When I went to Christopher Grimes Gallery for the opening of the exhibition of paintings by Scott Short, I didn't detect any signs of crisis. There were only two large, abstract, black and white paintings in the front room, which made for a very elegant, spare installation. The last time I saw this artist's work was a couple of months ago in New York, at the Whitney Biennial, so I was looking forward to seeing his new exhibition here in Los Angeles and meeting the artist himself. Scott Short's paintings put me in a rather contemplative mood, offering an interesting dilemma: should they be perceived as a proliferation of white shapes painted on a black ground, or black shapes painted on a white ground? Am I seeing a night sky through flakes of falling snow, or, a vast snow-covered landscape dotted with hundreds of tiny dark splotches – skiers, perhaps?
In any case, both the reception and the exhibition itself were calm and cool, and absolutely nothing betrayed the drama lurking behind the scenes. The artist, who currently lives in France, has spent most of the past year working slowly and meticulously on a new series of paintings for this show. The six finished works were carefully packed and shipped across the Atlantic, and that's when all hell broke loose, with Iceland's volcano rudely interrupting life as we know it. With the paintings hopelessly stuck somewhere along the way, the artist and the gallery decided to make the best of a bad situation; instead of canceling the opening, they pulled out of storage two of his older paintings and put them on display.
A few days later, when Scott Short's new paintings finally arrived, I stopped by the gallery again to have a look at this exhibition as it was actually meant to be seen. These new works are more dramatic and 'extroverted' than the older ones, but they're still the result of a unique, deliberate, time-consuming process that starts with the mundane act of photocopying a piece of construction paper, and then continuing to copy that photocopy dozens of times, until the artist is satisfied with the resulting random pattern of black shapes on white paper. Thus, the template for the large painting is born. And sometimes it takes him weeks or even months to complete a composition, but the finished work, with its delicate texture and complicated interplay of black and white forms, bears no hint of its arduous journey.
If you care to see another poetic presentation of images chosen seemingly at random, treat yourself to an exquisite exhibition of photographs by LA based artist Uta Barth at Gallery 1301 PE. Along with older, never seen before, small black and white images, she shows large new color diptychs and triptychs, but in the thirty years that separates these bodies of work, the essence of her vision remains the same: she directs our attention to spaces and objects at the edge of our perception which makes for a surprisingly satisfying aesthetic encounter.
So whether it's a mere glimpse of her feet observed from above, or the branch of a blossoming tree shot from below, you find yourself basking in the beauty and ambiguity of seemingly randomly juxtaposed images, trying to resolve the mystery of their coexistence.
On view at Christopher Grimes Gallery through June 19
Uta Barth: ...to walk without destination and to see only to see
On view in Los Angeles at 1301 PE through June 26
On view in New York at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery through June 19
These two exhibitions coincide with the publication of a new, definitive monograph, Uta Barth: The Long Now, devoted to this highly influential and important artist. Published by Gregory R. Miller & Co., July 2010.
Banner Image: Uta Barth
... to walk without destination and to see only to see. 2010
3 inkjet prints in lacquered aluminum frames
Overall installed dimensions: 41 1/4 x 127 1/4 inches