or a ploy to deliver the kind of product that detractors of neo-expressionism saw as a promise of the meatily raw that amounted to confection born of calculation. But Butzer delivers something more compelling and worldly — not just art-worldly.

Patrick Painter, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., B2, Santa Monica; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; through Oct. 25. (310) 264-5988 or


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