Sadie Benning and Kim McCarty

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The curse of the digital image is that people often feel as though they don’t need to see the actual work of art. This is almost always erroneous but in the case of two shows now in Culver City, it is especially so.

Take the geometric abstract paintings of Sadie Benning. Is this simply another example of zombie modernism, resurrection of a kind of reductive painting popular in the middle of the 20th century? A visit to Susanne Vielmetter Projects, to see the actual paintings, would deliver an entirely different interpretation.

Sadie Benning, "Hanging Chads," 2014
Medite, aqua resin, casein and acrylic
16 panels, 9.50" H x 12.50" W (24.13 cm H x 31.75 cm W) each
Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
Photo by Chris Austin

The paintings are physically crafted, with individual pieces layered with solid colors, mostly red, white and blue, and fitted into one another like so many tasteful puzzles. The surfaces, however, are treated with an aqua resin that puffs slightly so that they appear soft, even plump, marshmallowy. Thus far, they are stylish and smart. But there are more complex reasons for their appearance. The rectangular dashes and zig-zags reference the patterns of voting cards, tank formations and charts. Hence the show’s title Fuzzy Math, referring obliquely to the sort of illogical economic theory that fuels political and military actions.

Sadie Benning, "Glad Foot," 2014
Medite, aqua resin, casein and acrylic
34" H x 41" W (86.36 cm H x 104.14 cm W)
Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
Photo by Chris Austin

Other paintings incorporate figurative shapes such as Glad Foot (2014) or concentric circular bands of graphic red and white, a painting that also has something glad about it.

Sadie Benning, "Target," 2014
Medite, aqua resin, casein and acrylic
30.25" H x 30.25" W (76.84 cm H x 76.84 cm W)
Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
Photo by Chris Austin

The paintings are all more remarkable for fact that Benning is better known for a lengthy, serious career in film and video. Father James Benning is well-known as a filmmaker and teacher at CalArts and gave her a video camera when she was just a teenager. She showed her first work in his class, subsequently in festivals and museums, often exploring issues of homosexuality and the ways in which that was unaccepted in a larger society. The paintings, therefore, are relatively new developments and as such are simultaneously inviting and awkward, sly and shy. The show continues through February 14. 

Kim McCarty, "Enlarged Rabbit," 2014
Watercolor on paper, 62 1/2" x 44 1/2"
Maloney Fine Art

Albrecht Durer’s Young Hare (1502) is a rendering of such exquisite detail and immediacy as to be unforgettable. Any number of artists have produced copies or used it as inspiration. Most immediately, it leapt to mind when seeing the recent watercolors of Kim McCarty. The wet on wet watercolor technique that she has continued to refine over the years is ideally suited to her representations of rabbits and of her own miniature Doberman, Dexter. McCarty is known best for her paintings of young, unclothed men and women, innocent while alluring.

Kim McCarty, "Untitled (Blue)," 2014
Watercolor on paper, 51" x 44 1/2"
Maloney Fine Art

There is one large portrait in this show that glows with soft edges and pastel color, moving in and out of focus. She allows the difficult medium to be unpredictable and incorporates surprises so that the paintings retain a aura of spontaneity. Her rabbits seem to quiver as though we had just come upon them in the wild. There is only one problem here: Not enough work but at least it is a show that leaves you wanting more. It continues through February 21 at Maloney Fine Art.

Kim McCarty, "Looking Up," 2014
Watercolor on paper, 67" x 44 1/2"
Maloney Fine Art

And art fair season is upon us. The LA Art Show is on view all weekend at the Convention Center while Photo LA, honoring Catherine Opie, is at the L.A. Mart.