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L.A. CONFIDENTIAL
by Emma Gray
 
People in L.A. are talking about "Eden’s Edge: Fifteen L.A. Artists," May 13-Sept. 2, 2007, the new exhibition at the Hammer Museum. People fuss about the inclusion of some artists and the omission of others, and fret about whether works by individual artists should have been grouped together (as they actually are) or mixed with all the others. In any case, the show is a hit, following in the successful footsteps of "Thing" and other Hammer surveys of local art.

Hammer chief curator Gary Garrels, who organized the exhibition, seems to have taken a step back and breathed in a vision of Los Angeles that is more than just the last five minutes. The show is a richly textured sensory showcase that prods at the artistic proclivities and preoccupations of the past, present and future of L.A. art, all the while meditating on the twisted notions of paradise and pleasure found in any respectable Garden of Eden -- notably Hollywood, the most mythic and renowned of all dreamland playgrounds.

Garrels has managed to procure some of the best works by each artist represented, and then tease out the threads that connect, say, Lari Pittman’s baroquely textured paintings to Mark Bradford’s dense and map-like collages. On the whole, I would argue that the scope of the works reflects the rambling open spaces of California.

Certainly Elliott Hundley’s sprawling collages made of scores of detailed magazine cutouts and other little objects suggests a desire to fill this space with depictions of our multifaceted and sensuous world, a strategy also adopted by Matt Greene and Jason Rhoades as well as Bradford and Pittman.

Monica Majoli’s watercolors of latex fetishists are enormous, lush and haunting images that strike a chord somewhere between Abu Ghraib torture photographs and HBO’s "Real Sex" documentary series. But providing the biggest "wow" are the beautiful and detailed renderings of moss, grasses and fungus on calf vellum by Rebecca Morales, works that speak to a naturalism that is both sensuous and scientific. Her 3D wall installation Soft Landing (2007), which resembled a grassy fairyland overrun by mold and the odd maggot, is sumptuous and a little creepy.

Both Hundley and Morales craft a divine elfin universe with more than its share of magic mushrooms, a feeling that is also not foreign to the frieze-like paintings of Matt Greene, which often depict dreamy worlds where Eve has clearly already bitten the apple.

If the show were American Idol, I would vote for Mark Bradford. The selection of his works fills a vast, central gallery, and the multilayered collage of posters on silver titled America (2006) could be the best in show. But Jason Rhoades gives him a run for the money with Twelve-Wheel Wagon Wheel Chandelier (2004), a collection of the late artist’s trademark synonyms for "pussy" done in bright neon, which fills an unwieldy museum space called "the vault" better than anything ever installed there. For Rhoades fans, it’s a delight to revisit his singular and all-encompassing vision removed from the cacophony of his studio and the sadness of his passing.

Other artists in the show include Ginny Bishton, Liz Craft, Sharon Ellis, Harriet "Harry" Dodge & Stanya Kahn, Matthew Monahan, Ken Price and Jim Shaw.

Anna Sew Hoy, I thought, looked better in a show titled "Sans Soleil" at Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica, Apr. 21-May 26, 2007, where her Dark Rainbow (2004), an anthropomorphic assemblage including chunks of log, a plastic bracelet and a perfume bottle sits atop a suite of three cast-plastic Darth Vader heads.

Organized by Carole Ann Klonarides, a former curator at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, "Sans Soleil" was one of the best gallery shows I’ve seen since I arrived in L.A. Inspired by a film by Chris Marker, the show was in two parts, with a second section at Chung King Project in Chinatown. In many ways, it was a poor man’s "Eden’s Edge," dealing not with imported palms and watered lawns but sun-drenched and hallucinogenic desert outposts.

The exhibition introduced new and exciting artists like Josh Podoll, whose tripped-out paintings are meant to be portals to other dimensions, and Case Calkins, who makes totemic sculptures. Dan Bayles’ vast abstract paintings speak apocalypse and the dawn of a new era, and carry titles like Proposal for a National Monument to Paranoia (2005).

The two exhibitions provided an interesting counterpoint, not to mention a pair of crisp curatorial grips. By omission they address as well the arid open spaces to the east of the city, which attracts artists like Andrea Zittel and Jack Pierson to places like Joshua Tree and 29 Palms. Though "Eden’s Edge" is more sensual and reflects the mythical hedonistic noir that Los Angeles projects worldwide, "Sans Soleil" provided a glimpse of a future L.A. without its water -- Eden’s real edge.


EMMA GRAY writes on art from L.A.