Karen Liebowitz at Rosamund Felsen Gallery

Karen Liebowitz, Blow-up Leviathan (2007)
(Click to enlarge)

Satoru Hoshino, Spring Snow No. 3 (2007)
(Click to enlarge)

If you read the title of Karen Liebowitz's show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery — “Leviathan” (from the Manifesting Prophecy Series) — you might be expecting something religiously and politically loaded. But you probably wouldn't expect the four large oils on canvas and related studies that grab hold of the old-master tradition of giving image to religion and myth, scramble its sociocultural DNA, throw it into a Freudian full nelson, and give it a cosmopolitan makeover.

The exhibition's centerpiece canvas depicts a young woman wearing a no-frills black bra beneath a frock seemingly appropriate for bedroom or poolside. Or perhaps for the beach, where she sits in the painting's middle ground, backdropped by a tempestuous sky. Perched atop a barnacled rock, she prepares to blow up an inflatable toy on the scale of a Macy's parade float. Never mind the valve stem the size of a plantain, the leviathan to which it is attached is a stretch of serpent flesh so long it slithers diagonally across the composition, pushing through the painting's foreground and extending beyond the picture plane.

The odd eroticism of giving breath to what is simultaneously a toy, a life raft and a monster makes a compelling narrative, and the composition and illusionism carry it over, but what really makes the painting is the way the creature morphs and comes to life as you scan its length. At the business end, it's gray, shriveled and unquestionably vinyl, but moving across the picture, it gradually flushes with color, it plumps, and its multiple orifices and fins seem to quiver. It's an impressive accomplishment, creating a special-effects sequence within a single, still, painted image — the sort of feat that has caused some to call the Venetian painter Tintoretto cinematic. Liebowitz's work also occasionally slips into some of Tintoretto's failings — a tendency to gloss over discontinuities, or to let the drama and overall resolution of the images carry some less-resolved areas here and there. But they do carry.

Such sexualized pop/myth adventures continue in a painting of a beach-siren quintet — imagine if the scouting team for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue tapped into the Amazonian talent pool — hanging out in a cave and fashioning a net. In a third canvas, a young heroine holds onto the beast as it hurtles through the water, unsure as to who is catching whom — Hemingway's old fisherman meets Xena, Warrior Princess. The warrior appears triumphant in a fourth canvas, scantily clad and straddling the creature with a fishnet saddle, striking a bull rider's pose with one hand gripping the reins, once again blowing — this time sounding a shofar.

You can almost hear that ram's horn blasting, but other sounds are percolating up in the background. As a way of getting beyond the verbal stumbling that comes up in analyzing art — and tapping into the iPod generation's proclivity for matching soundtracks to every one of life's experiences — I often ask students to try to name what soundtrack would best go with the implications, flavors and attitudinal infusions of a work of art. After all, there's a big difference between a domestic scene that calls to mind Paul and Paula's “Hey Paula” and one that gets Joy Division's “Love Will Tear Us Apart” stuck in your noggin.

It doesn't work with Liebowitz's until you're willing to give up the categories you think these paintings belong in and, in so doing, give up the operatic and orchestral pieces loaded with timpani and French horn. Consider what odd sorts of paintings these really are, and pretty soon, Beyonce's “Crazy in Love” is welling up in your head and then fading into the Spice Girls' “Wannabe.” Next comes a crescendo of Scorpions' “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and a triumphant climax in Irene Cara's “What a Feeling” (Flashdance theme), followed by a denouement of Aerosmith's “Sweet Emotion.” Now you've got it, and now you know that the religiously and politically loaded images you expected when you read the show's title are hanging right there in front of you.2525 Michigan Ave., B-4 (Bergamot Station), Santa Monica; Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 9. (310) 828-8488.

Walead Beshty at China Art Objects Galleries and Redling Fine Art

One can make much, perhaps too much, of Walead Beshty's show spanning the spaces of China Art Objects and Redling Fine Art in Chinatown. With titles chronicling the circumstances and materials of their making, and alternate titles like laundry lists of color names and terms ranging from familiar to esoteric, it's easy to turn the viewing of this work into an esoterica of its own. But what's most compelling about Beshty's photograms, made by manipulating paper, photographs printed from negatives exposed by airport X-ray machines, and cinderblockish ruin objects cast from shredded photos and documents mixed with a binding agent, isn't the location of the airport or the date of the source material indicated in the title, but rather the direct experience of these objects and images where the conceptual meets the phenomenological — where gamesmanship yields to, and yields, gut feeling. China Art Objects Galleries, 933 Chung King Rd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat. noon-6 p.m.; thru Feb. 8. (213) 613-0384. Redling Fine Art, 990 N. Hill St., Suite 210, L.A.; Wed.-Sat. noon-6 p.m.; thru Feb. 9. (323) 230-7415.

Satoru Hoshino at Frank Lloyd Gallery

Hoshino packs the expansive visceral energy that defined his past wall works and installations into discrete objects within the tradition of the ceramic vessel. Thought relatively large for ceramic works and imposing in their forms, they are humble in origin — basic coil-and-pinch pots that show every touch in their making, not as expressionist flourishes, but as notations of what they are and how they came to be. But as much as they are persistently and insistently self-identifying, they are also highly evocative of land and seascape, so much so that looking at them as objects, you begin to relate to them as if they are environs, and if you get on your tiptoes and look down into them, you actually get a bit lost. Not exactly teapots, but no doubt about the fact that tempests reside within. If you're not up for the connoisseurship this collection of works demands, they might seem redundant, but if you're ready, it's a rewarding immersion in the subtleties and complexities found within simple things. 2525 Michigan Ave., Building B-5B, Santa Monica; Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru Feb. 9. (310) 264-3866.

Lauren Bon at Ace Gallery

An artist seemingly torn between tendencies toward the austere and the excessive, Lauren Bon is at her best when she manages to negotiate a relationship between them. This negotiation is at the heart of spinning off works from Bon's 2005 “Not a Cornfield” project, in which she turned a 32-acre railway yard near Chinatown into a sculpture of 1 million cornstalks. With that history in mind, it's hard not to see that some of this work is indeed spun off — what do you do with 90 miles of irrigation stripping or 33,000 pounds of dried corn? But arguably the works that convert these leftovers into Arte-Poverish installations are an ecological extension of Bon's process, and they stand up as individual works. Among the collection of other works in this show, some of which seem like too much or too little, some hit it just right, especially the stronger works emerging from Bon's preoccupation with honey and bees stemming from the cornfield project, and her attendant fixation on myths involving honey and insects emerging from meat. The hit of the exhibition is a fountain dripping honey on a preserved lamb carcass, so rich and palpable as to be overwhelming and yet seeming almost like a whisper or an apparition. 5514 Wilshire Blvd., Second Floor, L.A.; Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru Feb. (323) 935-4411.

Lynn Aldrich at Carl Berg Gallery

An artist who for years has produced works and exhibitions revealing the depth of her natural curiosity about objects and materials, and about the formal and poetic potentials involved in making things, Lynn Aldrich does it again with wit and wisdom at Carl Berg Gallery. Tubes that should carry fluids become water itself spurting from a rain gutter that abandons its straight lines for the calligraphic contours of a snake or hose. Kitchen sponges and scouring pads conglomerate into coral-reef formations, and swatches of animal-print fabric and fake fur compose a cross between a patchwork quilt and a chart of the evolution of species. A true assemblagist, Aldrich wraps viewers in the pleasures of the double-read by presenting objects in a largely as-found condition while transforming them via simple modification, accumulation, combination and juxtaposition. It's an art in which it's precisely when the artist tips her hand and shows the trick that you see the magic.6018 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru Feb. 2. (323) 931-6060.

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