Tuesday, January 28, 2014

LA Art Show 2014

For all the hype it got, LA Art Show 2014 didn't deliver. In a sea of galleries (well over 100), there was little cutting-edge artwork, and attempts to be inventive missed the mark. Little "new media" was to be found, a curious omission considering the show's contemporary bent.

One expectation it lived up to was the prevalence of Asian art. The "Hues of China" segment showed an impressive selection of artists with creativity and technical finesse. Asian artists, as a friend pointed out, tend to show verve these days, in large part due to the new freedoms of expression granted them. The following three Chinese artists, all considered emerging, show the promise of an increasingly fresh and outspoken environment.

Wang Zhangtao, Hubei Institute of Fine Art, shows a commanding use of line. In Existence he maps out a network of sinuous lines that, in all its restrained but chaotic intricacy and unfamiliarity, signal the map of another dimension.

Existence (detail)

Li Huan makes ghostly woodblock prints with photography as her springboard. Wedding (2012) reveals a vacant dress, the body it once adorned absent. The image calls to mind the trope of the empty chair-- freshly abandoned, the spirit of its sitter strongly present.

The crisp line and color of Wang Yuanyuan's woodblock prints Mutation I and Mutation II are Japanese in nature; the subject matter, on the other hand, resonates on a global level. The age of genetic engineering, which has already caused alarm in the organic community, has frightening potential. Will all trees eventually be born in test-tubes, yielding whatever fruit we command them to produce?

LA Art Show, celebrating its 19th year, took place January 14-18 at LA Convention Center.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The art of salvation

Love and sacrifice are unrelenting subjects in film and literature, a truism rendered fresh in the documentary Cutie and the Boxer. Director Zach Heinzerling lays bare the lives of Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, an artist-couple whose 40-year marriage amounts to a narrative of chaos and struggle, of love and the undeniable need for security. We go through the motions largely through the eyes of Noriko, who until recently had struggled to assert her artistic identity in the shadow of her husband.

Ushio Shinohara cemented his reputation in 1960s Japan. He gained notoriety as a Neo-Dadaist, whose boxing paintings creatively responded to Jackson Pollack’s action paintings of the previous decade. Wishing to launch a career in the States, Shinohara moved to New York in 1969 where he soon met the young and idealistic Noriko, an art student twenty-two years his junior. Their relationship has lasted since—and until recently so too has Noriko’s subservience to Ushio. She was seemingly destined for an insufferable life the moment she met Ushio. Soon after their union a son was born, and Noriko had to sacrifice her craft while Ushio plowed ahead as an artist; he was more capable of making the family money. He was also proud and selfish. 

Ushio typifies the male artist-trope, one whose egoism and vigor propel a tireless engine. The trope's female equivalent applies loosely to Noriko, who is less a muse than an assistant—not to mention a free secretary and free chef, as she put it. However stifled, Noriko accepts the challenges of her marriage to an artist under whose shadow she was cast for decades, and to whom she felt inferior. She accepts it because she loves him tremendously.

The struggle became more tolerable in 2006 when Noriko began her comic series Cutie and Bullie. It marked her transformation as a self-recognizing artist, a process that Heinzelberg traces. The series is based on Noriko’s marriage yet presents a different, more uplifting outcome. Cutie is fawned over by her partner Bullie, who showers her with gifts and attention as reflections of his love for her. The outcome is different because, while Noriko may have blossomed as an individual, her marriage has changed little. 

Cutie and the Boxer is not only about marriage but an artist’s struggle to stay afloat. We learn that to do so one must pump out new work, unearth old work from the bowels of your studio, and talk up curators and gallerists. It is important to have a capable art dealer, an area where Ushio and Noriko fall short. Maybe their clumsy dealer was simply camera shy, an instinct that the Shinoharas seem impervious to. This is what makes the film all the more delectable and captivating. It feels exactly the way a documentary should.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The medium that conquers inhibition

A work on paper can be a wondrous thing. From the spontaneous strokes of a preparatory drawing to the rawness of a woodblock print, art on paper has an arresting immediacy. The same can be said for works of paper—and not only arresting, but at times stupefyingly complex. About Paper, a recent show at Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles, captures these mesmerizing qualities. Who thought that humble paper could be molded and sculpted so eloquently, or that a sheet of paper could so precisely be cut by hand, with scissors no less? Perhaps you, if you were aware of paper cutting’s lofty reputation in Japan, Poland, and Mexico, or if you were fiercely dedicated to your pre-adolescent papier-mâché projects.

Scissor-cut paper, 13" diameter
Sometimes the diligence involved in art-making is too subtle to appreciate—but not here. The eleven artists represented in About Paper convey unmistakable dexterity. And if the medium is partly the message here, their work also, and no less importantly, underpins the poetic possibilities of paper. The material is more adaptable and more expressive than one might expect; and its versatility and affordability allow room for endless points of departure and experimentation. It conquers inhibition. (The Surrealists used it in their automatic drawings to channel their subconscious.) In About Paper, the medium’s creative potential adumbrates a variety of formats, ranging from two-dimensional to sculptural and conceptual works.

Cut paper, 27" x 36"
The papercuts start off the show with a bang. Lucrezia Bieler’s Nightingales... is so intricate it could pass as an ink drawing. When studied up close its hand-cut qualities come to light: littering a scene of reverie are imperfectly serrated cuts of foliage, proliferating from the hair of a reclining nude—a sort of Mother Nature. Hina Aoyama’s Papillon, another ode to nature, resembles the delicacy of a taxidermied butterfly, encased and pressed against glass. Cuban-American artist Elsa Mora offers a deeply psychological work in Paper Scissors. More than a self-conscious artwork, it is a surrealistic meditation on identity. Dismembered body parts float within a pair of scissors; branches that resemble nerve-endings or roots connect them. It suggests a nervous system comprised—inseparably?—of Mora’s own body and nerves and the tool that is so integral to her craft.

Handmade Kozo paper, persimmon juice, beeswax, 108" x 30"
Continuing the conceptual approach to paper is New Mexico artist Alison Keogh, who explores the physicality of the medium. Floating Pellicule, a grid of handmade paper squares colored with persimmon juice, materializes the process of papermaking. Delicate and diaphanous, the squares amount to a color gradient, transitioning from white to red. The triple stacks of handmade paper and clay slurry in her sculptural grouping Stratum(s) likewise suggest a transition, here between sculpture and ceramics. 

Cut paper, 21" x 26" framed
Pushing the boundaries of paper is Los Angeles-born Jeff Nishinaka, who sculpts and molds the material into beautifully wrought images.  His stylized portrait of Chairman Mao is composed of multiple layers that lend it a theatrical chiaroscuro effect. Sonia Romero also uses paper in unexpected ways. Muralist, printmaker, and daughter of Chicano artist Frank Romero, she crafts matrices out of paper, creating surfaces that are typically reserved for more durable materials like metal or wood. She is, in effect, a matrix artist as much as a print artist. Her Womans Torso and Mans Trunk, headless models tattooed with botanicals, dance with symmetry: the female is adorned with flowers and thorny rose vines, the male with a crow-studded tree whose trunk and branches extend the length of his torso. Romero’s work is not unlike the proliferating foliage in Bieler’s Nightingales... or the bifurcating nerve endings in Mora’s Paper Scissors.

Cut paper, 39" x 36"
It is to the show’s credit that this element of continuity doesn’t feel repetitive. A good art show, after all, reflects a balance of cohesion and variety. The astuteness and ingenuity of its organizers has insured that About Paper has, for all its seeming diversity, a rhythm formed from a distinct group of tropes. The preponderance of flora and fauna, for example, is by no means excessive. The lyricism of the works themselves, their subjects sitting in perfect rhythm with the uninhibited spirit of paper, sees to that. (Botanicals, birds, snakes, and critters are among the gallery’s many denizens.) Lorraine Bubar captures our wide, wild world with exotic handmade paper collected from her travels, overlapping them into fable-like scenes. Predators is a shocking work: what looks like a happy aquatic image verges on the sinister when rats and coiling snakes come into view. A similar dichotomy lurks in Japanese artist Haruka’s Goumannauso: elegant chrysanthemums, formed from paper cuts cascading in a dramatic vertical, are mind-blowing in their precision. Grappling with the astonishingly fine points of her technique will likely effect your belated discovery of a skull residing among the flowers.

So expertly rendered is the work here that it appears fragile and durable at once. Moreover, the combination of medium and subject creates psychological and aesthetic insights that, by the end of this remarkable exhibit, one may well come to believe could only —as surprising as it may sound—have been rendered in paper.

About Paper will be on view at Couturier Gallery through January 4, 2014.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Navigating our geographies, with Corrie Siegel by our side

Corrie Siegel is more than an LA-based artist; she is a communities-based artist. Her multidisciplinary exhibition, Star Tours, drives this forward: a nomadic initiative, the project ventures to unite visitors with Los Angeles' diverse landscape-- its communities, cultural diaspora, and history. A manifestation of Siegel's attention to identity and place, Star Tours approaches these universal experiences with eloquence and sensitivity. Ranging from drawings to photography to video, her work makes a resounding impact.

After returning home from university in New York, Siegel confronted a sprawling and diverse city whose terrain she struggled to navigate. In an effort to improve her sense of direction and place, she began drawing maps of Los Angeles. Her personal project mushroomed into a series of handmade maps that fused her study of cartography and micrography, an art form developed by 8th-century Hebrew scribes that integrates small text within an image. Select works from her map projects, thought-provoking, exuberant, and astonishing in their meticulousness, will be on display throughout Star Tours.

In LA #30 Lamed Aleph, Siegel explores neighborhood boundaries and her subjective relationship to them. Regions are distinguished by letters of the Hebrew alphabet whose significance we are compelled to reflect on: do they represent Jewish communities? personal narratives? collective stories? By prompting us to create our own maps, we are inclined to consider our own geographies, whether personal, cultural, or physical. We leave with an itch to chronicle.

LA #30 Lamed Aleph
Ink on paper, 2012
Through the month of January you can find Siegel at various culturally significant sites in Los Angeles. Siegel's migratory gallery, a 16-foot truck, will assume a dutiful presence throughout the project.

The project was launched at Side Street Projects in Pasadena, an artist-run organization that supports the creative endeavors of artists. Subsequent events will be held at Watts Towers, LACMA, Taco Zone, and more.

For an up-to-date list of events, click here:
Star Tours Schedule

Photos from the Side Street Projects opening, Jan. 11:

Drawings from Cadastral Mosorah
Mobile exhibition space

LA #30 Lamed Aleph (detail)
Irving, Bertha and Ralph (detail)
Ink on paper, 2013
Micrography work station