Regen Projects in Los Angeles – March 27 – May 22, 2021
“Plastics…were used in furniture, clothing, containers, appliances, just about everything. Sometimes the poisons leached into food or water and caused cancer, and sometimes there was a fire and plastics burned and gassed people to death…. The only place that has enough of it to be a real danger is right here.” — Octavia E. Butler, Adulthood Rites, 1988
Excerpted from the Regen Projects press release: The works on view reveal Larner’s acceptance of Posthumanist thought that the Anthropocene induces as the world becomes beleaguered by rapidly depleting resources and the massive waste that accompanies our extractive industries. The large low floor sculpture, a sea foam/meerschaum drift, seems to billow and surge through the space. The undulating form constructed of conjoined plastic refuse was collected by Larner over the course of three years. Serving as a meditation on the pervasive and exponential presence of plastic in the world, the sculpture is at once beautiful and horrible, a complex combination that evokes the pathos of its material. This Meerschaum Drift’s materiality belies its intricate form and supposes a transformation of crude material into an art object. Plastic-derived acrylic paint applied to its surface gives the sculpture the overall sense of movement in color from deep blue to green to white, evoking the ephemeral quality of sea foam for which it is named.
Liz Larner’s As Stars and Seas Entwine exhibition at Regen Projects in Los Angeles presented itself as an opportunity to revisit her much earlier exhibition at Regen Projects, one that I wrote about almost 24 years ago. There was a need, I felt, to “correct” my earlier impressions of her work. Admittedly, my reading had been a limited take – the siphoned sliver of an aspect of the work of a seriously-minded artist. It seemed incongruous for an artist undergirded by a weighty philosophical base to produce something so light and fun.
An excerpt from the gallery press release: “A storyteller, Buchanan often attached to her sculptures handwritten or typed narratives, which she referred to as “legends,” that gave voice to a cast of characters, some remembered and others imagined. Sometimes she stapled them to the underside of a piece. In one of her favorite works, Orangeburg County Family House, 1993, Buchanan wrote in Sharpie on the outer sides of the structure the names of families from her hometown which she took from her high school yearbook and a calendar from her local church.”
Most likely it was the summer of 1989 that I took in the Beverly Buchanan exhibit at the Steinbaum Krauss Gallery in New York City’s Soho district. At that point in time, dArt International magazine had barely rounded out its first six months of publishing life. What had impressed me about the work was Buchanan’s “gift of transporting herself to the place where the haziness of time generalizes events.” We believe Buchanan because “…she is her own truth, an embodiment and fruit of the soil that she portrays. The shacks of wood, tar paper, tin, and oil pastel serve as proof of the passage and are convenient emblems of her journey.”
Bassmi Ibrahim, Dellamarie Parrilli, Victoria Lowe, John Lyon Paul, and Anne Marchand are our universe-makers. To place their highly differentiated abstract aesthetic visions together so that they seem to react and inspire each other reminds me that this exhibition of visual persuasions is perhaps like visual chamber music of individual voices, heard collectively. These individual voices, passionately unique, create indelible experiences for the beholder.
Bassmi Ibrahim’s Isness series are meditatively induced visual exaltations (he would perhaps call his artworks “emanations” as they draw you into his soul-world). Using giant soft Chinese brushes Bassmi creates extraordinarily suggestive, sonorously layered liquid forms – entities possessing, seemingly, individual personalities. Each softly shaped abstract form, like a taxonomic laboratory specimen plucked out of an imaginary collection of gigantic organisms, floats in stillness, on an undifferentiated white expanse. Taken together Bassmi’s color fields are paradoxical in appearance – mesmerizingly so. Vaporous, veil like yet robust, his open-ended forms easily elicit the suggestion of after-image contours of a flower or a sea creature, or of an air-bound and fleeting entity.
Dellamarie Parrilli’s painterly abstractions are compositions that are all at once structured, experimental and playful. Works such as Blue Iris and Heart Connection (both 2016) bespeak of a vision that passionately attempts at grasping an essence, a central nature that is then extended outward from centrality to peripherality. In later works produced in 2017 as in Aperture, Seek, and In Search Of Parrilli creates painterly emanations suggestive of energetic systems whose intensely colored paint strokes are thickly layered to create the illusion of relief, a dimensionalized world of gritty punk- lacework.
Victoria Lowe’s exquisite works on canvas and on paper glow with saturated auras and colored coronas. Her Ener Space series of giclée prints have a rapturous other-worldly quality that seem to ask how do we experience, how do we dream, how do we conjure up the immateriality of time and space as well as of timelessness itself? Lowes’s abstract realms suggest purely eidetic manifestations of ambient becoming, of boundless expansion. Equally marvelous her artworks are so radically reduced and understated they seem to resonate with moments of quiet revelation.
John Lyon Paul’s immersive abstractions painted on glass seem to be meditations on the tension between dispersed fragmentation and harmonious togetherness. His combination of illuminated micro-spaces and patterns recall filigreed intervals and retinal floaters that have the ethereal radiance of stained-glass windows. Paul’s artworks are hushed visual meditations as well as measured reflections of possibilities.
Anne Marchand’s colorful aesthetic vision is an involvement in an overall sensibility that delights in an abandonment to sensuous immanence and no small sense of mystery. One senses an enormous physicality in this work. As in Overview Effect (2019) Marchand conveys a near-ecstatic concern animating universes of swirling, congregating, interacting forms. The artist’s acrylic, enamel, and ink brushstrokes constitute veils and swathes of colors comprised of different viscosities. They converge in a play of presence and absence on what might be immense, restless fields of time and shifting space.
Pace presents “Adrian Ghenie: The Hooligans,” an exhibition of nine large-scale semi-abstract oil paintings and three charcoal drawings rendered on paper. The term “hooligans” refers to an underground group of individuals who ignore the limitations of polite society, shaping their lives to be free of constraints. In his powerful new works, Ghenie explores the artists who formed movements that rocked established academies, challenging the status quo of their times with new visions of transformed realities, reinvigorating art in the process. Ghenie has identified J.M.W. Turner, the Impressionists, especially Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin as the artist “hooligans” whose activities he chooses to emulate. His focus is on the primacy of oil paint in a semi-abstract approach which downplays figurative imagery. This daring exhibition is beautifully installed, presenting bold monumental paintings and intriguing charcoal drawings, but it is unfortunate that it is located on the second floor, where it is possible that the public may overlook it.
Adrian Ghenie was born in 1977 in Baia Mare, Romania; he now lives in London, Berlin and in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Ghenie studied art history and mastered the formal techniques of European painting. In his new works the artist incorporates concepts from the Dada movement, along with the semi-recognizable figures of Turner, Van Gogh, and Gauguin in mysterious absorbing formats.
Ghenie’s eloquent paintings require viewer concentration and engagement; they are not prefabricated or manufactured. He doesn’t even use brushes to apply the paint. He creates the works by scraping paint strokes with palette knives and stencils; this technique produces emotionally charged picture surfaces. He pushes the limits of the painting genre further by using suggestive loosely defined non-descriptive shapes in complex configurations that assert the immense power of his works. Ghenie’s networks of deep layered and redrawn shapes, photos from magazines and mysterious roaming lines provide the viewer a fresh experience, not easily described, with a mournful edge which alludes to the strange times in which we live.
The intriguing work “Mr. Turner” (2020) appears to display at least the edge of one of Dante’s circles of hell as described in “The Inferno.” Ghenie often mingles confounding, tangled layers of dream-like shapes, that he fragments into myriads of heaped interlocking forms, whose harmonious colors integrate the disparate surface formats. He applies the paint as if a strong wind has blown it through the four corners of the picture, covering each section in varied thickness and transparency, in an absorbing round of texture and opacity. The red hues whose underpinnings dominate the piece with tattered body parts may reference the Covid 19 pandemic. Today, the sight of ambulances adds a macabre aspect to everyday life, sending a somber message that the picture echoes. The work furnishes an encounter that reaches well beyond the visual, to a deep place inside which responds to the primordial processes enmeshed in the canvass, projecting the viewer forward into the unknown.
Ghenie’s “Self-Portrait ‘en plein air’” (2020) presents an ironic take on the concept of “plein air” that displays an unrecognizable artist apparently experiencing the agony which often accompanies creative outdoor pursuits. The artist in the picture employs muted modulated colors accentuating the serious tone of his efforts while he scrambles to keep his tools and materials organized. As he experiences the pain of his isolation and the hardship of his existence, Ghenie seems especially to identify with the enduring creative spirit of the solitary Van Gogh. Van Gogh occupies an unusual position in the body of works on view. He is seen as a figure of suffering and redemption who sacrificed his health and eventually his life to his work, which by its intrinsic character revitalized painting. In “On the Road to Tarascon 4,” 2020, Ghenie pays homage to the artist in a re-created image of Van Gogh who is seen in transit, moving as if the portable easel were a part of his anatomy, on his way to paint outdoors in the open air.
British painter Francis Bacon’s dark iconic works have been a major influence in contemporary art; he seems to have inspired some of Ghenie’s enigmatic disturbing visions. Bacon himself owes a debt to Abstract Expressionist Wilhelm De Kooning, whose conflated brush strokes spurred Bacon’s visceral interpretations. “The Impressionists” presents a grim kneeling black-robed figure in an unexpected example of an elusive work that expresses the antithesis of the ethereal light-drenched works of Impressionism; Ghenie’s palette is comprised of subdued mixed hues that recall dim Eastern European light. “The Haystack” is another unfathomable large-scale work that defies immediate interpretation.
Ghenie’s engaging charcoal on paper portrait drawings employ the medium in techniques that mirror his oil on canvas portraits. The drawings are somber, visceral evocations of masters who have experienced hardships in their efforts to bring their art to fruition. In Ghenie’s portraits, Turner, the artist himself, and Gauguin are constructed with truncated body parts in which the condensed power of their creativity seems to have reached its peak. Nothing about the images is contemplative; the urgency of their intentions seems to have spurred them to epic personal transformations and subsequent achievements. The artist reverses traditional portraiture by displaying images that reveal the dark depths of his subjects’ psyches rather than pleasant looking facial features.
Ghenie is influenced by Charles Darwin’s text “On the Origin of the Species” (late 1850’s), with its emphasis on the survival of the fittest. It seems that a similar dictate applies to the field of painting; if it is not periodically reinvigorated, its meaning and relevance will fade from our culture. Ghenie believes that painting is now in a cyclical crisis that repeats itself historically, as demonstrated by the oeuvres of the Impressionists, Turner, Van Gogh and Gauguin, artists whose works he explores in this show. Recycling adds a new spin by extending art and regenerating the media. Turner dissolved a train into a cloud of mist in a convincing painted atmosphere. Picasso and George Braque revamped Cezanne’s geometric brushstrokes to forge the Cubist movement, which contributed to the founding of abstract art. The Impressionists, through their reductive multitude strokes of luminous light foresaw the onset of the Atomic Age.
It is rare to find an international art star who cares profoundly about the progression of art, who seems to love the act of painting enough to make pictures whose sole subjects are the painters who have contributed to its evolution. It is prescient that Pace has brought Ghenie’s works to share with worldly New York audiences, who have experienced the development of contemporary art first-hand. Whether one appreciates it or not, this heroic exhibition offers an example of works that probe the ominous side of progress to help unfold a struggle that challenges the omniscience of technology.
“Church and Rothko: Sublime,” an exhibition of twenty-seven oil paintings on canvas, brings into focus, in the context of the ‘Sublime,’ the similarities and divergences of two deeply contrasting artists who extended the art of painting to suit their overriding visions, separated by a span of nearly 100 years. Michael Altman Fine Art and Christopher Rothko collaborated with Robert Mnuchin and the Mnuchin team to present this respectful, comprehensive and deeply appreciative journey through the pictorial language of a 19th and a 20th Century master, who succeeded in transmuting their art to the level of the emotional and psychological sublime, through purely visual means. The show adheres to an expanded, unconventional definition of the ‘Sublime,’ which includes not only the sense of the majestic but also its frightening, perilous dark side. There are ten abstract Rothko works and seventeen Frederic Church oil paintings on view.
The handsome, risk-taking installation presents Church’s portrayals of concrete outer reality contrasted with the ephemeral inner reality of Rothko’s images, in juxtapositions that compel the viewer to reorient mental and visual comprehension with the aid of color as the harmonious interconnecting link. The wide differences in the underlying structures of the two artists’ works reveal the extent to which humans have transformed society, culture and art in a span of less than 100 years. The challenges of the exhibit offer an expanded experience that has the potential to broaden the viewer’s visual scope. The traditional toned walls which reflect Church’s era, work to his advantage, while Rothko’s dark works are sometimes subsumed by their gray surroundings; white walls might serve his radical images more favorably.
American born Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) brilliantly observes and records the particulars of the skies, clouds, mountains, trees, flowers, rivers and the sea that fall before his wide grasp of meaningful detail. His inspired recreation of light as it morphs from sunrise into daylight, and into the atmospheric effects that illuminate clouds at sunset, instills the viewer with feelings of revelation and discovery. His encyclopedic panoramic landscape views are emotionally charged by his dramatic use of pure warm hues.
Church traveled extensively, painting in plain air, but he also worked in his studio at his home Olana in New York State. He was a recognized master of the Hudson River School of landscape artists. Church was intrigued by incidences of human courage in scenes of ships trapped by icebergs, or while in danger of sinking at sea. He carried his vision to tropical landscapes that speak of fantasy and ecstasy through their sublime auras, their intricately ornate foliage and plant-forms, luminous mirror-like rivers and lakes, and divinely illuminating light. Church’s sensitivity to the changing hues which evolve in sunsets provides a rich evocative subject he explores in many of his works. The painter’s use of saturated red, displayed in “Marine Sunset (The Black Sea),” 1881-1882, seems to hint at a prescient apocalyptic vision of the sun setting on civilization as it descends into the netherworld, a harbinger of the Atomic Age that predates the devastating human and environmental global crisis to come in the next century. There are few people on view in these abundant tableaux. Fortunately, he took the opportunity to record the beauties and subtleties, the dramas and innuendos of our deteriorating Earth.
Church’s painting “Twilight in the Wilderness,” punctuated by deep cadmium red hues, perhaps expresses his unconscious awareness that traditional beliefs about natural life were waning. Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” which appeared in the end of the 1850s, weakened the belief in the existence of the spiritual in nature. Church’s cognizance of the unprecedented carnage of the American Civil War also played a role in some of his apocalyptic landscape visions that portray nature on the brink, at its most turbulent.
The ‘Sublime’ is an emotionally charged term that conjures feelings of wonder and amazement incited by an awareness of God’s providence in the majesty of our abundant natural world. The dictionary defines ‘sublime’ as an adjective that indicates grandeur, excellence, or great beauty inspiring admiration or awe. In Edmund Burke’s book, “A Philosophic Enquiry into the Origins of the Sublime and the Beautiful,” (1757), Burke extends the definition of the ‘sublime’ to include opposing forces, defined as “compelling and destructive, provoking a fear of death, and vastness, infinity and magnificence. It evokes God’s creation of Satan, and its polar opposite, the Beautiful, as well formed and aesthetically pleasing….” In the context of this exhibition, Burke’s definition, which references negatives such as evil and the fear of death, makes sense of the contrast of Rothko’s dark memorial paintings with Church’s bright yellow, orange and cadmium red pieces.
Mark Rothko was born in Dvinsk, Russia (1903-1970) and came to the US with his family in 1913. He began painting in 1926; and developed his abstract signature vision around 1947, shortly after the end of World War II. Rothko’s paintings comprise several framed, stacked color fields with harmonious atmospheric layers that shift hues from one rectangle to the next, to establish auras of calm and moods of serenity. Many of his works achieve a sense of the transcendent sublime in a level of intensity that syncs with Church’s landscapes, especially through the means of atmospheric color and ethereal moods, which link his enveloping non-objective oeuvre to the tableaux of Church’s brilliant evanescent skies. Rothko’s formats can be said, in an imaginative leap, to make subliminal suggestions that parallel landscape art. He favors a vertical structure that mirrors the upward sweep of trees, he uses wide rectangular planes reminiscent of the expanse of meadows, and makes a stack of fields that form horizon lines, with a sliver of sky above. His piece entitled “No. 1” (1949) is a transition work displaying remnants of earlier figurative efforts, combined within the format of his stacked rectangles, that speak to Church’s representational oeuvre.
Rothko dispenses with all overt recognizable forms to achieve a direct psychological impact that bridges the core of viewer’s consciousness. In order to comprehend his art, one must release pre-conceived notions to make space to experience fresh emotions and conceptual content that is stimulated by the pure pigment on canvas. “No. 5 (Untitled)” (1964) uniquely resonates with a distinct sensation of the dark sublime. Rothko attempts to align the viewer with a modern zeitgeist, in a connection with unadulterated states of pure being. He was perhaps influenced by Buddhism or by meditation, as his subtle pictures come into more lucid focus with concentration.
After WW II with the experiences of the most heinous crimes ever committed by humanity, it became impossible to trust in a human capacity for evolved states of moral and spiritual being. Moreover, due to the direct onset of the Atomic Age, the world and humanity became equally vulnerable to instant annihilation. Rothko may well have factored these perceptions into his new postwar painterly efforts.
The two artists, working almost 100 years apart, demonstrate beautifully the eras in which they established and developed their visions. While the human impact on nature was becoming more apparent, the 19th Century still retained a sense of hope in the future, and a shaky reverence in the present. Rothko’s 20th Century vision seeks to engage the core of human awareness, separated from nature, which could no longer be referenced as a constant to be experienced with the joy and trust in the future. His is a vision of the timeless and eternal ‘Now,’ which potentially imbues the spirit with a peace that is isolated from an ephemeral world. Rothko’s works present fields which enable viewers to explore their moods and states of mind, with each painting.The absence of traditional pictorial space in Rothko’s art makes at first glimpse a challenging chasm between the two oeuvres. But the notion of linking the works through both color equivalents and the expanded concept of the Sublime, creates an almost playful, experimental arena that accentuates the divergences and similarities of the art of the 20th and 19th Centuries. Church’s “Marine Sunset (The Black Sea)” and Rothko’s “Brown’s and Black’s in Reds” (1968) epitomize the intent here of the comparison of the ‘dark’ side of the Sublime. Whether one senses that the works enhance one another, or whether they distract from their intended meanings, depends on the viewer’s depth of commitment to seeing art from an expansive, inventive viewpoint.
I’m dreaming of Miami. Art is a living presence, an intelligence outside of that which we already possess. Among the blows of this pandemic year, the loss of experiencing art in real space is a deep darkness. In the ecstatic buzz of a live fair, one answers the call of one booth, one artist, one artwork at a time. Dumbstruck, you feel the materiality open up in heart and mind, change, and grow.
Raised in Velký Šenov, in the Bohemia section of the Czech Republic, and currently living in Cortland, New York, Jaroslava Prihodova’s life has truly been a tale of two cities. Growing up in a Communist state, with her parents, an aunt and uncle and her grandparents, Prihodova has largely happy memories of those early days.