The California poppy (eschscholtzia californica) is everywhere furiously blooming in the rolling foothills of the L.A. basin, marking the arrival of spring. So to get into the spirit, we pried our glazed eyes from the TV, took a dose of our allergy meds and headed for the lighthearted retrospective of 32-year-old Los Angeles artist Laura Owens at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Mar. 16-June 22, 2003). The art equivalent of a cinematic chick flick, the show by the Acme Gallery artist includes 40 paintings and works on paper from 1997 to 2002.
According to the press release, "Owens explores beauty and decoration" in paintings that are inspired by "English embroidery and Chinese and Japanese landscape painting" as well as her own photographs. If Owens' jungle settings and ubiquitous monkeys are a little too pretty or fanciful for your taste, you can always cross the hall and take a look at the ugly naked people on display in the Lucian Freud retrospective (through May 25). Next up at MOCA (May 4-July 27) is the touring retrospective of the late Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz (1953-2001).
One of the city's hottest artists, the 37-year-old Tijuana-born, Los Angeles-based artist Salomón Huerta had his breakthrough in the 2000 Whitney Biennial with small, precise, brightly colored oil paintings of the backs of closely-shaved male heads, works that encouraged viewers to project their own feelings or values onto their hidden subjects. Huerta presents his new works, "House Paintings" (Mar. 29-May 3), at Patricia Faure Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.
Using a palette of pastel colors gleaned from contemporary fashion and architectural magazines such as Vogue and Elle Décor, Huerta paints idealized, minimalist studies of the ubiquitous lower middle class bungalows found across Southern California. "It's all about emotion, about the color, the scale and the composition," says Huerta, who cites San Diego-born abstract artist David Reed as an influence. Other observers have compared his work to art-world luminaries Ed Ruscha, David Hockney and Richard Diebenkorn.
"I've never seen any houses like these, so I created two primary house templates, then simplified and pushed them as far as I could," Huerta says. According to Elizabeth Ferrer, who curated "Salomn Huerta: Paintings" at the Austin Museum of Art, "his approach to portraying houses is similar to that which he uses in portraying his human subjects. The banality of these houses is underscored by the colors in which Huerta renders them -- pastel pinks, lime greens and other hues suggesting the 'candy coating' that the artist associates with artificially sanitized urban environments."
The largest and most powerful work, a red house as sizzling as a hot chili pepper, was entirely painted in the gallery so as not to attract any dust during travel from the artist's garage studio. Though not finished quite as late as Eric Fischl's new work at Mary Boone, Huerta pulled a few all-nighters to meet the deadline. "It was completed literally minutes before the show opened," says Patricia Faure. "In fact the paint is still wet."
Huerta's nine works were muy caliente, selling out prior to opening at prices ranging from $14,000 to $30,000. Two were acquired by L.A. mega-collectors Ruth and Jacob Bloom, and one by Bob Tuttle, the chairman of the MoCA board of trustees. In the works for Huerta is a solo exhibition in 2004 at Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. Next up at Faure (May 10-June 26) is Los Angeles photo artist John Divola, whose new work features pictures of sets for the The X-Files.
By the way, birthday greetings to Faure, who celebrated her 75th birthday with a party at the Santa Monica Museum of Art on Apr. 9. On hand were gallery artists Salomón Huerta, Mark Bradford and Martin Mull, as well as artists Lari Pittman, Ed Moses, Joe Goode, Billy Al Bengston, Ellina Kevorkian, Tony DeLap and other art world notables such as Jean Milant of Cirrus Gallery, Gemini GEL's Sidney Felsen, gallerist Rosamund Felsen, and former LACMA and SFMOMA curator Henry Hopkins.
A few doors down in Bergomot Station at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, assistant director Philip Martin has installed a show of new works on paper by Alicia Beach in an exhibition titled "Psychosomatic Epiphanies." Beach, whose work was shown by Felsen at the Armory Show in New York last month, is having her first solo exhibition at the gallery (Mar. 21-Apr. 19). According to Martin, these massive 10 x 13 ft. acrylic on paper works explore pictorial and physical symmetry.
"The work is actually made like a large Rorschach test," Martin says. Taking my own mental Rorschach test, I immediately thought of Monet's water lilies, David Hockney's Grand Canyon paintings and tie-dyed t-shirts. The large expanses of paper are mounted on a framing system that Martin says was inspired by sailboat masts. At the gallery's entrance is a video monitor showing a black and white film of the artist at work, amusingly shot in the style of Hans Namuth's famed 1950 documentary of Jackson Pollock. Beach's large works sell for $12,000, while some smaller works on paper are priced at $2,800-$3,000. The video is also for sale for $20.
When I visited Regen Projects' at its expanded Beverly Hills digs, "Ab-Sex" painter Sue Williams was putting the finishing touches on her installation of new works -- large paintings and ink drawings on vellum featuring Williams' signature pornographic scribbles that can be described as an artistic collaboration between Keith Haring and Larry Flynt, a gestural smorgasbord of male and female naughty bits.
"They can be whatever you want," says gallerist Shaun Caley Regen. This show is Williams' first at the gallery in three years. Several works were on hold on the day prior to the show's opening, with prices ranging from $4,000-$8,000 for drawings to $35,000-$40,000 for large canvases. A personal fave is the huge, blindingly fluorescent pink painting, Fluorescent and Flooby. The show ends Apr. 12. Up next at Regen Projects is a show of new photographs by James Welling, Apr 19-May 17.
In Santa Monica, Angles Gallery presents an exhibition of new paintings by digital realist Adam Ross entitled "Chronopolis," the artist's first solo exhibition at Angles and his first show in L.A. since 2000. "Chronopolis" continues Ross' exploration of utopian futuristic landscapes, science fiction and technology, with images that seem inspired by sci-fi films like The Matrix, Blade Runner and Metropolis. The works are hand-painted vistas of computer-generated-looking cityscapes that are devoid of all human and organic life forms.
Angles has ten works by Ross on exhibition, including oil and alkyd on canvas paintings ($4,000-$6,000 each) as well as a few graphite paper works ($1,600 each). The show runs Mar. 28-May 3. Coming up on May 9th at Angles is the highly anticipated second solo exhibition of Los Angeles artist Kelly McLane. "These are her best paintings yet," enthuses gallery director Nowell Karten.
Marc Foxx Gallery in the 6150 Wilshire complex currently is featuring a show of three works from gallery artists Evan Holloway, Matthew Ronay and Hiroshi Sugito (Mar. 22-Apr. 19). "This is a show about how things connect," says Foxx. They are also the largest works any of these artists have ever done, he adds. Holloway, a Los Angeles artist who graduated from UCLA's MFA program in 1997, has created a floor sculpture, Map, 2003, that is made of tree branches and paint and that resembles a post-apocalyptic skeleton of an expensive wall unit. Its price is $38,000. Holoway's work is often compared to that of Calder and Giacometti.
Sugito, who hails from Nagoya, Japan, and is trained in 19th-century Japanese Nihonga-style painting, has created a five-panel work in acrylic and pigment on canvas entitled Connecting Man (1,2, 3, 4, 5) (2003). The basic image is both contemporary and classical, a view down a cable bridge that has rooms stacked on top and that includes animal-like, figurative references. "In every painting he makes, there's a personal mythology that's very epic, very metaphysical," says Foxx. The painting is priced at $45,000.
The 26-year-old, Kentucky-born Brooklyn-based artist and set designer Matthew Ronay, a 2000 Yale MFA grad, has created a sculptural vignette, Hidden Wind of Inducement, using his whimsical signature style of bright, colorful miniatures and toys made from MDF, wood, steel and paint. I couldn't figure out what the piece means, but it sure is a lot of fun, and sells for $9,500. Coming up next at Marc Foxx on Apr. 26 is the second solo exhibition of new works from Los Angeles artist Brian Calvin, whose work appeared along with art by John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton and Alex Katz, among others, in last year's landmark "Dear Painter, paint me. . ." exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Next door at Acme Gallery, the young UCLA grad Katie Grinnan, who was featured in the landmark 2001 Hammer Museum exhibition
"Snapshot: New Art From Los Angeles," is having her second solo exhibition. Entitled "Free, Free For All, Free Fall," Grinnan's dramatic mixed-media installation is a real hybrid, including traditional photography and paint as well as elaborate constructions made of roots, rocks, sewer covers and other materials. The largest piece (everything dates from 2003), Dreamcatcher, sits in the center of the gallery and spans from floor to ceiling, swelling across the ceiling like a creeping vine. The works are priced in the $7,000-$12,000 range. Grinnan is currently developing an installation for the Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria.
Upstairs at Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, gallery director Tim Buggs is thrilled with their new show, "Roll Out" (Mar. 22-Apr. 19), an exhibition of sculptural works that "bow to the tradition of the bust/portrait format and the arranged still life," curated by 28-year-old Australian artist Ricky Swallow, a figurative wood sculptor who shows at the gallery. "He's the art star of Australia," says Buggs. "His work sells out before we even get it!" With such contagious enthusiasm, I'm glad I left my checkbook at home.
Titled after the song "Roll Out (My Business)" by rapper Ludacris, the show features three pieces by Swallow (a meticulously carved hardwood glove, a skull, and a photo of a sculpture based on the familiar Scream movie mask), along with works by Rachel Feinstein, Steven Gontarski, Erick Swenson and Francis Upritchard. Swallow writes, "An element of self-infused fantasy and straight up strangeness exists among the works of the artists in the exhibition, things that have taken shape in order for empathy or understanding to exist. . . private monsters. . . carved, sculpted, potted and placed for public appreciation."
One standout is the two bronze fiberglass busts by Gontarski, an American who lives in London and shows with White Cube there. The Norton Family Collection purchased one of the Gontarski works, Zeta II (2002), which was priced at $20,000. Swallow's sculptures, which are priced at $15,000 and $18,000, also found buyers.
Feinstein's work, Walking Dandy, which is made of sculpey on a wood base, was also sold at $3,500. Frances Upritchard takes found vases and embellishes them with foam, modeling material, gouache and varnish. In various sizes, the pieces are priced at $850 each. And Erick Swenson, the 30-year-old Dallas-based sculptor of alternatively evolved animals, contributed Ebie, a wall-mounted simian head made of plastic and aluminum with glass eyes, available for $8,000 in an edition of 8.
ALEX WORMAN, who is a feature film publicist in Los Angeles, writes on art and modern design.