Owens and McMakin at the MOCA's

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Owens - Untitled Ambitious, talented and very smart, that's how you would describe an ideal graduate of Cal Arts, one of the top American art schools. Laura Owens, whose paintings and drawings are currently on exhibit at MOCA, graduated less than ten years ago, but got a lot of attention from museum curators, dealers and collectors. Her large, often huge paintings have plenty of qualities appealing to a variety of her admirers. It should be said that I am not one of them, though I'm impressed by a number of the works in the current exhibition, consisting of close to 60 paintings and drawings.

Owen - Untitled Laura Owens is mostly known for her sparsely painted landscapes with a few flourishes which have become her trademark - a large, dark tree branch dramatically crosses the foreground with a monkey hanging from it, while other cute creatures lurk in the margins. The style of these works owes a lot to Chinese landscape painting, but the emotional tone is much closer to Disney, and that prevents me from joining the enthusiastic admirers of this young artist.

Her early, widely fluctuating works show an understandable attempt to find her own subject and style. But somehow that youthful restlessness has stayed with the artist, and now, a decade later, manifests itself as an inability to make tough choices. Laura Owens can obviously impress her audience with landscapes, portraits, interiors and even pure abstractions, but one wonders how much more she might excel by discovering where her real passion lies. I think she is in danger of spreading herself too thin. Having said that, let me add that each of her paintings surprises with a wonderful flourish, a virtuoso brush stroke of thickly applied paint to an evenly painted surface. However, I get the impression that there is very little spontaneity and a great deal of calculation behind these flourishes. It's as if the artist is covering all bases in terms of currently fashionable trends in the art world. One wishes the very talented Laura Owens would rely more on her heart than on her smarts.

McMakin - Would Side Table Extra Patchy Now, slightly contradicting myself, let me turn your attention to the smart and enticing exhibition of designer, furniture maker, but most of all, original artist and prankster, Roy McMakin, whose work is currently exhibited at MOCA's gallery at Pacific Design Center. The shape of his objects and furniture follows the familiar route - it's vaguely old-fashioned, solid, recognizable. But what he does with the small things proves the famous saying, 'the devil is in the details'. The doorknobs on a dresser vary in size and may surprise you with their placement. McMakin - Swofford Chest of DrawersThe smooth veneer of some of the furniture includes patches of different kinds of wood that makes you look at the surface with attention normally given to a painting. The front legs of a chair might be a different shape or color from the back legs, and the fabric of a seat cushion might be starkly different from the one chosen for the back. This ambitiously installed exhibition is absolutely a must-see, as it demonstrates the rare type of creativity smartly hiding behind a seemingly ordinary fa-ade.

Laura Owens
March 16 - June 22, 2003
MOCA at California Plaza
250 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-6222

"Roy McMakin: A Door Meant As Adornment"
March 23 - June 29, 2003
The MOCA Gallery at the Pacific Design Center
8687 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(213) 626-6222