A Lovely Stew of Fashion and Nudity, Plus a Dash of Profane

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at101012a.jpgWhether in scorching heat or foggy gloom, driving along the PCH toward Pepperdine University in Malibu is always a pleasure. My goal was to see the exhibition Inspired by Fashion and Finance presenting artworks created in the last forty years and pulled from the holdings of the Weisman Art Foundation. Though this exhibition doesn't break any new ground, it definitely provides plenty of amusement and food for thought. The presentation ranges from multiple portraits of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol to works by Keith Haring, David Hockney, Red Grooms and a number of lesser-known artists. I was particularly delighted to discover the work of Brooklyn-based Lesley Dill, whose ball gown shaped sculptures have a number of built-in surprises, including references to poems by Emily Dickinson.

at101012b.jpgBack in Venice, at the LA Louver Gallery, I stepped into the unique, slightly surreal environment of the exhibition conceived by well-known Los Angeles sculptor Michael McMillen. His new works contain numerous references to set designs for theatrical and film productions, with the mood alternating from somber to hallucinatory. The standouts are small bronze sculptures of dilapidated buildings demanding closer scrutiny, which reveal the slightly cynical structure behind the somewhat romantic, picturesque façades. The undeniable crowd-pleaser is the installation in a dark room with a large sculpture of a tilted house ready to collapse into a pool of water. On the roof of this house, there is a screen showing a film composed of hundreds of random movie clips accompanied by an appropriate cacophony of sound. Entranced by this multi-media installation, I was trying to sort out my reaction: was I seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, or...was it the light of an approaching train?

at101012c.jpgUpstairs, there is an exhibition of another well-known Los Angeles artist, Alison Saar, who, in dealing with issues of race, gender, and sexuality, is never shy about pushing viewers' buttons. Take a look at the images of her work on the Art Talk page of the KCRW website. You will be immediately confronted and hopefully intrigued, as I was, by her highly individualistic handling of the medium. Be it painting or sculpture, Alison Saar's focus is always on the nude female figure, exuding a palpable sense of mystery and ritual sacrifice.

at101012d.jpgQuietly hiding on Venice Boulevard, east of Sepulveda, a couple of miles from the beach, is the Duncan Miller Gallery. It's been there for a few years, but I discovered it only recently, and I like the element of surprise with which the gallery presents exhibitions of photography - its main focus. The current one is devoted to the work of the Gao Brothers, well-known Beijing artists who have run into their share of trouble with Chinese authorities - not only for their provocative use of male and female nudity, but specifically for numerous references to Chairman Mao. In their photos and sculptures, they repeatedly poke fun at the Communist leader, and do it with tremendous flair.

at101012e.jpgA couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the artists in Beijing and was told that not long before, in response to the controversy stirred up by their sculptures of Mao, two policemen had been stationed at the entrance to their studio. By American standards, having police to prevent people from visiting them would be a sign of oppression, but in China, to have dissident artists not being arrested for artistic indiscretions was a clear sign of progress. If between now and the end of the year you happen to be in Kansas City, you'll definitely want to check out the comprehensive Gao Brothers exhibition at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Compared to this, many museum exhibitions here in LA seem rather timid.


Inspired by Fashion and Finance: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation
On view at Pepperdine's Weisman Museum through December 5

Alison Saar: Foison and Fallow
On view at LA Louver Gallery through October 30

Michael C. McMillen: Lighthouse
On view at LA Louver Gallery through October 30

Gao Brothers
On view at Duncan Miller Gallery through November 6

Banner image:Gao Brothers, Goodbye Tiananmen (detail), 2007; C-Print, 120x150cm (49 x 59”)