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What Was Jennifer Steinkamp Smoking?

Now that the Supreme Court has made illegal even the medical use of marijuana, the place to go to experience temporary relief from whatever ails you is in the semi-dark rooms with a hidden back-alley entrance behind a nondescript building along the Wilshire Miracle Mile. But please, let's keep it quiet. Usually, it takes a little time before booze or some weed makes you happy. But here the effect is instantaneous. Imagine huge medieval tapestries with a Unicorn in a flowering garden, with each flower woven with silk and gold. Close your eyes and inhale a few times. Do you see what happens? With the glorious tangle of flowers still swaying in the garden where he stood, the Unicorn has disappeared. If seeing these brightly colored flowers slow dance across the wall doesn't make you happy, then I'm sorry for you.

The person responsible for this hallucination is Jennifer Steinkamp, who earned her magic stripes at Cal-Arts as a motion-graphics major, then worked at a graphics-and-animation firm doing television commercials, and later earned a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In the last ten years, Steinkamp's projected digital animations could be seen in a number of important exhibitions here in the U.S. and in Europe, and her art was acquired by many museums and private collectors. What can I say---the lady is hot. Until a few years ago, she preferred to work with the abstract imagery of overlapping, pulsating patterns. These days she mines her inspiration from the inexhaustible goldmines of nature. I thought initially that the artist photographed actual gardens and then manipulated the resulting images. I was wrong. Jennifer Steinkamp digitally draws every blade of grass and every flower petal in her magical virtual garden. Never having been enamored by computer-generated art, I succumb to the magic of these images every time I see her installations. The ACME Gallery, that has represented the artist for more than ten years, is the site of her latest exhibition and that's where you want to bring your smart friends, jaded colleagues, visiting in-laws and your darling, pesky kids. I observed some tough characters melting into purring kittens upon confronting this latest installation. Next year the Los Angeles Opera premieres Wagner's Tannhauser for which Jennifer Steinkamp has been commissioned to create projections. Talk about a marriage made in heaven.

However, if you're in the mood for something on the darker side of things, the place to go is the Fahey/Klein Gallery, presenting new works by photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. Known for his sexually overcharged, elaborate compositions made of exotic props, including dead body parts, Joel-Peter Witkin now works with large-scale format black and white photographs. He continues to scratch his negatives to give his images a patina of aging. New for me is his use of color that he brushes over the black and white prints. It made me think that the artist would be well-served staying away from color, which overburdens his art and upsets the careful balance between macabre fantasy and carefully constructed classical composition. Have a good trip but I would think twice before inviting the in-laws to this one.

Jennifer Steinkamp
"Rapunzel"
ACME Gallery
6150 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles
323-857-5942
Through July 2

Joel-Peter Witkin
"Heart Beats Dust"
Fahey/Klein Gallery
148 N. La Brea
Los Angeles
323-934-2250
Through June 18

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