California is, for me, a complex brew. I grew up in the Bay Area so visits to that childhood domain are laden with the peculiar confluence of emotions that most of us carry, consciously and unconsciously, from our early life and family of origin. But California is also a harbinger of the future tense, offering glimpses into a number of versions of where attitudes and lifestyles might be headed. There are lots of possibilities, and the essential tension between the past and the future is visceral, poignant and personal. Overlaid on top of all of that deep tissue vibratory sensation is my ongoing search for aesthetic resonance, wherever that might be found. And there were some fine high points for me. Here are a few.
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Annie Philbin, director of the Hammer, is on my all time greats list for conceiving of the utterly brilliant and perfectly timed Charles Burchfield show. Curated by artist Bob Gober, this show unveiled the brilliance at the core of an artist I had, out of ignorance, moved to the stadium seats. Never again. Burchfield was a visionary and a nature mystic, and his paintings have to be seen in the flesh to fully comprehend the scope of what he was doing. (I wrote about the Burchfield show at the Whitney Museum here.)
Currently on view at the Hammer are two shows worth seeing: Paintings by Eva Hesse (I was surprised by their existence too) and Mark Manders’ conceptually provocative installations. While Hesse’s paintings do not convey the brilliance that played out in her later sculptural works, seeing this body of work enriched my understanding of what she was struggling through when caught in the tangle of irreconcilable differences between her two professors at Yale, Rico Lebrun and Josef Albers. In her journal she wrote, ” “To hell with them all. Paint yourself out, through and through, it will come by you alone. You must come to terms with your own work not with any other being.”
But the highlight of my visit to the Hammer was seeing two paintings from the collection that were on view: A wall sized work by Mark Bradford, and an equally commandingly sized painting/collage by Elliott Hundley. Bradford’s piece is the most lyrical and exquisite rendering of his signature style of surface distress and sociological implication. I can’t stop thinking about its swirl of energy and passion. Hundley’s piece, a sea of pinned on images over a highly layered surface, is playful and engaging.
Resnick Pavilion, LACMA
Renzo Piano’s massive addition is reminiscent of the Robert Irwin-renovated (with OpenOffice) arena that was once a Nabisco factory and is now Dia: Beacon. The natural light, intoxicatingly lush, was a wonderful way to see the Olmec collection on view. (Two other shows, in more traditional controlled light galleries were of less interest to me.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen Olmec objects in daylight, and I have been searching and studying this Pre-Columbian culture for 40 years.
They never tire for me. Every season is a revelation. Robert Irwin, once again.
And the views of Los Angeles from the Getty Center at sunset are spectacular. You just can’t not celebrate the light.
Tivoli Gardens, by Judy Pfaff, Braunstein Quay Gallery, San Francisco
More breathtakingly engaging work by the one and only Judy Pfaff. (I wrote about her recent New York show here.) I will spend more time on Judy and the Tivoli Gardens show in my next post. Fecund, fantastical and ferociously fun.