Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Although artists are what count in the long run, the styles, tastes, and fates of the galleries are at least semi-crucial in a scene as continually precarious as Los Angeles. A couple of months ago, I ungenerously labeled Eugenia Butler’s establishment an emporium of “ideological entertainments”; since then the character of the shows (at least the last two) have changed in that the art has gotten more physical, visual and, I think, better. Richard Jackson is basically an Abstract Expressionist painter, but he’s been influenced by a number of things, among them anti-art (or, anti-pretty art) in general, and Bruce Nauman in particular. Jackson’s major piece is either a maze or a series of paintings arranged in spiral succession; it is composed of stretched canvas panels, about eight feet high, which allow the viewer a passage among them a yard wide, painted surfaces on either side, winding to the center, where he’s greeted by the backs (raw canvas, wood frames) of interior panels and, on the floor, a “fallen” free panel, stuck to the floor in its own wet paint. The painting is similar throughout: washed, dripped, and scraped color, in distinct but multi-chrome “flavors” on the canvas, the surplus splattered and dragged on the floor. Funky construction devices are evident: bracing boards overhead, tacking on the canvas, etc.

What the piece is supposed to do, I think, is a) to improve painting per se by expansion into an environment, a demi-“participation” piece, and b) to preserve the art-as-art quality by refusing to clean up its rawness, its home-built aroma, its inherent funkiness (which is, in addition to the concern for narrow passageways, an influence of Nauman). The first more or less fails (which is to say I believe painting-as-painting is best left within its own narrow two-dimensional, stand-offish limits) while the painting within it is good, but the second more or less succeeds, a feeling shored up by Jackson’s earlier work and the drawings attendant in this show: Jackson has a nice facility which, while not vital to the main premises, certainly doesn’t hurt anything. But painted canvases inevitably carry expectations of optical space, a delicate collection of phenomena requiring, to be apprehended appreciatively, a simplicity of presentation (usually a clean wall, adequate, even lighting, and a regular, flat format for the work itself). When the piece turns corners, spills its color to the floor, allows only a couple of feet of viewing distance, the painterly space crumbles; if “painterly space” is not intended, the proper intentions would be made more clear by less associative materials. Nevertheless, Jackson’s show is adventurous, uncompromising, and solid, and, given the run so far this season, quite encouraging.

Charles Garabedian’s new work is even better. Garabedian, who used to teach at UCLA a while back, and showed at the defunct Ceeje Gallery with some other raw expressionists, has a reputation as an inventive, personal, hard-to-take non-formalist; this show supports all that and a little more. It is, in fact, only a shade better than pointless to attempt a verbal distillation of the sour nectar of Garabedian’s work, it is that successfully anti-critical; nevertheless:

Garabedian’s big works are wood panels, standing rows of rough boards about 1 1/2 inches across and, say, 3/8 of an inch, glued, or resined together like fences (whose facades are ripply enough to make them freestanding); on these, Garabedian has drawn (crudely, simply, elegantly, tastelessly), painted (mostly white, augmented by bludgeoning reds and noxious mint greens, etc.), designed (e.g. an awful curly-Q of combed paint across the bottom), sculpted (cut-out gaps filled with resin), and annotated, something vague and ominous about “China” (written on several pieces). Simply put (I am trying to exit gracefully), the things stand there, sort of talk to you, and you either dig it or you don’t. The only other item one could ask is that Garabedian exclude some smaller painted troughs, approximating the same look in a format a little closer to sculpture; they seem a sort of Venice Anti-Precious Precious, without the formidability of the bigger stuff. At any rate, these two shows were to me a welcome respite from hothouse “concept,” scripted in the shadows of Desilu or trucked down from San Francisco, under piles of Zap Comics. Would that there be more.

Micahel Balog, on the basis of his first one-man show at Irving Blum, is something of a problem, since I seem not too taken by a show which, quality-by-quality. has everything going for it; that problem is, plainly, whether Balog’s work indeed lacks some indefinable “soul” which enables high-powered interior decoration to cross over into “art,” or whether this writer is suffering from romantic fogeyism, futilely demanding Olde Time Religion from products of the New Enlightenment. Not having reached Ultimate Clear myself, I suspect the latter. But I’ve enough faith in my eye, and enough confidence in my sense of recent history, not to rule out the former simply out of fear of being embarrassed by Whitney Annuals of the future. Balog’s five paintings are 10 foot square flexible sheets of fiberglass which have been painted (totally covered, I think) with several layers of colored resin, and then, as the image-making, sandblasted in varying intensities so that an elaborate flora of chroma is revealed, not to mention the actual puncturing of the panels. The imagery is similar in all five: diagonal (upper right to lower left) strata of rectangular “amoebas” (about 5 to 6 inches wide and up to a yard long), each with interior blossoming and a halating outline, and perforations (holes) in the same shade and scale as the painted configurations. The backgrounds (i.e., the top coat of color) are neutrals of differing hues, and the “amoebas” tend toward bright, candy-like colors. Lastly, the paintings are hung on white metal braces a little less than a foot from the wall.

The positive aspects of Balog’s show are readily apparent: 1) the paintings are rich (lots of things, color changes, surface workings) and elegant (tasteful colors, graceful employment of the blaster); 2) tactility, as a “secondary” consideration, is deliciously handled; and 3) the pictures are surely impressive as physical and technical projects, as mechanical risks taken and rewarded. The (what I see as) negative elements are more elusive, and I cannot at the moment do more than enumerate them at random: 1) the paintings have an aura of the art director, reminding me somewhat of big dry-mounted color blowups of microphotography, elucidating the spectacular, but unexpressive, grandeur of salt crystals or moth’s wings; 2) the perforations are cute addenda. to painting a little unsure of itself, somewhat like an off-the-rack dress jazzed up with cut-outs in the midriff; 3) the imagery is unselectively complex and phantasmic, a trait of some mediocre painters, like Hunterwasser; and 4) it’s all a bit pat for a young artist—the available permutations for exhibitions from now till 1976 are (spiritually) lying about like ripe apples, the fringe benefit of process-as-style as currently practiced in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, it’s glowingly “successful,” and, since I’d better get used to having been wrong about Balog, let me say that one picture, Pars Ciliaris, jousts with its wall space at the end of the gallery, tilting itself in a slight, profound disorientation, a kind of plastic, sideways Rothko-Hofmann, and makes the whole show worthwhile.

The same sort of nagging doubts (again, very likely the personal luggage of the writer) pursue the Contemporary Art Council’s “New Talent” show of the three latest award winners, John Alberty, David Deutsch, and Pat Hogan; Alberty, however, is the least affected, probably because his piece, though right out of the files of Morris, Sonnier and Andre, Attorneys-at-Art, is so strange. In an area of rug (unfortunately that boggling pattern some interior designer thought nice because it matched the museum’s pillar cross-sections) marked off with tape strips, Alberty has dispensed several hundred small, irregular truncated cones of a translucent brown stuff apparently subject to molding, on nine even rectangular areas, designated by plastic drop cloths; monitoring this are four chrome-caged fans, much in the spirit of Sonnier’s “elegant gear,” but not as effective. There is, however, an abruptness, a chewy discontinuity about the whole business which suggests that, while Alberty is brighter than he is tough, he is tough enough.

David Deutsch is a painter, and, though he has gotten a lot of enfant terrible mileage out of the fact that his work requires the “defacing” of actual walls, he is pretty orthodox about it, in a kind of Sam Francis way. In fact, Deutsch’s work is, again, in what amounts to a southern California “school,” almost the invention of a process per se, namely the injecting of watery color behind a plastic sheet slapped to the wall, the spreading of the color in Vogue Magazine Rorschach blots, and the removal of the sheeting. In this case, the work is monochrome (black) and there is an emphasized motif—three horizontal rows of umbrella-like shapes and the adjunctive drips—and a large, say, 15 by 25 foot format. Deutsch’s work seems equivocal, though; it isn’t really ethereal and it isn’t really physical. (I saw a painting in a show of graduate students at Irvine a while back, which was lusciously polychrome and openly imitative of Francis and Morris Louis in its concern for color in the picture plane as an indicator of optical space, but Deutsch has apparently abandoned that in favor of a more conceptual-process orientation; I think that’s a damned shame.) Pat Hogan is by far the least conspicuous and may be, in the long run, the best of the three, because he is not afraid of his particular heritage, the easel picture. Hogan shows two paintings, 4 by 8 foot sheets of grommeted clear plastic, on which are splotched opposing diagonal rows (“X’s”) of muted, but splashed and bubbled, color applied to take advantage of the spatial ambivalence of the clear plastic sheet (i.e. paint can be on it, in it, behind it). That they seem less caught up in media-discovery may be due in part to the modest scale (the things could be bigger), and the unpainted “margins” (which could be eliminated). Lastly, there is something a little queer about the import of the show, that these guys are the three best (most deserving) prospects of the year. The quality of each is, I think, undeniable, but the CAC evidently operates on something less than catholicity: why do all three have to be processish, “soft,” achromatic, abstract? Surely the Council, unlike critics,doesn’t keep tabs on the Whitney Annuals.

Taking advantage of a California law which permits anyone to have one alias without complex court approval, “Judy Gerowitz has changed her name, imposed upon her through male social dominance” and “freely chooses her own name, Judy Chicago,” the name of her home town. She has not exhibited in some time but has suddenly sprung full-blown upon southern California in two exhibitions, one at Cal State, Fullerton and the other in Fresno.

The small exhibition surveys three aspects of her recent work—paintings, plastic sculpture and atmospheres, the use of colored or white smokes to alter landscapes or architectural environments by coloring and obscuring them. The paintings, 15 in all, dominate the exhibition although they are not her best work. Installed in a darkened room and individually lighted by framing projectors, the effect is holy indeed. The paintings, five each of three color/form series are identical in size and modular construction. Each is five feet square and painted with transparent airbrushed color on the back of clear plastic sheet, then backed with a sheet of white plastic. Each painting is divided into quarters and each quarter into a pattern of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines which permit the construction of octagonal or circular shapes, which are divided into wedge-shaped sections. Each painting thus contains four shapes painted with more intensity and saturation than the background and each of the three series contains a painting with similar shapes, which might be described as: 1) circular discs, 2) doughnuts, 3) doughnuts with octagonal holes, 4) octagons with round holes in the centers, and 5) octagons. The colors in each wedge-shaped section of each shape is repeated in the other shapes in the same painting, and in the same order within the disc but each shape is not in the same position as the adjoining shape in relation to the background. The discs therefore suggest a certain rotational activation. The series as a whole indicates a substantial involvement on Chicago’s part with shifting qualities of space through color, and these paintings are intended as demonstration pieces for her theories, as witnessed by her executing the same set of shapes three times with different pale color tonalities, yellow, red and blue.

One tends to regard Judy Chicago as more an intuitive than intellectual artist, and the other works in the exhibition demonstrate this quality more adequately. Her plastic sculpture consists of five floor pieces, each comprising three plastic domes, half spheres, perhaps 10 or 12 inches in diameter which are placed on plastic tables with the configuration of a standard card table but made of clear, smoked or semi-reflective plastic in the form of cubes with almost all the sides cut away. The three domes on top of each table are sprayed inside with pearlescent lacquer and at first glance they are suggestive of the pearlescent lacquered plastic forms of Craig Kauffman, but Chicago has controlled the spray so that it is not opaque. Light penetrates the painted surface and glows within, creating the illusion of a glowing fog or a containment of atmosphere within the sphere rather than simply an elegant surface configuration. The tables on which these domes are placed are very much a part of the sculpture although sometimes overlooked as part of the base. Yet, by their implicit reference in scale and height to a table they alter the purist remoteness of these objects. One is not invited to sit down, however, but the implication is there, and it might be a pleasurable contemplative experience.

Chicago’s atmospheres are her most intuitive productions, and perhaps her best, for they are perceptual and spatial experiences of momentary nature but powerful impact. She selects certain outdoor areas, either in their rural state or densely urban environments and modifies them by controlled esthetic fogs. She has obscured the “fountain court” of the Pasadena Art Museum with violet blue and magenta smoke and covered the central campus of California State College at Fullerton with a layer of white smoke. This latter was her biggest urban project, with white smoke bombs planted on six to eight of the high rise buildings on the campus. When they were released, the central area gradually became obscured, the fog increasing to the point where one could see only a few feet. Sunlight filtered through the smoke, however, lighting the entire area with an incredible underwater glow. After a few minutes the smoke lifted and fragments of architecture returned (followed regrettably by all the rest of it) and finally “reality” was restored.

“Three From Washington State” comprises sculpture by Philip McCracken, paintings by Brian Kazlov and light projections by Lawrence Hanson. McCracken is the best known of the three, having worked and exhibited in the Pacific Northwest for some time. His work in this exhibition continues an interest he has pursued over a long period, violence and its effects, either when released or kept under control. His visual sensibilities direct this violence in a rather theatrical or situational way, using common objects which have been rent or stressed beyond endurance, or are maintained under some sort of threatening circumstance. His sense of violent anecdote is modified by a strict geometric order, so the resulting object is a highly mechanical composition. Lights Out of 1967 is an example. McCracken mounted five light bulbs in porcelain sockets in a straight line, and covered them with a plastic box. Then he shot out four of them with a powerful rifle, leaving eight holes in the vitrine, and glass shards on the bottom of the box. McCracken leaves one’s sense of completion rather obviously unfulfilled, of course, by not shooting out the last bulb. In a more recent work, Silverline, of 1969, McCracken has constructed a silvered metal framework holding a bow and arrow aimed vertically. The bowstring is held under tension by a thin steel cable. The entire work is finished in a silver lacquer.

One of McCracken’s most successful objects is Pressed Flowers, 1969. A little bouquet of field flowers has been pressed and framed, and at first glance it is reminiscent of a Victorian parlor decoration, until one realizes that not only have the flowers been pressed but their glass vase has been pressed as well, and what might have been a bit of nostalgia becomes the focus of much more powerful (and by implication, more sinister) forces. The piece is somehow akin to those newspaper photos of a disaster that records a child’s shattered toy instead of the larger havoc, and McCracken is equally effective at hiding the larger results of his crushing forces while allowing fantasy full reign.

Brian Kaslov is for me the least satisfactory of the three artists, because he has taken the reality of New York shaped-canvas, lyrical-abstraction painting and filtered it inadequately through his own temperament. Kazlov works with flat aluminum constructions which have been either formed into geometric shapes, or ruled off to look like they were so made. The works occupy two surfaces, wall and floor, although one is a corner piece, two triangles on the wall and a third connecting them on the floor. The metal surfaces have been finished with a spray gun, the dark paint being controlled in a textural, “stain” way one associates with lyrical color painting. There is a certain dichotomy between painted illusionistic depth and the reflective surface of the metal, but the relationship of reflection to painted “image” only interferes with one another. The most interesting of Kazlov’s pieces is Shelled, four metal parallelograms split across the center and thus forming eight isosceles triangles. Four of the triangles are mounted in sawtooth fashion on the wall while four obtrude like teeth across the floor. Kazlov attempts too much. There are simply too many parts to his structures which are accumulations of ideas, not a synthesis of them.

Lawrence Hanson makes projections from colored lights. The light sources, green, blue or yellow, are used individually or in combination and are projected into a concave mirror, and then onto the wall, forming rough circles, or arcs of circles of pure light. The more complex light projections tend inevitably toward decoration as the relationship of one color shape to another becomes more important than the quality of the color itself. The color images in fact are uneven in intensity and have shadows and other flaws at their edges which are much more strongly suggestive of objects rather than images and while they are impalpable, they appear to be much more solid than projection.

“Three from Washington State” continues an exhibition policy originated by Larry Urrutia, Assistant Director of the La Jolla Museum. He has been exploring different geographical areas in a series of small, low-pressure exhibitions. To date there have been few surprises but it is a good program, and who knows what might turn up?

Thomas H. Garver