Los Angeles

Ben Sakoguchi

Brand Library Art Center

The old Brand Mansion up in Glendale has been augmented by a city-built art center gallery which, although early Forest Lawn in style, is a nice exhibition space; Robert Lewis Smith is the director and he’s elected a calendar of one and two-man shows of younger artists in the area (a more substantial decision than it may seem, since Brand Library has a tailor-made aura and locale for first-annual-print and art association shows). The first is Ben Sakoguchi, a printmaker with a reputation for technical inventiveness (what printmaker isn’t?) and a complex imagery of “social parody and fantastic landscape.” The work shown (aside from a reprise of prints in the halls) is an eight-by-fifty-four-foot multi-panel painting whose subject matter is, according to the brochure, “contemporary commentary related to the technology and nationalistic spirit developed during World War II.” The thing is a mélange of naturalistic images (Hell’s Angels, girls both bourgeois and Modesty-Blaise-revolutionary, soldiers, pilots, etc.), cartoons (advertising motifs and a repeated sort of “fashion face”), and some geometrically abstract decoration (flight paths, insignia, gunsight X’s); in general, it’s difficult not to like it up to a point. After all, it’s the product of two years of labor, a conglomeration of loving detail (one can “read” the picture as comfortingly as a Sears catalog), and a piece of seeming “scope” and monumentality. Favorably, it is a truthful telling of the artist’s world view, but weighing against it is an almost unanimous collection of symptoms. First, why is it a painting? Certainly this inventory of art-director Pop realism (deceivingly “competent” in etchings) isn’t solid enough in this scale, or magical enough on painted canvas; it’s probably better suited for a film, or a notebook, or something else. Secondly, it demonstrates the last thing one would suspect: Sakoguchi can’t draw; the close reading the painting invites (decorations on the airplanes, miniature crowds), shows up the planking in the technique as cardboard. Realism like Vija Celmins, or that part of Ken Price, collapses as illusion on scrutiny, but it takes on a different abstract constructional beauty; Sakoguchi’s merely runs out. Concurrently, it doesn’t seem that Sakoguchi has any ideas, really; there’s no selection, just thousands of gratuitous juxtapositions and tiny tours de force. It’s a kind of visual Catch-22, with only the funny names, the grotesques, and none of the poetry of language or the feeling for people who really bleed which make the book worthwhile. I think it becomes what it purports to mock; an outlandish, identity-getting super project of no particular substance.

Peter Plagens