Enigmatic Tales of Lari Pittman and Veronika Kellndorfer

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Lari Pittman, one of the best known American artists, was born here in LA, studied and became famous here, and continues to live, work, and teach here as well. The list of his exhibitions in the US and abroad is impressively long. Not only were his works included in last year's exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris celebrating Los Angeles art, but they were prominently displayed there in a gallery of their own, an honor bestowed upon only a few of the 80-plus participating artists. This summer, his paintings could be seen at the Hammer Museum as part of the exhibition highlighting the works of fifteen prominent Los Angeles artists.

I've known Lari Pittman's work for almost three decades, and I continue to be intrigued and perplexed by the super-saturated density of the compositions of his paintings, where semi-translucent human figures engage in intricate, often lurid, games involving vegetables, numbers, spider webs, and words and phrases written backwards. And trust me, that doesn't even begin to describe the rich variety of images habitually used by the artist. His new exhibition at Regen Projects II, which includes more than two dozen large and small paintings, presents Pittman in absolute top form, only even more enigmatic in his references and even more melancholic in the mood permeating his works. He is also known for being unwilling to explain –- or if you wish, untangle -– the complex imagery employed in his art. When I stand in front of his large paintings, I can't help seeing them as the contemporary equivalent of medieval tapestries...the scale, the muted palette, the intricacy of the overall design. Today, as thirty years ago, I am still unable to decipher a narrative in Lari Pittman's work, but it's no longer an issue for me, as I'm more and more inclined just to surrender to his visual stream of consciousness. I wonder if Marcel Proust, famous for his verbal virtuosity and half-page long sentences, would recognize Lari Pittman as a kindred spirit?

The exhibition of German artist Veronika Kellndorfer, which just opened at Christopher Grimes Gallery, is nothing short of a declaration of love for the city of LA, where she spent a few months as an artist-in-residence in 2003. Los Angeles is a notoriously difficult city for newcomers to penetrate, but this artist found a way to get to its core. Photographing buildings by Rudolf Schindler, Charles and Ray Eames, and Frank Lloyd Wright, Veronika Kellndorfer does not simply document them as architectural masterpieces, but rather reinterprets them through her own wizardry.

You've never seen photographs like these before. They are printed on large panels of glass which often lean against the wall, and that makes the architectural image captured by the artist virtually step into the gallery space. Somehow she manages simultaneously to convey both the cool elegance of modernist architecture and the unsettling banality and vulnerability of its immediate environment. More than half a century ago, Swiss photographer Robert Frank captured the soul of America soon after arriving in this country. I think of Veronika Kellndorfer in the same terms, the only difference being that the subject of her fascination and deep affection -– lucky for us –- is the City of Angels.

Lari Pittman
On view at Regen Projects II through October 20, 2007

Veronika Kellndorfer: Lichtspiel
On view at Christopher Grimes Gallery through October 13, 2007

Banner image: Lari Pittman, Untitled #16, 2007; Matte Oil, aerosol lacquer and cel-vinyl on gessoed paper
51 5/8 x 23 1/8 inches (131.1 x 58.7 cm) framed; Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles