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L.A. CONFIDENTIAL
by Emma Gray
 
With two art fairs in Santa Monica this week -- the Los Angeles Art Show and Art LA 2008 -- and the Broad Contemporary Art Museum due to open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in early February, L.A. art lovers have plenty on their plate.

Nevertheless, I have to commend the L.A. Weekly’s "Third Annual Biennial," Jan. 12-Feb. 16, 2007, organized by art critic Doug Harvey at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica. The show provides a quickie view of new work by at least 70 painters, including card-carrying members of the L.A. contemporary establishment, such as Lari Pittman and David Hockney, alongside freshly picked art-school graduates.

On the brisk winter’s evening of the vernissage, as a friend and I approached the Bergamot station parking lot, out of nowhere appeared a large man, dressed like Henry VIII’s modern-day brother in a voluminous fur coat, and with a King-of-the-Road swagger. It was art dealer Patrick Painter, and not some performance artist, as I had originally thought. Painter, whose exhibition of "Black Scab" paintings by Peter Wu went up that same night, was attempting to help his own friends as well as various punters navigate the gnarled traffic.

It was a mob scene both outside and inside Track 16. "It’s a zoo," shouted one visitor. "No, a clusterfuck," countered his pal. The gallery’s Cindy Ojeda said she felt like a bouncer, trying desperately to protect the paintings. A few sweaty parents could be seen easing their red-faced children into strollers to brave what was surely one of the Westside’s most historically heaving gallery nights.

Adding to the chaos was a performance by wild man John Kilduff of LetsPaintTV.com, who crafts his masterpieces while jogging on a treadmill, which makes him the fittest if not the funniest artist I have encountered either virtually or otherwise. Kilduff is a UCLA grad student whose hysterical videos have been generating hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube.

Kilduff jogged on a treadmill as he painted a portrait of a large naked man sitting on a chair, resplendent with a crown and sword. It is the same model in Kilduff’s Let’s Paint, Exercise & Dress a Chicken #3. The final image from the treadmill was quite a muddy green but not too bad, considering the speed, and perspiration, with which it was executed.

Nothing inside the gallery was quiet or demure, in fact. Harvey titled his show "Some Paintings" but his insouciance is hardly descriptive. There are paintings, sure, but they’re large and rambunctious, some loaded with porcupine-like globs or stripes of thick, brightly colored paint. Harvey favors an art that expresses a wild and raucous spirit of life. Even David Hockney’s Northern Sunset shows an uncharacteristically loud and garish representation of midnight sun in Norway. "Some Paintings" is a perfect antidote to the minimal cool of much successful art, which can often leave one feeling empty.

Other highlights include Steve Roden’s The Stillness of One Small Frozen Pizza (2007), which features semi-circles of orange and mustard rings in front of half rainbows of purple and blue. My pizza never looks quite like this, though the ones from the freezer do share a certain quiet immobility.

Another small painting by UCLA graduate Daniel Cummings, titled Roy Rogers and stashed away in the very back room, is like a loose and free meditation on shape and color, satisfying because of its size and its refusal to be rigid. I can’t say it reminded me of the greatest living television cowboy of all time, but for a painting it offered a merry and a quick ride.

Jasmine Little’s Via Café (2007) reveals acute attention to detail and fine observation of the stuff on the periphery of life -- ketchup bottles on tables, a chair slightly askew, and paintings on the café walls. Some of the best details are in the inset paintings: A sullen waitress carries a tray of burgers, and an image of a white-faced boy with a ghetto blaster bustles with energy and verve.

Another standout is Heather Brown’s Totem Witchery, the glow of which provides a much-needed moment of calm in a sea of chunky paint. Totem Witchery displays a buttery yellow background marked out by blue lines in orangey pink triangular spaces. Loosely done brown figures walk through the abstract landscape.

Another artist whose work was new to me, Esther Pearl Watson, paints faux Outsider Art. Her Garland TX (1985) depicts a backyard scene with kids fighting, chain-link fences and trash scattered about the place. Suburban stuff, except for the massive silver UFO sitting smack bang in the middle of the lawn. Is her work a metaphor for the acceptance of Outsider Art? Insider or outsider, the scratchy imagery is engaging.

Master artist and craftsman Kaz Oshiro, who is represented by Rosamund Felsen next door, provided the show with an AC/DC Marshall Amp, or rather a kind of trompe l’oeil replica of the real thing, looking every bit as heavy and unwieldy. Amazing, considering it was created with acrylic paint and bondo on stretched canvas.

Oshiro’s painting-sculpture hybrid was perfectly placed next to Steve Canaday’s fidgety painting Fuck Yeah, which showed a dog-like guy behind the wheel of a bright red hot rod, sitting next to a skeletal dude. It’s R. Crumb on acid (again).

Brad Eberhard, a young abstract painter whose work is represented by Tom Solomon, has a painting in the Track 16 show -- titled Let’s Make Another Baby -- as well as work in another group show on the east side of town. Organized by Holly Myers, who also writes for the L.A. Weekly (and the Los Angeles Times), "Possible Impossible Dimension: Six Artists on the Brink of Abstraction" is on view at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, Jan. 12-Feb. 16, 2008.

Myers was raised in Santa Fe -- "big sky country" -- and has stayed true to her roots, specializing in artists whose work incorporates a sense of space as well as engaging the world politically or otherwise. The Eagle Rock show also includes work by Dan Bayles, Dorsey Dunn, Max Lesser, Chris Natrop and Bari Ziperstein. Bayles recently had his first solo show at Chung King Project in Chinatown, exhibiting abstract images of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, while the local community is hyped up for Art LA, others with connections to the film biz have shipped out to Sundance Film Festival in Utah, which hosts a slew of artists this year in its "New Frontier" programming. Vanessa Beecroft, Mike Kelley and Jennifer Steinkamp are involved, as is Studio Museum in Harlem director Thelma Golden, who moderates a talk on "the cinematic imagination" with Doug Aitken and Isaac Julien.


EMMA GRAY writes on art from Los Angeles.