Returning to L.A. after two weeks of gorging on art and theater in London, I had my work cut out for me, with dozens of new exhibitions marking the opening of the new season.
First I went to the Otis College of Art and Design to see the photography exhibition by Richard Ross, with a rather ominous title: "Waiting for the End of the World." I've been following the career of this Santa Barbara-based artist over two decades. He has captured the beauty of exotic architectural spaces all over the world and, many times, surprised me with the romantic take on museum life, traditionally hidden behind closed doors.
For his latest body of work, Richard Ross literally went underground in search of bomb shelters constructed during the Cold War in such diverse places as China, Russia, Europe and, of course, here in the United States. This time, his very large color prints do not seduce as much as demand your attention with menacing images of claustrophobic spaces, intended for protection, but ironically oozing with a foreboding sense of death. In the current state of heightened alert, these images resonate strongly in our collective psyche, playing on our deepest fears of ultimate destruction.
After Otis, I went directly to MOCA to see the new exhibition by Robert Smithson, best known for his "Spiral Jetty", the 1500-foot long sculpture made of rock on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in the 1970's. This is probably the most famous of the so-called "Earthworks", the movement which defined this period of idealism and longing for a primal connection with nature. The exhibition is remarkably informative about the short but inventive career of the artist, who died in a plane crash at the age of 35. There are a number of quick sketches and photographs of his "nonsites" and "mirror displacements", temporarily installed in natural landscapes, thus expanding the traditional notion of sculpture. Judging by the example of his early paintings and drawings, Robert Smithson was not much of a draftsman. But he definitely excelled as a sculptor and we should be grateful to MOCA for presenting the numerous sculptural installations, in which the artist achieved a sense of austere beauty by pairing panels of glass and mirrors with piles of stone or sand or rock salt.
I ended my day at the Japanese American National Museum, to see its latest offering: the art of George Nakashima. By all definition, this well-known furniture maker should be perceived as a highly original sculptor, possessing the soul of a painter. I cannot think of another artist with such ability to make the wood sing and dance in his hands. On the heels of the museum's previous exhibition of Noguchi art, this new, elegantly installed show of approximately 50 Nakashima pieces demonstrates this still-young museum's ambition for high standards.
Richard Ross "Waiting for the End of the World"
September 11 - October 30, 2004
Ben Maltz Gallery
Otis College of Art & Design
9045 Lincoln Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90045
"George Nakashima: Nature, Form & Spirit"
September 12 - January 2, 2005
Japanese American National Museum
369 East First Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Ends: December 13, 2004
250 S. Grand Ave.