State of the Art ’05

This special issue celebrates the ever-growing vibrancy and richness of the L.A. art scene. As Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum, notes in her interview, Los Angeles is now the world’s fourth art capital, along with New York, London and Berlin. In at least one area — new-media arts — Southern California is the world’s hub, thanks to the intersection of academic institutions and the film, music and gaming industries. Add renowned art schools, design and fashion and architecture, and (relatively) affordable housing (not to mention the weather), and it’s clear why, as Philbin says, students of those schools no longer move away upon graduation. They’re staying put and adding layer upon layer to this expanding universe. But how to cover it all?! It would be impossible to make note of each and every significant player in the L.A. art world. Thus the following list of artists (plus selected gallerists, curators and collectors) is representative rather than definitive. This year’s emerging artists, chosen by critic Doug Harvey, appear in a separate article, and are on exhibit through November 12 at Track 16 gallery in Bergamot Station. We expect to do this at least biennially in some form, so for all those deserving people not mentioned, there’s always the next time!

By Doug Harvey, Holly Myers, Peter Frank, Christopher Miles, Michael Duncan, Kristine McKenna and others as noted. The Rev. Ethan Acres Raised to be an evangelical preacher in his native Alabama, young Ethan Acres forsook the cloth to pursue his other calling — as a visual artist. By the time he emerged as the most multidimensional artist of the Vegas scene in the late ’90s, he had come full circle, getting ordained over the Internet, modifying a trailer into the first Highway Chapel, performing wildly original sermons, marriages and funerals, and producing enough curdled Christian Pop sculptures, paintings, photo works and crocheted goods to fill galleries in L.A., New York and London — where he preached at the Tate Modern, baptized Damien Hirst’s baby, and performed a modern-dance interpretation of the Fall on the Eve Club’s colored-glass hydraulic dance floor. Having relocated to L.A. for the new millennium, Acres kept up his grueling global schedule for several years, including star turns at Patricia Faure Gallery and Track 16 and an exorcism of the Santa Monica Museum. Unfortunately, many in the religio-phobic art world mistook his profound ambiguity for simplistic caricature. Feeling constricted by conventional art-world channels, the Reverend recently began withdrawing from his art-world affiliations and seeking ways to engage his public directly. While still traveling occasionally and speaking to students, Acres has been pouring his energies into a new version of the Highway Chapel — a pimped-out 1982 hearse this time — and negotiating the opening of his own church. “My new role model is Thomas Kinkade,” he says, laughing wickedly. “He really is!” (DH) Doug Aitken He has made music videos, shot photographs, co-written a book (I Am a Bullet, with Dean Kuipers), and created Web-based artwork, but video installation is where Aitken has had the most impact, crafting visually stunning, spatialized semi-narratives attuned to a post-millennium need for new forms of time and space. (HW)

Doug Aitken, The Moment (2005) Courtesy Regen Projects

John Baldessari Genial giant John Baldessari is rightly considered one of the most influential artists of the past 35 years, having almost single-handedly invented the West Coast flavor of conceptual art. His witty, pared-down, semiotic object lessons on perceptual and cognitive conundrums were at their most distilled in his most recent body of work, Prima Facie, which pairs single words with appropriated images of human faces. (DH) Larry Bell After decades in Taos, Bell came home last year and slipped back into the Venice scene he helped create as a Chouinard grad in the early ’60s. He also helped create Finish Fetish and Light & Space art, Southern California’s answer(s) to minimalism, with his etched-mirror-glass, then just etched-glass boxes, moving on to glass almost imperceptibly tinted per a vacuum technique he’s applied to other media since, with equally luminous results. (PF) Maura Bendett, Narcissus (detail, 2005) Courtesy Roberts & Tilton Gallery Maura Bendett Bendett’s recent exhibition at Roberts & Tilton was the highlight of the spring gallery season. Master of the glue gun, she forms large, drippy wall concoctions of blossoms, thorns and pods that have their own fantastic biological life. With a painterly eye, she sculpts in color and form, making beautiful ornaments that have a living, breathing presence. (MD) Karl Benjamin Hard-Edge Abstraction began here — well, in Claremont. Benjamin was teaching there in 1959 when he was coupled with John McLaughlin, Lorser Feitelson and Frederick Hammersley in a show that went to Europe — where New York got wind of it. Benjamin had already been painting in cubism-derived geometric manners for a decade — and has worked thus ever since. In the process, he’s taught and influenced several generations of Southern Cal artists. (PF) Sandow Birk Birk’s epic In Smog and Thunder used a fictional war between north and south California to produce a torrent of gorgeous, scathing artworks. Since then he’s made angry and poignant work tackling federal prisons and the Rampart scandal. His latest series updates the social criticism of Dante for the Bush era. (See feature here.) (DH) Ginny Bishton Bishton’s feverish collages featuring thousands of minced snapshots of, say, all the food she ate in a year, or very low-altitude aerial shots from her daily walk, have always been dazzling showstoppers. Last year, she quit her day job and produced her most focused and extravagant photo mosaics yet. (DH) Black Dragon Society Black Dragon Society is the oldest Chinatown gallery still open, and it still isn’t putting on airs. Less a commercial venture than an effort of local art professors (mostly associated with UCLA) to provide an outlet to younger talents, it reflects the communitarian ideals that bespeak both those professors’ European roots and the L.A. art world’s own continuing camaraderie. So does the wild diversity of style, attitude and accomplishment. (PF) Chris Burden Many people focused on the irony of Burden quitting UCLA over a gun performance when he himself achieved overnight fame by having himself shot in the arm as a sculptural event. But for decades, Burden has eschewed the risky physical shtick for more mediated explorations of power structures — most recently through almost stately architectural and engineering models. (DH) Carole Caroompas Caroompas’ seething, reference-laden Technicolor canvases have a dark, confectionary seductiveness that should serve as fair warning to anyone who wants to tangle with them. In spite of their sheer retinal and pop-cultural overload, series like Psychedelic Jungle, the recent sortie into curdled exotica, pack a wry and subtle punk-feminist punch. (DH) Karen Carson With each show, Karen Carson confounds expectations, expanding her visceral examination of the interaction of nature and culture. Her recent paintings on silk of fires and windstorms in Western landscapes are cosmic tableaux that reveal the terror and comedy of the sublime — while offering a vehicle for her most virtuosic freeform drawing. Her new work debuts at the USC Fisher Gallery November 18. (MD) Center for Land Use Interpretation Matthew Coolidge, Erik Knutzen, Steve Rowell, Sarah Simons and the other creative minds behind Culver City's Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) continue to be active on several fronts, while maintaining a healthy distance from actual art-world entanglements. Two upcoming projects: an exhibition focusing on the tops and bottoms of mountains, and a profile of the Hudson River that will eventually go on permanent display in their new Troy, New York, facility. (DH) Photo by Sean Bonner Caryn Coleman and Sixspace “There’s no denying what’s happening here with art, but I resisted Culver City for so long, to me it was like the Valley without having to go over the hill,” says Caryn Coleman, having just moved her gallery, Sixspace, from downtown, mostly because of landlord issues. “I gave Chinatown a shot, but getting our business permit and stuff like that here was so easy, Culver City was like Mayberry.” So she and partner (and husband) Sean Bonner converted a warehouse near Susanne Vielmetter and Billy Shire Fine Art, just down from most of the other galleries that followed Blum & Poe about two years ago to the little no man’s land east of La Cienega. Sixspace has a reputation for attracting young collectors, their pockets heavy with disposable income from the movie and music industries, and young artists you can watch evolve before your eyes. Like its owner, who also runs the site, Sixspace is all over the map, showing installations, paintings, photography and works on paper. The gallery’s vibe is young, and Coleman has the youthful glow of a WB star. Then again, she is only 28. “I feel like in all of L.A. there’s this huge buzz and energy. Even New York writers and N.Y.-centric people I know are admitting that what’s happening here in L.A. is extremely vital,” she says as she pushes her long, dark hair behind her ears. “Culver City is definitely going to be the new Chelsea.” Coleman and Bonner recently put together a walking guide, a handy little gallery map, for navigating Culver’s nooks and crannies. It will need to be updated soon, as two more galleries just announced they’re planning to join the pack. “I don’t know if anybody would have predicted Culver City, but there’s a feeling here that we’re a part of something special that transcends the” — Coleman searches for the word — “commerce.” She smiles. “Kind of like we’re all part of history in this time period.” 5803 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (323) 932-6200. (Linda Immediato) Robbie Conal Between teaching at USC, Getty panel discussions on Jacques Louis David, and his Weekly column “Artburn,” Conal still manages to execute nationwide guerrilla-postering campaigns that bring his scathing political caricatures — Dick Cheney the most recent victim — to thousands of people who never set foot in a gallery. (DH) Meg Cranston A 30-foot mountain of eggshells; a room full of life-size piñata self-portraits; a cone of mint-green ice cream, projected wall-size and melting in real time: The work of Meg Cranston is often oblique but big, striking and always memorable, built of history, memory, fantasy and allusion, and couched in an affable homespun style. (HM) Russell Crotty Crotty’s plainspoken ink renderings of planets and galaxies are the results of his backyard telescope observations. Bridging the gap between science and art, he measures and records the emotive power of the skyscape. Crotty defiantly claims his back yard as the center of the universe, his canyon’s horizon line as the edge of the world. Silhouettes of palm trees, oaks, satellite dishes, mansions, electrical pylons, outdoor sculpture and Winnebagos are silent and peripheral witnesses to one man’s heavenly manifestations. (MD) Georganne Deen Mothers and witches, lovers and wolves, doilies and paisleys, and flowers and snakes — the horrors of female adolescence, courted with trepidation and rendered with ruthless eloquence, run rampant in Georganne Deen’s delicate but sour and wonderfully sordid little paintings. Her piece Pluto's Pleasure graces one of our two covers this week. (HM) Roy Dowell Dowell’s local influence may come most apparently from his stewardship of Otis College’s graduate division. But it’s his collage rather than college connection that’s truly, enduringly persuasive, reaffiriming the tenets of modernism in a postmodernist milieu. Dowell’s pasted papers, and his paste-up approach to painting, conflate the billboard breadth of Pop art with the urgency and intimacy of early-20th-century collageomaniacs like the Dadaists and Futurists. (PF)

Michael Duncan Art in America’s man in Los Angeles and Weekly contributor Michael Duncan is turning into one of the most interesting local freelance curators, specializing in forgotten movements like Post-Surrealism, underappreciated regional talents like Sister Corita and Richard Pettibone, and his own quirky surveys of the contemporary “Post-Cool” scene. Currently, “Semina Culture,” Duncan and Kristine McKenna’s show on “Wallace Berman & His Circle,” is on view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art through November 26. (DH)

Sam Durant Durant’s many-layered multimedia remixes of Robert Smithson, ’70s rock & roll, and insurrectionist politics have — surprisingly — resulted in a burgeoning acceptance by the art-world establishment. Durant, named this year’s prestigious CSULB Zeitlin Lecturer, has new gallery affiliations with Paula Cooper in NYC and Gagosian in London. All power to the people! (DH) Miriam Dym Ever flip through your Thomas Guide just to look at the lines and shapes? Miriam Dym obviously has, but in her paintings, drawings and objects she never loses sight of the map’s syntactical coherency, symbolic intricacy and landscape properties. Without visual tricks, but with a lot of conceptual play and a powerful sense of design, Dym brings us places we could never imagine existed. (PF) Tim Ebner In the ’90s, Tim Ebner shifted from Finish Fetish works to lush paintings of storybook animals, with an emphasis on rich color, expressive brushwork and upbeat fantasy. Vanquished heroes of slightly unsettling fairy tales, Ebner’s animals are oddly moving, mysteriously charming fantasy surrogates anchored by a kind of psychological urgency. (MD) ECF Art Center My favorite source of great cheap art is the ECF Art Center just east of the Magic Johnson Theaters at Crenshaw and King. Artists with developmental disabilities churn out awesome and inspired visual treats five days a week. Their annual holiday sale is on December 10 from 1 to 5 p.m., 3750 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 290-6030. (DH) Merion Estes Estes’ retrospective at Pomona College Museum of Art next year will reveal the fresh relevancy of this longtime master of visual extravagance. Estes creates alternate universes of hyperdecoration civilized by color, texture and fertile excess, in which ornamentation is the means to unleashing imaginative fancy and enhancing everyday reality. (MD) Nancy Evans One of L.A.’s most consistently inventive abstract artists, Evans is returning to the scene with new paintings and a surprise — bronze figural sculptures cast from augmented segments of leaves and pods. With an experimental exuberance that rivals that of Ed Moses, Evans toys with the intersection of the organic and the abstract, creating a new synthetic nature. (MD) Bart Exposito Are we finished having fun yet? Young artists may actually have gotten serious again. When they turn to idealistic models such as Constructivism and make them their own, you begin to think Neo-modernism is around the corner. By turning that corner with a forceful (almost Pop) compositional vocabulary and an abiding ability to surprise, Exposito doesn’t just follow in Mondrian’s and Kelly’s footsteps, he leaves tracks of his own. (PF) Shepard Fairey Shepard Fairey heads a media empire launched in 1990 by the now-ubiquitous face of Andre the Giant. Originally an experiment in “phenomenology,” the OBEY GIANT and ANDRE HAS A POSSE sticker revolution led to sold-out gallery shows of hand-screened prints. Meanwhile, the Fairey phenomenon evolved into a design studio (Studio Number One), a quarterly lifestyle magazine (Swindle) and a streetwear line (Obey). In his spare time, he nurtures new talent in his own gallery space (Subliminal), directs a new urban branding agency (Project 2050) and books regular DJ gigs as DJ Diabetic. Oh, and that graffiti thing — he still throws up to keep up. What does this have to do with art? Paraphrasing ’60s cultural media guru Marshall McLuhan, the Giant’s motto is “The medium is the message.” Fairey makes no bones about his capitalistic intentions, but believes his commerce is done with integrity and helps him achieve loftier goals, such as perpetuating the myth of the Giant image on the street and contributing to social and political causes. Now in his mid-30s, he can keep up the pace. He does what he loves and surrounds himself with smart people at the top of their game who can carry out his vision — and their own. (Shelley Leopold) Llyn Foulkes The Lost Frontier — Foulkes’s astonishing new 8-foot-tall panel depicting the bleak L.A. basin — conveys a powerful sense of an urban society run totally amok. Commanding viewers with its shimmering light and sense of sublime vastness, this major work invokes a new kind of terribilità, inspired by waste, hubris and human indifference. Foulkes desires nothing less than ?to reinvigorate painting with the moral seriousness of Renaissance religious art. (MD) Charles Garabedian Most artists peter out or at least hit a plateau once they reach 80, but Charles Garabedian just keeps getting better. His two massive, dreamlike island scapes, September Song and The Spring for Which I Longed, are both hauntingly elegiacal and riotously sensual, among the best artworks to surface in the past year. (DH) Invisible Glass (2005) Courtesy Janie Geiser Puppet Master Janie Geiser At the moment, Janie Geiser inhabits a little house facing a palmetto forest in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, with crickets and birds chirping outside. The recipient of an Atlantic Center for the Arts residency, Geiser is using the time away from her busy life as the director of the Cotsen Center for Puppetry and the Arts at CalArts to work on several new projects set to premiere next spring. Geiser is known for a host of deliciously rich and sensuous animated films that often combine objects and cutouts seemingly plucked from the past. These things are set in evanescent landscapes, and the films frequently feel like shadowy memories or murky dreams. Lost Motion (1999), for example, features a little metal man searching for a woman who is supposed to arrive by train; he stumbles through a desolate downtown built out of scraps of metal, looking and looking, but in vain. In just a few minutes, the short film captures a sense of deep melancholic sorrow. “I like the way inanimate objects are able to speak,” Geiser says, and her films are a testament to the ability of these objects to communicate. The same power resonates in Geiser’s puppet theater, in which wood, wire, paper and other materials become utterly real, speaking to us about love and loss. In her newest work, Geiser is combining puppetry, live performance and film. “They reflect on each other in a great way,” she says. Geiser is currently collaborating with Susan Simpson on an adaptation of Frankenstein that borrows from, among other things, the history of 19th-century painting and will be staged as a kind of panorama. (Holly Willis) Giant Robot's Eric Nakamura Photo by Kevin Scanlon Robot vs. Munky Just over a decade ago, Giant Robot was a punk rock zine — less punk, more rock — cut, pasted and stapled together by two Asian-American college guys, one of whom had a thing for mechanical Japanese robot toys. Today, Giant Robot is a glossy lifestyle, arts and music magazine with an international readership of 60,000. And it is a small network of stores/galleries in New York, San Francisco, Silver Lake and West Los Angeles that sells underground comics, stickers, fire-breathing Godzilla Gama-Go T-shirts, cats-dressed-as-food toys and Marcel Dzama ghost lamps. Now, there is even a Giant Robot café, Gr/Eats, a block from the flagship store on Sawtelle Boulevard (see Counter Intelligence, here). “When we started in 1994, there wasn’t anything around dealing with the cool, interesting aspects of Asian life,” says founder-publisher Eric Nakamura. “We wanted to fill that void.” Nakamura oversees the stores and curates the art shows, while his business partner, Martin Wong, edits the magazine. Nakamura likes taking chances on young unknown artists. His was the first store to carry David Horvath’s scary-cute plush line of Ugly Dolls. Kozyndan and Ai Yamaguchi had their first shows there. Barry McGee, Yoshimoto Nara and Seonna Hong have appeared in group shows. Giant Robot may not have discovered Asian-American youth, but it certainly helped put us on the map. Two years ago, another gallery/store began to court the same demographic. Chinatown’s Munky King is SoCal’s first toy store devoted exclusively to the sub-sub-subgenre of urban vinyl art. Inside Patrick and Chanda Lam’s store is a small army of customized collectible action-figure critters (called Qees), each as unique as the artist who painted it. A little competition isn’t a bad thing. When it’s Robot versus Munky, everybody wins. (Gendy Alimurung) Jeff Gillette Gillette rivals only the great Llyn Foulkes as L.A.’s most trenchant political artist. His bitterly funny works skewer the shibboleths of religion and commerce that have made the Bush era so heinous and dumb. Casually disregarding any semblance of a careerist path, this Orange County high school teacher and former Peace Corps volunteer is the ruling anarchist of Dirt Gallery, the brainchild of artist Rhonda Saboff. Gillette’s beautifully articulated paintings of Bombay and Calcutta slums deliver a dark satiric bite: Vast landscapes of shanties extending into a distant horizon are interrupted only by single small signposts, a shimmering banner for Kentucky Fried Chicken or a McDonald’s arch. Other recent works update traditional Orientalist themes of desert exoticism with accouterments of Imperialist Pop: an Afghan camel rider sets off to deliver a Domino’s pizza; a turbaned insurgent sips a Starbucks double latte. Gillette augments the paintings with off-the-cuff collages stuck in thrift-store frames — simple interventions of Sunday-school illustrations with cut-out cartoon characters. His grinning Mickey cast as Judas, Peter Rabbit denying the dead Christ, and the Grinch leering at a stolen crucifix skewer the myths of both Bible thumpers and the Disney Channel. Gillette is a sanctimony-seeking missile, and in other collages he hilariously tweaks the sacrosanct values of art history, leveling the playing field. Playboy cartoon nudies pose alongside Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon; Archie and Veronica explore “gender issues” inside an installation by Barbara Kruger. As incisive and tough as Raymond Pettibon’s early drawings, Gillette’s work takes no prisoners. (MD)

Jeff Gillette, Dirty Vegas (2004) Courtesy Dirt Gallery

Marsea Goldberg and New Image Art Marsea Goldberg is quintessential L.A. bohemia — a sun-kissed, middle-aged surfer-girl Jewess, with a small streak of anarchy in her hair, who sampled all the dishes in the big buffet of life before accidentally sinking her teeth into the main course. New Image Art gallery started in 1994 in Goldberg’s 10-by-10-foot surf-wear design studio when some of her friends needed walls on which to hang art. Having formerly been a painter-who-showed, Goldberg was sympathetic. “I was slacking and I had this studio and my friends asked if they could put their art up and I said, ‘Yeah, if you clean the room.’ I wasn’t planning on this, but it snowballed.” What it snowballed into is the local way station for hobo artists hopping trains on their way from obscurity to something in the vicinity of, well, if not fame and fortune, then at least some notoriety. New Image exists more or less to give promising artists, most without means or pedigrees, a break. She can lay claim to either breaking or propelling the careers of such nouveau “outsider” art stars as Ed Templeton, Jo Jackson, Chris Johanson, the late Rebecca Westcott, Neckface, et al. Goldberg ain’t getting rich either, housing, feeding and packing the lunches of these kids before they head off into the big, bad art world, but that’s okay with her. “I have the life I want,” she says. “It’s not about money. It’s about moving the art forward.” 7908 Santa Monica Blvd., (323) 654-2192. (Joe Donnelly)

Goldberg (center) with artists at New Image Art Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Joe Goode In his intricately textured paintings and works on paper, Joe Goode processes the actual experience of nature, taking viewers under water, up trees, behind waterfalls, into tornadoes and within wafts of smog. His new painted photographs re-examine various themes from the past, putting a new conceptual spin on his longtime study of perceptual illusion. With works that are both sensuous and intelligent, Goode is L.A.’s most sophisticated abstract artist. (MD) Griffin Contemporary, Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Daniel Weinberg Gallery The most informative, and certainly the most pleasurable, group of galleries in New York isn’t in Chelsea but uptown, where many art emporia specialize in yesterday’s avant-gardes and in the current, ever-vital work of artists who you thought died years ago. There are few such galleries in Los Angeles, but they are growing in number and sophistication. West Hollywood has seen the best local concentration of them, but now you can find several good ones near LACMA — logically enough — and even out in Santa Monica. Griffin Contemporary, in the latter location, and Marc Selwyn Fine Art and the Daniel Weinberg Gallery, in the former, all show younger contemporaries, but in all three cases, their strong suit has become the art and artists of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, notably the ones you hadn’t ever heard of or hadn’t thought of since you were in school. A few months ago, Griffin mounted a delicious show of West Coast minimalism (which market gallerist Bill Griffin seems intent on cornering), and just recently hung a roomful of excellent, rarely seen Rauschenbergs. For their part, Selwyn and Weinberg just joined forces to take a look back at Sir Anthony Caro’s expansive abstract sculpture from 1965 to 1985. Weinberg also has a preference for some of New York’s quirkier talents — Pop painter John Wesley, color-field éminence grise Paul Feeley, post-minimalist Ralph Humphrey, even post-post-minimalist Tom Nozkowski — while Selwyn is the place to go for the work of the late, local Lee Mullican and various other late-modern masters from either side of the Atlantic whose work on paper invariably graces the backrooms. Everything post- is neo- again. Griffin, 2902 Nebraska Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 586-6886; Selwyn, 6222 Wilshire Blvd., Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (2004), new acquisition, Museum of Modern Art, New York

(323) 933-9911. Weinberg, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., #8, (323) 954-8425. (PF) Mark Grotjahn Persistence pays off. I was initially skeptical of the clunky geometric abstraction of Mark Grotjahn’s rainbow-perspective paintings, but his project of trading shopkeepers’ sloppy signage for his own tidied-up versions and his recent show at Blum & Poe — particularly the COBRA-esque Untitled (Blue Face Grotjahn) — won me over. If that doesn’t make you take notice, maybe the fact that MOMA keeps buying him will. (DH)

To read part two of the story, from Tim Hawkinson to Laura Owens click here.

To read part three of the story, from Jennifer Pastor to Diana Zlotnick click here.


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