It's the beginning of August and the "Absolut L.A. International Biennial Art Invitational" is in full swing. This ponderously titled summer festival is a citywide event in which 65 L.A. galleries and a handful of nonprofits are hosting exhibitions from galleries around the world. The shows opened July 15 and continue through Aug. 21, 1999.
The invitational has grown in scope and ambition since it originated in 1993. Back then it could be characterized as "art out of a suitcase," that is, works that visiting dealers could bring over on the plane. This year, though, the festival has come into its own, and has brought several avant-garde art stars to Los Angeles. Even galleries that primarily show the locals are taking this opportunity to go global cutting edge.
True, several L.A. galleries are exhibiting artists who are already in their stables, such as L.A. Louver with Tony Bevan and Patrick Painter with Glenn Brown. And some top galleries have opted out, including Margo Leavin Gallery, Regen Projects and most of the galleries of the 6150 Wilshire Boulevard complex -- Acme, Dan Bernier and Marc Foxx.
The festival's directors, dealers William Turner and Robert Berman, also put together a useful series of panel discussions and lectures. One emphasis was Scandinavian art. The so-called "Nordic miracle" was discussed by Paul Foss, publisher of the journal Art and Text (newly headquartered in Los Angeles), in a lecture at the Santa Monica Museum marking the launch of his "Nordic Issue," and by Svenrobert Lunquist and Daniel Birnbaum at a well-attended symposium at the 18th Street Art Complex titled "Contemporary Scandinavian Art: Past, Present and Future."
New to L.A.
Gagosian Gallery presents Cecily Brown's The Skin Game (1998-99), a suite of four black-and-white monoprints with painted gouache additions. Certainly one of most talked-about artists in the business, Brown has not showed in Los Angeles until now. These works certainly give a taste of her startling dexterity. The combination of exuberant brushwork and images of broken and fragmented body parts and flesh, though wonderful, leave us hoping that a painting show will not be far behind.
Work by the French artist Guy Limone is on view for the first time in Southern California in two venues. Kohn Turner Gallery hosts his first solo show, while Limone is also included in "At the Threshold of the Visible: Minuscule and Small Scale Art, 1964-1996" at the Laguna Art Museum (organized by Ralph Rugoff for Independent Curators International). Limone obviously loves statistics and classifying. For The Dark Blue Collection (1996), on view at Kohn Turner, he took cuttings collected from magazines and other printed material that contain an intense dark blue color (a sort of Yves Klein Blue), inserted the samples into slide holders and neatly arranged and displayed them on shelves.
Limone has also made collections highlighting other colors in other formats. Red Tapestry (1998) is a site-specific piece that the viewer first sees upon entering the gallery. Measuring eight by 20 feet, the work consists of 50 red collages that were photocopied three times and adhered to the wall from floor to ceiling.
Limone also makes amusing works that reflect his fixation with odd statistics. Using small plastic figurines from model supply stores, for instance, he actualizes such facts as in 1998, in the United States, there were 442 internet addresses for each 1,000 people, and 46 percent of French Internet users are satisfied with the Web.
Jonathan Stephenson of Rocket Gallery in London organized a show called "Surface Speed" at Cirrus Gallery. Issues of desire in our consumer culture are central to the work of the Portuguese artist Augusto Alves da Silva, whose poignant photographs contrast Ferraris in the showroom to the obviously poor spectators peering in through the windows. Alves da Silva's photos go well with the Minimalist paintings of the Belgian artist Jus Juchtmans, whose fluorescent monochromes evoke high-gloss automotive finish.
Angles is presenting photographs by Annica Karlsson Rixon, a Swedish artist who lives in Sweden but is a graduate of California Institute of the Arts. She traveled across the United States taking pictures at truck stops of truckers and their vehicles. Some of her photos are close-ups of reflections in the truck paint surfaces, images that evoke Minimalist painting. Others are evocative images of trucker's hand gestures. The work combines notions of painting with ideas from cinema -- a theme that could apply to the festival as a whole.
Art & Cinema
Galerie Mot & Van den Boogaard from Brussels emphasized "Art about Cinema" in its show at Blum and Poe. Douglas Gordon wins awards for his film installations, but he's represented here with a multiple, List of Names (Compiled January 1992). This roster of all the people he's ever met is a version of the work that first put him on the map in his native Glasgow. To view his signature film installations, however, the Los Angeles art public will have to wait until 2001, when Gordon has his solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Eija-Lisa Ahtila, who represents Finland at the Venice Biennale, is represented by a series of Casting Portraits. These still photographs are from her famous installation If 6 Was 9, in which adolescent female actors tell fictional stories about themselves and young boys. Uri Tzaig's Trance Carpet combines an actual game played with marbles with a video of the game in action. Tzaig will be having his first one person exhibition in Los Angeles in the fall at Bergamot Station's Shoshana Wayne Gallery.
Pierre Bismuth presents a video projection titled Postscripts/The Passenger (1996). For this work, a typist viewed Antonioni's film The Passenger in French and transcribed as much of it into English as she could. Her text -- which represents simultaneous listening, interpreting, remembering and recording -- is projected on the wall. Another piece by Bismuth, Synonymes (1994), takes the word "spread" and lists synonyms, and then synonyms of synonyms, together in a chart. The final list has very little similarity to the original.
Joachim Koester reenacts classic Hollywood and European films. His photograph Gentofte Bibliotek/The Birds (1994) depicts a boarded-up window like one in the Hitchcock film. Koester's Day for Night, Christiana (1996) is a video reenactment of the François Truffault film set in Copenhagen's notorious squatters' community.
Needless to say, the cinematic spectacle and its broad public narrative is of particular appeal in Los Angeles. Local artists such as Sharon Lockhart, Diana Thater and Julie Becker make work that addresses this ubiquitous subject. This exhibition gives the L.A. audience a taste of their international counterparts.
Lisson at Chac Mool
Chac Mool Gallery is hosting a show of art from Lisson Gallery in London, organized by Patricia Martin, curator of the Jumex Foundation in Mexico City. Jumex was founded by Eugenio Lopez, who also runs Chac Mool with his partner Esthella Provas. This ambitious exhibition includes several art stars of the London/Glasgow axis.
Glasgow artist Jonathan Monk's comic conceptualism, in particular, seems at home in Los Angeles. In a work done especially for the show, he refers to Ed Ruscha's famous oeuvre in None of the Buildings on Sunset Strip. He reenacts Ruscha's photo series, Every Building on Sunset Strip, this time photographing side roads not depicted in the original.
In a second new work, Monk designs a sculptural tableau of glasses on a card table in the shape of the skyline of downtown Los Angeles. It's titled Yo me acuredo cuando todo esto era un campo. The work is completed with two Corona bottles in paper bags placed on the floor, an evocative reference to the skid row section of the city.
1997 Turner Prize finalist Christine Borland's Family Conservation Piece (1998) consists of porcelain sculls with their tops painted in blue and white patterns used for English bone china. One of the strikingly haunting works in the entire International, it explores the interface between life and death, humanity and brutality with an ironic twist.
The work of Jane and Louise Wilson is something of an international sensation, and the examples here give an idea why. Decontamination Chamber: Gamma 1999 consists of eerie still photographs from the abandoned American military base Greenham Common outside Oxford in England. Other works in the exhibition include Max Collishaw's photographs of porn stars superimposed on flowers, Ceal Floyer's Carousel and Simon Patterson's musings on the nature of celebrity, Enter the Dragon, 1999.
IRIT KRYGIER is an art writer based in Los Angeles.