Why do people want to be artists? What used to be the predilection of misfits, outsiders and rebels, the oversensitive and the underemployed, now seems to be considered the coolest of career options. Even Bob Dylan is showing his new art at Gagosian Gallery in New York.
This trend is not always a cause for celebration but Marco Brambilla's 3-D video installation certainly is. On view at Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica through December 22 is a vortex of experiential paradise and damnation brought to us in palpable 3-D. Wearing the necessary black glasses in a darkened gallery, I was a rapt participant as the God particle exploded amidst vibrating halos of light and transparent bubbles containing nude figures. The divine digit of creation pointed and there were whirling concoctions of green fields, pretty children, white horses and Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, all of which hurtled right into a red inferno of dancing devils carrying giant menacing scissors and scenes of sexual decadence that escalated into a future of robots, astronauts and outer space. Then the whole thing looped back to its origins. I watched many times, transfixed. Creation (Megaplex) 2012 is the concluding part of a trilogy of 3-D collaged videos that began with Civilization (Megaplex) 2008 and Evolution (Megaplex) 2010. These were popular when shown at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 2011, but this latest piece is composed as the double helix of DNA, a spiraling and intertwining of minutely detailed imagery executed with dizzying prowess. The history of Western art, the iconography of Christianity, such themes migrated from high culture into pop culture, into film and television. And here they are resurrected, as it were, as fine art in a gallery. Brambilla, born in Milan but raised in Canada, had some success making commercials and films such as Demolition Man and Excess Baggage in the 1990's before shifting his focus to video and photography. His technical finesse far exceeds those of most visual artists and he has chosen to deploy it well in service of the big questions.
Those are not the questions being asked by Ben Jones, an animator who is the main creator and the voice actor of Alfe and Roba in the Cartoon Network show, The Problem Solverz.
I became interested in Jones as one of the redeeming artists in an often silly exhibition at MOCA called Transmission L.A. last spring. His room-sized installation recreated the feeling of being inside a video game in an invisible car with the road and scenery passing at a clip and the sun and moon rising and falling, the colors of the sky shifting, the desert giving way to the city and so forth.
Ben Jones, The Video at MOCA Pacific Design Center through February 24, 2013 is less ambitious yet features more of what he calls "video paintings." Smaller in scale, they provide less of a direct experience. Instead, these are animations that reference the history of animation and the evolution of video games with characters and techniques from the past played out with tongue in cheek nostalgia. The pieces can be hypnotic with pulsing and morphing forms in hyper intense colors. Like Brambilla, the technical sophistication is extreme.
Contemporary artists often draw from animation and film with regularity but they usually don't have parallel lives as successful creators in those industries. Both shows indicate further erosion of the boundaries between artistic disciplines. Andy Warhol longed for success in Hollywood. Now artists who are successful in Hollywood and elsewhere long to be artists.
Banner image: Marco Brambilla, Creation (Megaplex), 2012. Edition 1/8. Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, California