This summer's art scene in Los Angeles was fairly unexceptional, despite the presence of the Absolut L.A. International Biennial Art Invitational and the Scope Fair at the downtown Standard Hotel. So rather than dwell on the past, let's get right down to this week's great openings.
The fall season kicked off in high gear on the eve of Sept. 4 with the opening of Blum & Poe's new space, where a museum opening-sized crowd of hundreds of art lovers came to party -- if they could find a place to park.
Moving from their tiny Santa Monica space to an architecturally redesigned warehouse alongside an L.A. basin flood protection channel on the industrial section of La Cienega Boulevard, Tim Blum and Jeff Poe celebrated their new 5,000-square-foot digs with an inaugural group show featuring new work from gallery artists Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, Dirk Skreber, Sam Durant, Nigel Cooke, Anya Gallacio, Julian Hoeber, Chiho Aoshima, Sharon Lockhart, Florian Maier-Aichen, Slater Bradley, Dave Muller and Bruce Yonemoto, among others. Most of the artists were there partying along with a veritable who's-who of art-world luminaries, including MoCA trustees Bob Tuttle and Leonard & Susan Nimoy, artists Lari Pittman and Mark Bradford, and many top collectors and gallerists.
In a trend that was seen all over the city, much of the work was red-dotted prior to opening (so much for the stagnant economy), including the editioned Murakami sculptures, the Nara painting, the Lockhart photos ($20,000 each in an edition of six), and the mammoth 110 x 157.5 inch Dirk Skreber painting ($65,000) whose size made it necessary to bring it into the gallery before construction was complete. At press time, gallery employee Gabe Ritter was unsure how they would actually get it out.
Truly spectacular is Aoshima's A Contented Skull, a complex, large-scale digital work (chromogenic print, 5.5 x 9.5 ft., edition of six, $13,500) from the Japanese "Superflat" movement artist who appears to be next in the line of ascension -- following Murakami and Nara -- to international stardom.
Capitalizing on yet another new art destination, following Blum & Poe and the neighboring Anna Helwing Gallery (who is showing Swiss duo Lutz/Guggisberg Sept. 4-Oct. 11), rumor has it that at least four more galleries will be moving to, or near, La Cienega in the next few months, taking over other rundown, vacant warehouses in this yet-to-be-named new art district. Perhaps "Chelsea L.A." would be appropriate?
Across town at the 6150 Wilshire art complex, all the galleries had openings on Sept. 6, including the show-stopping, star-making exhibition of young Japanese painter Ai Yamaguchi at Roberts & Tilton gallery [see "Quietly Unburdened" by Eve Wood].
Last year, Yamaguchi created cover art for the influential Asian pop culture 'zine Giant Robot, and also had a small solo show at the magazine's West L.A. retail store. Word of mouth spread quickly, and this year Yamaguchi pulled out all the stops for her new show, entitled "Sukutoko," her first at Roberts & Tilton. According to gallerist Bennett Roberts, Yamaguchi and a crew of a half-dozen artists spent five weeks, seven days a week -- or 650 hours -- creating a transfixing, luscious wall installation spreading floor-to-ceiling throughout the gallery
The exhibition consists of a large-scale mural installation and paintings on wood "depicting the fictitious world of Touge no Chaya, the Teahouse of the Mountain Pass, set in Japan's Edo period (1600-1868 AD)." The primary focus is on a group of young girls, ages nine and ten, who live there and work as courtesans. Don't worry, parents. It's PG-rated. But don't miss this show, especially since the whole thing will be painted over upon completion of the showing. "We're heartbroken about it," says Roberts, "but Ai insists."
At Marc Foxx Gallery, New York painter Andy Collins has created seven oil and alkyd on canvas paintings showcasing his original, contemporary hard-edged abstractions in a signature palette of rich pastels. "The longer you look at them, the more you see," says Marc Foxx. "You can see figurative and landscape references, but they're so original, like nothing you've seen before."
It takes Collins months to paint each piece, whose glossy surfaces can require up to 30 layers of paint. "And it's all brushwork," noted Foxx. To me, the works are reminiscent of an abstract blending of Georgia O'Keeffe and Sharon Ellis. On opening night, five of the seven works were sold at prices in the $11,000-$15,000 range. Also, in Foxx's back room are works on paper by noted L.A. sculptor Jason Meadows, in a show called "Order in the Court." Both artists' works are on display until Oct. 4.
Acme Gallery has two very different, and very good, solo exhibitions in its main and rear galleries. The main room features 10 large-scale photographs of Florida "Drawbridges" from photographer Miles Coolidge, in editions of six and ranging in price from $5,000 to $11,000. Just when you thought Bernd & Hilla Becher had documented every kind of industrial typography, Coolidge has found a new type, and it's terrific. The rear gallery features 16 portraits by L.A. artist John Sonsini, all sized 20 x 16 inches and priced at $3,500 each. Half of them were sold on opening night. Sonsini is emerging as one of the best figurative painters in the city.
Upstairs at Karyn Lovegrove Gallery are new, hallucinogenic, day-glo paintings from London-based artist Neil Rumming, oil & acrylic on canvas works varying in size and ranging in price from $2,500 to $9,500. Most of them were sold at the opening.
In his second solo exhibition at Daniel Weinberg Gallery are Brooklyn artist Jim Torok's tiny self-portrait paintings (Sept. 6-Oct. 4), a series of 12 oil on polymer resin panels depicting the balding, goateed artist wearing a variety of different colored tee-shirts and with a somewhat sad, introspective expression on his face. The paintings are priced at $7,500 each.
At L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice, arguably still the best designed art gallery in So Cal, managing director Elizabeth East showed us mid-career horse sculptor Deborah Butterfield's new majestic masterworks (Sept. 5-Oct. 11): life-sized horses in the main room, and two small ones in a second room, all produced at the artist's ranch-studio in Montana, with "each horse standing as a metaphor for the artist." According to East, these bronzes were cast from cottonwood tree twigs and branches. Two small pieces were sold prior to opening at $90,000-$100,000 each, while the large horses are about $200,000-$210,000 each. The first major monograph of Butterfield's work is due out soon from Abrams.
Upstairs at L.A. Louver is a group show of gallery artists, including venerable names such as R.B. Kitaj, John McCracken, Joel Shapiro, Edgard de Souza and Don Suggs, along with hot newcomer Rebecca Campbell, a recent UCLA grad who recently had her first solo exhibition at the gallery. Campbell's Eric Fischlesque canvas, In the Catbird Seat ($18,000), mysteriously depicts a group of five boys, apparently uniformed private school students, sitting in abject contemplation outside of what one imagines to be the headmaster's office to await their punishment. For what, we don't know. Campbell, a native of Utah, is definitely an artist to watch.
Also in Venice, Sandroni Rey Gallery is featuring the Los Angeles debut of New York-based Yale grad Brian Alfred, whose work quickly sold out at his solo at Max Protetch last year in New York. The show (Sept. 6-Oct 11) consists of four large acrylic on canvas works, Biohazard, Singapore, United and the best of the group, Upgrade, a Thomas Demand-inspired painting of outdated computers tagged for removal. The works range in size from 60 x 72 in. to 80 x 90 in., and are priced in the $15,000-$18,500 range. Alfred gained prominence with his inclusion in last year's "bible for contemporary art collectors" (my term), Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting (Phaidon).
Over at Bergamot Station, curator (and occasional Artnet Magazine contributor) Michael Duncan has virtually taken over the former train depot with "The LAPD Project at Bergamot Station" (Sept. 6-Oct. 4), an ambitious survey of the legacy of the Pattern & Decoration (P&D) movement of the 1970s. Five galleries (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Frank Lloyd Gallery, Patricia Faure Gallery and Richard Heller Gallery) are all participating in the show, along with the Bergamot-based Santa Monica Museum of Art, which showcases the original P&D artists as well as contemporary artists who continue to be inspired by it. In addition to Kim MacConnel, who has a survey show at the Santa Monica Museum, this cheerful grab-bag includes Betty Woodman, Robert Zakanitch, Carla Arocha, Michelle Grabner, Polly Apfelbaum, Linda Besemer, Ed Moses, Grant Mudford, Jules Engel, Takako Yamguchi and many others.
Not all of Bergamot is on board the P&D train. Mark Moore Gallery, who has a new director, Philip Martin, formerly with Rosamund Felsen, is showing new paintings and works on paper by RISD MFA grad Todd Hebert (Sept. 6-Nov. 1). The North Dakota native's work consists of "an American lexicon: scarecrows, picnic coolers, snowmen, ceramic owls, and satellite dishes," according to the gallery press release. "The artist plays off the grandeur of nature with absurd juxtapositions. . . peculiar, minimal narratives on the passing of time." Hebert uses a variety of brushwork and airbrushing to create a fuzzy, Gerhard Richter-esque effect in his paintings. His works on paper are also very solid.
Across the way at Craig Krull Gallery are lovely, lush paintings from Santa Monica-based landscape painter Astrid Preston (Aug. 30-Oct. 4), including a luminous oil painting titled In the Flight of the Crows (84 x 60 in. $18,000) that warmly greets you when you enter the gallery. Another stunner is Sepulveda Pass (60 x 60 in., $15,000).
Louis Meisel take note: San Francisco-based photo-realist painter David Holmes is showing his exhibition of SF street scenes, "Vanishing Cities," at Robert Berman Gallery. The modestly sized paintings explore how consumerism is running rampant in our cities leaving no room for any cultural growth. Some of the paintings look like Philip-Lorca diCorcia's "Streetworks" photographs.
Finally at Bergamot is "Chica Chic," a four-person exhibition at Patricia Correia Gallery curated by Coagula Art Journal editor Mat Gleason, who keeps us all entertained with his daily "Live Journal" weblog. The group show features the art of Sandra De La Loza, Diane Gamboa, JERK and Veronica Soto, four Mexican-American women "who approach issues of identity, sexuality and femininity from wildly divergent esthetics."
Other notable Los Angeles openings this week include Raymond Pettibon (Sept. 13-Oct. 24) at Regen Projects; "Designs for Living," a group show at Margo Leavin Gallery featuring Sarah Charlesworth, Louise Lawler and Laurie Simmons (Sept. 6-Oct. 11); Robert Olsen's "C6H6" (Sept. 13-Oct. 11) at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, where the recent UCLA MFA grad utilizes his hyperreal, Old Master-inspired style to render the eight gas pumps at a particular gas station, painted in oil on 8 x 11.5 in. panels and priced at $3,500 each; Marcelo Pombo's "Ultimas Pinturas" exhibition of large and small-scale pop-surreal landscape paintings, Sept. 5-Oct. 11, at Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica; and finally, "Portraits of Color" (Sept. 5-Oct. 5) with paintings from mid-career master colorist Joseph Marioni at Chac Mool Gallery.
And over at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles is "Frank O. Gehry: Work in Progress," which opened Sept. 6, and shows 12 new projects the "starchitect" has in his studio, showcasing his working process from inception through construction. And unless you've been living under a rock or in a vacuum, you'll know that directly across from MoCA, the Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall is finally opening in October.
ALEX WORMAN who is a feature film publicist in Los Angeles, writes on art and modern design.