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Archive for May, 2007

The Getty has an exhibit by German artist Sigmar Polke who experimented with photography in the 1960s and launched an art movement called Capitalist Realism with Gerhard Richter. Polke was fascinated by popular culture and in his photos, he reshaped mundane things like window displays and everyday objects from his studio into strange and unsettling combinations.

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Polke reveled in the mistakes and chance experiments that happen in the dark room. He played with double exposure and over and under exposure to create abstracted collages. His pictures, often rough, scratched and uneven in tone, are framed with the edges showingnot meticulously matted, showing a predilection for the improvised and accidental.  My favorite image shows women armed with hats and umbrellas treading through a forest of faucets.

Another shot taken from above looks down on a bowl of milk with tiny wooden toy animals — a mother elephant and three babies — floating on the surface. The photo prompted a jolt of recognition for me. I had the exact same toy set when I was 3 or 4, living in Germany in the 60s, and it’s now tucked away in a drawer somewhere. All of a sudden Polke’s images was overlaid with a long ago visual memory — a sort of personal double exposure.

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elise_irving1.jpgI’ve opened my purse strings for a few art pieces recently. I’m trying to keep myself focused on photos or photo-based artwork. I bought a light box by Elise Irving from Aftermodern Gallery. Miller creates multiple transparencies of a single photo, altering different segments in each layer with PhotoShop, creating depth and variation when she stacks up the transparencies and frames them in a plexiglass box backlit by a small fluorescent bulb. The different densities of the transparencies create a saturated, superreal image.

kokin.jpgAnother indulgence…a small found photo piece by Lisa Kokin. Lisa’s work reinvents the old and discarded—found photos, buttons, old books. Lisa grew up in New York, the child of upholsterers, so sewing, thread, fabric and notions surface in her work. My piece is called “Walking Wounded” and is a row of soldiers in uniform, their torsos and heads cut out, lined up and sewn together. The tail ends of the threads that weave them together stick out like sutures.

joysthatareunseen.jpgKim Maria and Craig LaRotonda create some amazing mixed media work—some people call it pop surrealism. You can view more on their website Revelation Studios. I bought a piece called “Joys That Are Unseen” that combines an odd assortment of things: the fragments of an old toy, a forgotten portrait, a cornice piece, a collage juxtaposing red towers with ornate flowers from an old book. The objects fit together like they were always meant to relate to one another this way. And the small hinged door that swings open gives you the feeling you’re peering into something secret.

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Visionary State

bradbury.jpgI spent the past weekend in LA, taking in lots of art galleries…and making a stop at the Bradbury Building. I hadn’t heard of the Bradbury until I stumbled into a show at Scott Nichols gallery in San Francisco a while back. Photos were grouped on the walls in blocs of four or nine—image modules made up entirely of locations in California. It was a puzzle that forced you to ask: “What do all of these scenes have in common?” Robinson Jeffer’s Tor House on the cliffs of Monterey Bay, the pools at Harbin Hot Springs, Joshua Tree, the labyrinth of Grace Cathedral? A thread ran through it all—sewn into place by photographer Michael Rauner and writer Erik Davis who brought together the strange, spiritual places of California into a collection of images and essays called “Visionary State.”

I loved Rauner’s airy birdcage image of the Bradbury Building and made a mental note to visit it on my next trip to LA. It’s more magical in person with the light falling six stories, the overwrought railings spiraling up to the skylight, the Mexican-tiled floor, the mail chutes and the naked mechanics of the elevator shaft. Definitely worth the detour.

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People forget there’s a river that runs through Los Angeles—and you can’t blame them. What was once a major waterway that supported a rich agricultural life is now little more than a glorified drainage ditch. In a photo show at the Getty, “A Place in the Sun” John Humble documents the channel that once flowed freely, but is now tamed and contained by cement walls.

humble1.jpgHumble was one of eight artists chosen in 1979 to capture Los Angeles on it’s centennial. The show features a series of his LA neighborhood scenes, but the images that stood out for me were his river photos. The Los Angeles River runs 51 miles from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach and the ocean beyond, with only a part of it having natural vegetation on its banks. In one image, Humble reveals an idyllic view of the water’s edge framed by autumn foliage then contrasts it sharply with a harsher image of the river surrounded by barbed wire, criss-crossing power lines, cement walls, and just in case you missed it—a sign that clarifies this is indeed the “Los Angeles River.” Humble shows the water stripped of its vitality, running shallow and dirty, yet he also manages to uncover the striking—beams of light slanting through the columns of an underground aqueduct, the forked wall at a bend in the river that looms like the prow of a ship, flat muddy sheets of water framed by rushing clouds and swooping electrical wires that stream off into a vanishing point on the horizon.

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