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LEFT COAST
by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp
 
Yikes! Richard Rossís new photographs elicit a visceral response -- your hair stands up on the back of your neck, you get goose bumps, your throat tightens. Simple but sleek, the images range from holding cells and isolation rooms to church interiors and nursery-school classrooms. Titled "Architecture of Authority," the exhibition (and an accompanying book, published by Aperture) is Michel Foucault meets Gitmo, a perfect sound-bite of an exhibition for our post-9/11 times.

Based in Santa Barbara, Ca., Ross traveled to spots both mundane and dangerous in pursuit of his theme. The former range from a Montessori school and the Department of Motor Vehicles to the U.N. Security Council chamber and a set for the Law and Order television show. More chilling are the pictures of segregation cells at "Camp Remembrance" at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the interview room of Delta Camp V in Guantánamo, Cuba.†

People are absent in Rossí photos, letting the architecture do its work. The interview room at Secret Service Headquarters in Los Angeles is painted institutional neutral and furnished with a folding metal chair. A handcuff hangs from a bar on the wall. The view reeks of menace, as does the scene of the lethal injection chamber at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana, which presents the ominous accoutrements facing a condemned man on the last day of life.

With the exception of the religious buildings, the institutions of authority tend to be modernist in design, unembellished and rectilinear. Ross photographs these spaces with an acute sensitivity to the cool, uncluttered esthetic, and the weird tension between formalist restraint and threatening content lifts them out of photojournalism into the realm of fine art. They are priced between $5,000 and $15,000 depending on size and edition.

Richard Ross, "Architecture of Authority," June 30-July 28, 2007, at ACME, 6150 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, Ca. 90048.

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Renée Petropoulos has long been interested in the ways in which architecture and decoration act as signifiers of culture. In her current show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, a pair of large, lozenge-shaped abstract paintings carry the suggestive titles of Trip from Sri Lanka to Zanzibar (by Boat) and Trip Through the Gulf States (by Air). The works have their own soundtracks; speakers hang from the ceiling and headphones connected to a bench play music and stories in different styles and languages.†

In an adjacent gallery, a pair of black-and-white rugs, woven in Oaxaca, are inspired by an urban walkway in London and a pastoral path in Berlin. Flags posted at the gallery entrance are pieced together in the colors representing various nations, while three paintings of black shapes on white backgrounds represent Uruguay, Germany and Oman. Another gallery is filled with renderings of architectural and decorative details from various sites real and cinematic. Pieces range from $2,500 for works on paper to $20,000.

If this sounds a bit of an overwrought grasp at the complexity of world affairs, the exhibition as a whole is saved by the artistís technical mastery. Paintings, weavings and drawings with conceptual underpinnings are lovely to look at. They are not unlike Rossí photographs in that the message is embedded but the producer has not lost sight of the primary goal of making visual art.

Reneé Petropoulis, "Social Arrangements," June 3-Sept. 4, 2007, at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Bergamot Station B4, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica, Ca. 90404.

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A Los Angeles exhibition of near-mythic resonance is "War Babies," organized in 1961 by the legendary curator Henry Hopkins at his own Huysman Gallery. "War Babies" lives on today through its poster, which features a black-and-white photo by Jerry McMillan of four young male artists, sitting at a table draped with an American flag, each posing according to his ethnic stereotype. Jewish Larry Bell is eating a bagel, Irish-American Joe Goode has a mackerel, Japanese-American Ron Miyashiro holds chopsticks and African-American Ed Bereal bears a large slice of watermelon.

The Huysman Gallery closed shortly thereafter and Hopkins went on to become the director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The artists, too, carried on. Bell and Goode continued to gain mainstream recognition for their work over years but the other two never garnered the same degree of recognition.

In "L.A. Object: 1959-1975," art dealer Jack Tilton briefly recovers that early moment of 1960s provocation and communal, anti-racist spirit. The wide-ranging exhibition proves that Beat Era assemblage was an esthetic impulse that crossed racial lines. The show includes works from the 1960s by Bereal and Miyashiro as well as other African-American, Chicano and Asian artists along with things by the white artists who came to dominate the movement, Wallace Berman, George Herms and Ed Kienholz.

L.A. artists got a first-hand look at pioneering assemblage from Europe with the Kurt Schwitters exhibition held at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1962. But the movement clearly grew from jazz and Beat culture, and from the gritty texture of ghetto streets. In L.A., of course, the Watts Towers remains the ultimate assemblage sculpture, gaining a notable political dimension as well after the Watts Riots of 1965 and the escalation of the Vietnam War.

In "L.A. Object," Miyashiro is represented by Monterrey, which mixes cans of ale on a shelf with black-and-white collaged photographs in an open-sided black box. Berealís rusted, blackened mechanical objects allude darkly to the machinery of war. Better-known artists from this parallel world of assemblage are John Outterbridge, Noah Purifoy and Betye Saar, whose works gain political clout in this context. Still others are Alonzo Davis, Daniel LaRue Johnson, John Riddle, Senga Nengudi, Charles Dickson, Timothy Washington, Masud Kordofan, Dale Brockman Davis, Kenzi Shiokava, Nathaniel Bustion, Melvin Edwards, Joe Ray and La Monte Westmoreland -- clearly, itís a thorough survey of assemblage from the Ď60s and Ď70s.†One anomaly is a 2001 sculpture by Roho.††

The exhibition also provides a different frame for a concurrent survey of early "body print" collages by David Hammons, who was working in L.A. in the 1970s. The exhibition includes The Kingís Show Has Ended -- Letís Give Him a Hand, a 1968 work that includes blue script and the artistís own handprints. It looks today like a launching pad for the kind of work that has made him a major figure in contemporary art.

"L.A. Object and David Hammons Body Prints," June 30-July 28, 2007, at Roberts & Tilton, 6150 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, Ca. 90048


HUNTER DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP is author of Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia OíKeeffe, published by W.W. Norton.