For a gallery that recently filed for bankruptcy protection (yet again — does this work for student loans?), ACE is showing unusual signs of vigor. For one thing, monocoastal Angelenos are finally able to experience prophet-without-honor Tim Hawkinson‘s much-lauded Pentecost, a room-size sculpture that knocked ’em dead last year in New York and at the Venice Biennale, but is only now making its hometown debut. A huge ”tree“ painted beige woodgrain extends through one of the cavernous ACE galleries with oddly institutional branch formations, leading out to 12 full-size figures based on the artist‘s earlier ”bath-generated self-portrait“ (a sort of contour map from a series of photographs of Hawkinson in a bathtub filling with black paint). Each of these figures is constructed from topographically layered cross sections of the artist’s form, and is equipped with an electronically controlled percussive device in, variously, a hand, foot, penis, mouth, etc., which beats out Christmas songs on the drumheaded branch endings. These drumheads, though timbrally different, aren‘t tuned to the original carols’ scales, and so it‘s difficult to recognize what melody the rhythmical patterns derive from, and the complexity of the acoustic environment. (Each scattered figure plays a fragment of the pattern, and the arching, museumlike space provides heavy echo effects that further muddle the translation.) Pentecost refers to the events, described in the New Testament book Acts of the Apostles, occurring 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, on the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot, where the Holy Spirit allegedly descended from heaven and set tongues of flame burning over the 12 apostles, who then spoke in languages they didn‘t normally understand. (This is the source of the controversial charismatic-Christian practice of glossolalia.) The strange mixture of Judeo-Christian reference with the pagan mythological archetype of the World Tree and the almost shamanistic wash of percussive sound, filtered through Hawkinson’s eccentrically humorous faux-digital assemblage aesthetic, might make for a difficult art experience. Instead, Pentecost has a soothing effect, seeming to offer a gently opti-mistic and entirely unsuspected passage out of the narcissistic cul-de-sac offered by that other locally notorious multiple self-portrait — Charles Ray‘s O Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!
Also at ACE is a new series of abstract paintings by John Millei. The last body of his work I remember seeing was almost uniformly silver, so this new exhibit is particularly startling for its wide-ranging and spirited palette. Densely layered passages of accomplished paint handling result in complex chromatic compositions that add a sexy playfulness to what is already a deep negotiation with the problems and pleasures of abstract painting. On the other side of the building, ACE is hosting an ambitious conceptual piece by Frenchman Fabrice Hybert, whose L.A. show is a mere warm-up for an elaborate multimedia installation called Encyclopedia of the Unknown sited at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris starting in June.
Down Wilshire at the recently opened Roberts & Tilton Gallery in Dan Bernier’s old space, there is a strange echo of another ACE artist. A few years back, China Adams was snapped up from UCLA undergraduate school by ACE impresario Mr. Christmas on the basis of a single artwork entailing a plastic surgeon removing a chunk of the artist‘s flesh, which Adams then ate. A hard act to follow (not to mention swallow), but Adams carried on in part by having a show containing objects that were notarized as having passed all the way through her digestive tract. Charles LaBelle, whose rickety, jewel-like grids of tiny architectural photographs have been catching my attention for the last couple of years, has taken this a thankfully limited genre of artistic process to another level in his Disappearer — Shirt That Passed Through My Body. As the centerpiece of the exhibit, the vitrined Disappearer — a normal white dress shirt gridded off and cut into consumable portions, passed through the alimentary tube in a balloon, then meticulously reassembled — has a humorously museological air. With each square carefully numbered and differently discolored from its journey, it looks like some obscure 19th-century diagnostic tool from the Mutter Medical Museum, invoking an air of institutional historicism when in fact the only history it embodies is its own abject gastrointestinal migration. Linking LaBelle’s gridworks back to his own earlier interest in stains and cartography, the exhibition also extends the documentary narrative of his photography with a series of numbered brown monochrome watercolor sketches of every building he entered over a month and a half last year. Arranged in yet another grid in some correspondence with the charted-off shirt, the artful but innocuous sketches take on a slightly queasy psychological pitch, as if the artist is experiencing some confusion between his own bowels and the tattoo parlors and coffee shops of L.A. The most unnerving part is that it seems to make sense.
A less disturbing but equally rewarding take on the L.A. storefront-landscape tradition is coming down this weekend at Patricia Faure Gallery at Bergamot Station. Photographer John Divola, whose overheated and darkroom-tinkered landscapes seemed to drag themselves reluctantly out of the ‘80s, has come up with a deadpan set of panoramic street scenes that radiate with exquisite color and detail. Down the way at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Tim Ebner’s perpetually astonishing second career continues in full force, with several new bears-in-the-surf paintings (including a group that appears to be modeled on a Tommy Hilfiger ad) as well as some new oddities — a deep-sea diver, a snapping turtle, a heron, and a ”primordial earthscape“ that‘s like those Glen Brown sci-fi plagiarisms without the attitude. Topping this off, and setting this show above the artist’s last couple of animal-painting exhibits (if only for the background they lend it), are a series of gorgeous abstract terrazzo pieces inlaid with brass and exhibited in the backroom. Dating from 10 years ago, these deliriously decorative works emphasize the admirably willful abandon with which Ebner was able to radically shift gears in midcareer.
The main reason for visiting Bergamot just now, though, is to check out Shirley Tse‘s long-awaited solo debut at Shoshana Wayne. Tse, an Art Center graduate, has been making strong appearances in group shows for several years, one of a small array of artists using Styrofoam and bubble-wrap as their primary media. Arranged around the perimeter of the large main gallery is a ”sequence“ of carved blue polystyrene slabs, displayed flat, perpendicular to the wall, like a manuscript, at waist level. This arrangement suggests a linearity to the work (entitled Polymathicstyrene) that, like Hawkinson’s painstaking mimicries, defies its high-tech connotations, reinforcing the laborious power routing that produced the work. And while many of the resulting sculptural reliefs are elegant — recalling intricate architectural models, elaborate microcircuitry or Gigeresque blends of flesh and technology — it is ultimately this evidence of the artist‘s hand that is emphasized. Groups of panels reading as a narrative reflect the cycle of excitement, frustration, boredom, desperation and breakthrough that structures an artist’s exploration of a new medium, transcending the enervating indifference with which most Styrofoam art is strewn about, and ultimately overcoming the prosaic utilitarianism of the material‘s origins.
Friday night, April 7, the Santa Monica Museum hosts a fund-raiser initiated by Absolut vodka, at which, for a $250 donation to the museum, you can take home an artwork incorporating an Absolut bottle. Participating artists include Karen Carson, Yoshitomo Nara, Dani Tull, Solomon Huerta and the Rev. Ethan Acres. The Benefit Preview (and first pickin’s) starts at 7, and costs $50 to get in. Whatever‘s left will be on view and available Saturday. (See Events listings in Calendar.)
If you’re as fond of crabby old white men complaining about art as I am (and I never miss a chance to see Peter Plagens), you‘ll want to catch the second and third of three lectures by New York eminence grise Donald Kuspit at USC’s Andrus Gerontology Auditorium tonight and Monday, April 10, at 6:30. Kuspit, who has been recently advocating ”Pure Art“ as opposed to ”the antisocial perversity of shock-schlock art exemplified by Paul McCarthy and Chris Ofili,“ will be defending the artist‘s subjectivity from postmodernist cynicism. Lectures are free, but parking’s $6. Call (213) 740-ARTS for info.
George‘s, the Vermont Avenue gallery affiliated with X-Large and directed for almost three years by Ann Faison, has announced that it’s closing its doors permanently as of May 1. From its audacious first month of 30 openings in 30 days, George‘s has played a vital and high-profile role in the Eastside art scene, and will be sorely missed. A grand-closing party is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 29. For its last show, now open, Sean Duffy’s assembled a group of his splendid fun-fur-under-clear-vinyl depictions of primitive video-game animations, appropriately titled Game Over.
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