Emerson Woelffer at REDCAT

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Woelffer1 It is a good time to count our blessings. Among them, the opening of Redcat: a small, experimental space for performance and art exhibitions on the ground level of Disney Hall. You are going to hear this catchy name quite a lot in the months and years to come. Named after Roy and Edna Disney, whose initials spell RED; this space is run by CalArts Theater, and C-A-T makes CAT. So here you have it, REDCAT, the latest and hopefully, the edgiest of the new cultural venues in the city.

Walt Disney, who founded CalArts, chose for the campus an idyllic setting in Valencia, a safe distance from downtown L.A. But now, 40 years later, with so much going on in Los Angeles, the distance between the campus and the rest of the city is no longer an advantage, but a hindrance.

Over the last few years, Steve Lavine, the President of CalArts, has spent a lot of time and energy persuading anyone who would listen that Disney Hall, in all its future glory, would sparkle even more if CalArts became a tenant of the concert hall. What's most astonishing is that Redcat, with its performance space and 3,000 square foot gallery, was literally carved from the garage below the concert hall. Every night Redcat offers a cutting-edge program of independent movies, live music, theater or dance. But it's the gallery that is of special interest to me.

JeffersonThe inaugural exhibition is a retrospective of artworks by Emerson Woelffer. It's curated by Ed Ruscha, one of the best-known American artists, whose whole career is connected with this city. Emerson Woelffer was his beloved teacher at the famous Chouinard Art Institute, the precursor of CalArts. The exhibition traces a 60-year career that started in his native Chicago, where he attended The Art Institute of Chicago, and later taught at the Institute of Design. He traveled extensively through Europe, taught at various prestigious American art schools, and finally settled in the 60's in Los Angeles, where he inspired several generations of art students.

The exhibition illustrates the influences that shaped Emerson Woelffer's art, from totemic African sculpture to the art of his contemporaries, such as Motherwell, de Kooning, Pollock and Rothko. Definitely, his art is not in their league, but Woelffer created a very strong body of work, becoming one of the pioneers of West Coast abstract painting. He was prolific, and his art had its ups and downs.

JeffersonAs curator, Ed Ruscha chose many signature works by his mentor; but, inexplicably, also included a number of minor, even inferior artworks, ultimately diluting the overall impression of Emerson Woelffer's achievement. One should be grateful to Ed Ruscha for focusing attention on the work of this important Los Angeles artist. But, in my opinion, the exhibition suffers from Ruscha's understandable lack of curatorial experience.

For a less crowded and more carefully selected presentation of Emerson Woelffer's art, one will be well advised to visit the Manny Silverman Gallery, where the artist's late work demonstrates his talent and originality in a much more convincing manner.

November 20 - December 28, 2003
The Gallery at Redcat
631 West 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 237-2813

through December 19, 2003
Manny Silverman Gallery
619 North Altmont Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90069
(310) 659-8256