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Yoshitomo Nara at Blum & Poe

Yoshitomo Nara signing books

Nara photos at Blum & Poe

Kenny Scharf and daughter at Nara's opening

Suzanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, with Sean Duffy's International Playboy

Wangechi Mutu (left) and Susanne Vielmetter with one of Mutu's works

Works by Wangechi Mutu at Susanne Vielmetter

Robert Olsen at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

Robert Olsen with one of his works

Catherine Opie at Regen Projects

Catherine Opie
Untitled #8
Regen Projects

Maureen Gallace
Long Quiet Day
at Michael Kohn Gallery

Beat Streuli, "Los Angeles" at Roberts & Tilton

Beat Streuli

Beat Streuli
at Roberts & Tilton

Marcin Maciejowski
at Marc Foxx Gallery

Marcin Maciejowski

Marcin Maciejowski

Randall Sellers
at Richard Heller

Randall Sellers
at Richard Heller

Till Freiwald at Mark Moore Gallery

Till Freiwald at Mark Moore Gallery

Masao Yamamoto and his wife at Craig Krull Gallery
L.A. Confidential
by Alex Worman

In a city that can seem like a perpetual freak show, the forthcoming Diane Arbus retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Feb. 29-May 31, 2004, should feel right at home (imagine what she could have done with Jacko and the celebrities of today!). While the art community prepares for Arbusmania and the widely anticipated display of fluorescent tubes, Plexi cubes and wood planks in the Museum of Contemporary Art's "A Minimal Future? Art as Object 1958-1968," Mar. 14-Aug. 2, 2004, L.A.'s growing commercial galleries are anticipating a good new year and a better economy in 2004.

An hour prior to the opening of his show of new works at Blum & Poe (2754 S. La Cienega Blvd.), the influential 44-year-old Superflat artist Yoshitomo Nara appeared in 3D to sign copies of his latest book for a blocks-long line of fans, collectors, booksellers and eBay peddlers, some of whom also walked away with an investment-grade doodle of Nara's Angry Girl character. An avid producer of buttons, ashtrays, dolls, t-shirts and other mass market projects, Nara was on hand for sixth solo exhibition at Blum & Poe since his U.S. gallery debut there in 1995.

The current show features 50 small drawings and a few large works on paper. As one might expect, all of the works had been pre-sold to the growing waiting list of collectors (and speculators), who had to sign agreements not to flip the pieces at auction. Prices range from $3,000 for small works to $35,000 each for six large paintings on paper, most of which feature his signature cute devilish girls who look like they should be out playing in the fantasy lands of Maurice Sendak or Tim Burton.

For the first time in 20 years, Nara is also exhibiting his photographs of kittens, puppies, kids and landscapes, photos that, as with Gerhard Richter's "Atlas," provide much of the inspiration for his drawings. Shot between 1983 and 2003, some of them are still available, priced around $700 each. You can relive Nara's childhood through Feb. 7.

Meanwhile, on the east coast, the exhibition "Yoshitomo Nara: Nothing Ever Happens," which features the artist's work since 1997, goes on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, Jan. 24-Apr. 4, 2004. It's the latest stop in a traveling show organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland.

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From Blum & Poe, a potentially hazardous three-block walk through alleyways and temporary open construction trenches leads you to the terrific new Culver City space of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Formerly the office of a local magazine distributor, Vielmetter's large, multi-roomed gallery is made intimate with low ceilings and a very agreeable flow of space from room to room, like a Richard Neutra home (meets a magazine distributorship). In her inaugural group show at the new space, Vielmetter presents new work from gallery artists Edgar Arcenaux, Kevin Bays, Steven Criqui, Sean Duffy, Martin Durazo, Rodney McMillian, Martin McMurray, Yunhee Min, Wangechi Mutu, Robert Olsen, Steve Roden, Patrick Wilson and Joel Tauber.

Notably absent from that lineup is hot gallery artist Tam Van Tran. "He's busy preparing for the Whitney Biennial," Vielmetter explained. Mutu, a Brooklynite by way of Kenya, offers strange, figurative mixed-media collages on paper that are in great demand following her sold-out solo show in October 2003 and a powerfully enthusiastic review by Los Angeles Times critic David Pagel (who has included Mutu in "The Raw and the Cooked," a show of young artists that he's organized at Claremont Graduate University, Jan. 5-30, 2004).

The show also includes two strikingly photorealistic but painterly works on panel featuring nighttime depictions of purple cars and yellow school buses by Robert Olsen, whose paintings can also currently be seen at Plane Space in New York. And across the room, a long horizontal optical stripe painting by Yunhee Min commands its own wall. The show's standout, literally and figuratively, is Sean Duffy's International Playboy, a white 1993 Geo Metro compact car parked smack dab in the center of the gallery, pumping out tunes of teen alienation.

It's the first thing you see upon entering. However, like a movie faade in a studio back lot, when you walk around it you discover that the rear of the car has been peeled away and dismembered. As the embodiment of the quintessential first car a teenager can afford, as Vielmetter notes, the work represents adolescent self-pity and disappointment that results when you don't get the cool car you feel you're entitled to. Priced at $20,000, the work may more realistically be marketed to a Westside teenager's art-collecting parents. The show remains on view through Feb. 14.

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Congratulations are due to gallery partners Tara Sandroni and Kristin Rey. A little later this year, look for their Sandroni Rey Gallery (currently on Abbot Kinney in Venice) to relocate into the hotly sought after primo space between Culver City anchor gallery Blum & Poe and Anna Helwing Gallery. The Culver City art migration continues. Stay tuned.
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At Regen Projects in West Hollywood (633 N. Almont Drive), Los Angeles photographer and UCLA professor Catherine Opie presents "Surfers," a new series in where she trains her lens on that most Southern California of icons, the surfing world. All the ingredients for a hit show are present: a quintessential L.A. leisure activity, buff bodies, the Zen-like atmosphere of a Hiroshi Sugimoto seascape, and one of the city's most renowned artists.

And, the work is stunning: 14 closely hung 40 x 50 in. framed c-prints of surfers paddling out to catch a curl in the Malibu morning fog, shot extra wide from a semi-high vantage point until they look like distant birds gathered in formation. Across the gallery from the seascapes are a series of nine close-up portraits of the surfers holding their boards after emerging from the water; proud, tired, a little haggard, but still eager to jump back in to catch the next big wave.

Opie's surfers are positioned and framed in a way that somewhat recalls the timid teens in Rineke Dijkstra's "Beach Portraits." And for that matter, the larger seascapes are also similar to Richard Misrach's recent "On the Beach" series. Regardless, they're all very nice. All the work is available in editions of five. The seascapes are $15,000 each and the portraits are $6,000 each. Personally I think they work better in groupings than alone, but that could portend a wipeout to your bank account. The endless summer continues through Feb. 14.

(If you are a completist collector of this new genre of beach photography, you may also want to check out Massimo Vitali's "Beaches" series, Karin Apollonia Muller's "Angels in Fall" series, or most recently, the debut of Gregory Crewdson's Yale MFA photography student Mark Wyse's series, "Surfers," at Wallspace Gallery in Chelsea.)

In March, Opie makes a return engagement to the Whitney Biennial (she was included in 1995) where she'll be showing "Surfers," and where she'll be joined by New York's Katy Grannan and Minnesota's award-winning newcomer Alec Soth as the only selected artists who work exclusively in the photographic medium. Other photographer artists in this year's biennial include Richard Prince, Jack Pierson and Roni Horn.

*            *            *
The New York painter Maureen Gallace, who had her first solo museum exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art in 2003, presents 10 new oil paintings at Michael Kohn Gallery (8071 Beverly Blvd.) through Feb. 28, her fifth solo show there since 1995. With the most shocking and sensationalist conceptual artists getting much of the art world's acclaim, it's a welcome relief to view and experience Gallace's small, charming and delicate old-fashioned paintings depicting houses in rural Connecticut. Often compared to Fairfield Porter, Gallace has gained further prominence with successful shows at 303 Gallery in New York and Interim Art in London, and is included in the collections of the Whitney and the Art Institute of Chicago. Her new works are priced at $18,000-$22,000.
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At the 6150 Wilshire gallery center, Roberts & Tilton presents the first major L.A. show by the Swiss photographer Beat Streuli. Titled "Los Angeles," it's a new body of work that was (obviously) made in the city itself. According to the gallery, "Beat Streuli's photographs of people immersed in the endless hustle and bustle of daily life, caught up in the complexities of their own lives in accordance with the world around them, compel even as they confound us with their subtle gestures and the quiet power of individual life which they evoke."

Streuli set up his long-lensed camera on a tripod at some of L.A.'s busiest spots, such as downtown's Pershing Square and the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, to capture pedestrians unaware as they go to work or school, head to the store, line up for tickets to "Wheel of Fortune" or who knows what -- basically, time-capsule images of contemporary Los Angeles life. Often compared to New York photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Streuli has created a unique, instantly recognizable signature style. Considering the relative simplicity of his approach and subject matter, that's no small feat.

Large (60 x 80 in.) c-prints are available in editions of three at $14,000 each. If you're a museum curator or patron, "Wallpaper," the 18 large inkjet prints that cover the gallery's west wall, is available for $35,000.

My most challenging visit was to Marc Foxx Gallery (6150 Wilshire). There, 28-year-old Krakow native Marcin Maciejowski makes his U.S. gallery debut with 11 oil-on-linen paintings in a show I had to visit a few times before coming to the conclusion that I'm still unsure about it. For me, the complex theories, catalogue essays and Foxx's own compelling and persuasive explanation of Maciejowski's enterprise proved more tantalizing than the work itself.

Maciejowski's paintings are a social commentary on the ways that Poland is adjusting to the end of communism and its new embrace of western culture and capitalism. Pictorially, the work is similar to a range of figuration, from Maciejowski's fellow countryman Wilhelm Sasnal to Gerhard Richter, John Baldessari and the team of Marcus Muntean and Adi Rosenblum. Impressively for such a relatively unknown artist, all the paintings sold out prior to opening to top collectors and museums for prices ranging from $5,700 to $18,250. Apparently Maciejowski is a big star in Poland, but for me the jury is still out. L.A. gallery-goers can decide for themselves through Feb. 7.

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Art-collecting nanotechnology scientists would love 34-year-old artist Randall Sellers, a hot new talent from Pennsylvania who puts massive creativity into a miniature size. At Bergamot Station's Richard Heller Gallery, in his first Los Angeles exhibition, Sellers displays his virtuosity in 15 drawings of tiny, imagined cityscapes (imagine works by Paul Noble as seen through a microscope), the culmination of an entire year's effort.

Sellers sharpens his .3mm graphite pencil to the width of a needle and, with much imagination and a very steady hand, creates on 8 x 10 in. paper small worlds inspired by Hieronymus Bosch, ancient Rome, sci-fi movies and Federico Fellini. The drawings, which can take up to three weeks each to create, are priced in the $1,600 to $2,000 range and are selling fast (among the buyers are the Judith Rothschild Foundation, who plans to donate the work to the Museum of Modern Art in New York). For those without bionic vision, the gallery wisely offers a magnifying glass to help view the works. "Randall Sellers: Drawings" remain on display through Feb. 14.

Don't be fooled at Bergamot's Mark Moore Gallery -- those are not portrait photos by the celebrated Thomas Ruff pinned to the walls. They are large-scale watercolors by the Belgian artist Till Freiwald, who has shown in New York at Jack Shainman Gallery and is now having his first West Coast exhibition. Freiwald's unique talent and claim to fame is that his striking, lifelike portraits are done not directly from live models or photographs, but from memory. "The distancing of photographic representation is mirrored in Freiwald's own practice: the artist works primarily from memory, mediating his images of his sitters with his own fleeting memories of them," the gallery statement explains.

Freiwald's work is softer and much more alluring than Ruff's intentionally cold, extra-large passport photos. Eight paintings are on display at Moore, ranging in price from $4,200 for the 30 x 20 watercolors and $7,500 for 57 x 40 in. ones to $10,500 for the desirable 90 x 60 in. works. Freiwald's work was recently featured in a one-person exhibition at Kansas City's Kemper Museum; the show is on view at Mark Moore through Feb. 14.

Across the way, Craig Krull Gallery is presenting "Nakazora," the gallery's second solo show of photographs by the Yokohama-based contemporary artist Masao Yamamoto. A total of 117 photographs are installed in the gallery -- toned black-and-white photos of nudes and landscapes that are small, delicate and intentionally distressed, giving each print its own uniqueness, as if each work were an objet d'art rather than something that comes in numbered editions of 40 (with prices starting at $600).

One note: Yamamoto's books and scrolls, A Box of Ku and Nakazora itself, which are on display at the gallery's front counter, have been some of the most widely praised and sought-after titles published by Nazraeli Press. The exhibition is on display through Feb. 21.

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By the way, kudos to Stephen Cohen and his talented gallery staff for putting together Photo L.A. 2004, the 13th Los Angeles International Photographic Art Exposition at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium last weekend, Jan. 15-18, 2004. While on the East Coast Mother Nature was mocking Al Gore's global warming theories, in Santa Monica all was bright, sunny and warm. It was picture perfect weather for a pretty picture show, and it helped make it one of the best-attended Photo L.A.'s ever, with collectors, photographers, museum curators and photo enthusiasts joining the 75 photography galleries and dealers from around the globe.

The show also included a great selection of seminars, lectures and appearances featuring the likes of Houston MFA's photography curator Anne Wilkes Tucker, photographers Joel Peter-Witkin, Steve McCurry, Lynn Geeseman, Susan Meiselas, Sally Gall and the host of the opening benefit reception, Aragorn himself, Renaissance man Viggo Mortensen.

As for the work on display, my personal faves were the digital photo creations of children by German-born Loretta Lux at New York's Yossi Milo Gallery, Swedish photographer Lars Tunbjork's colorful "Office" photos at San Francisco's new James Nicholson Gallery, the "In Flight" hot air balloon perspective landscape views by Terry Evans at Chicago's Catherine Edelman Gallery, and Paul Shambroom's large and unique inkjet-on-canvas photos of local city council meetings at New York's Julie Saul Gallery.

Inveterate book collectors enjoyed the booths of all the book publishers and dealers (notably Twin Palms, Nazraeli Press, D.A.P., Photo-Eye and Schaden), most of which brought advance copies of upcoming titles. The best-looking new book is unquestionably D.A.P.'s updated and remastered version of the 1987 classic, Joel Sternfeld: American Prospects, that features yet another masterful printing job by Steidl. Twin Palms' new Anthony Goicolea monograph is also a standout.

ALEX WORMAN is a feature film publicist in Los Angeles, where he writes on art and design.