Sone's Jungle and Calder's Mobiles

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Yutaka Sone - Highway Junction 110-105

Being myself an outsider who landed here a quarter of a century ago, I'm always intrigued to learn how others respond to Los Angeles and its social, cultural and geographical uniqueness. Hollywood and the movie industry used to be a major reason for many creative people to migrate here, but painters and sculptors were not among them. Only a few artists who chose L.A. as their homebase achieved national and international prominence: Ed Ruscha, Sam Francis, Richard Diebenkorn and, of course, David Hockney.

In the 1980s, young artists who achieved some acclaim here in L.A. chose to move to New York to advance their careers. But in the 1990s that was no longer necessarily a path to success. Ambitious young graduates of Southern California art schools began staying here, and more to the point, a number of foreign-born and educated artists chose L.A. as their home. The recent L.A. Times story about four such artists could easily be turned into an ongoing series. Off the top of my head I can come up with at least a dozen Los Angeles-based artists who came from Germany, Russia, Turkey and Japan.

The MOCA Geffen Contemporary presents a new exhibition by Yutaka Sone, a young Japanese artist who lives here. The museum commissioned him to create a site-specific work and the artist responded with a tropical fantasy garden comprised of 300 various plants that makes you feel as if a regular backyard garden went wild, or perhaps you had one shot of vodka too many.

Winding through the narrow paths and pushing your way through the foliage you discover, among all the lush vegetation, four sculptures installed on low pedestals. Each of them is a large four by four foot block of white marble weighing one and a half tons; and each of them represents an aerial view of a Los Angeles freeway interchange. The artist spent a lot of time documenting particular areas so he could make intricate models of them in his studio. Then these models, made out of foam and cardboard, were shipped to China where professional stone cutters transformed them into white marble sculptures. The result is very impressive, but I have my doubts about the whole enterprise with its lingering melancholic, almost pessimistic air. This very ambitious work evokes a number of clich-s about Los Angeles and doesn't strike me as a particularly insightful or fresh take on this city of ours, which famously resists easy decoding. Perhaps it's not fair to compare Yutaka Sone with David Hockney, who's art allowed for a whole new way of seeing Los Angeles. But the young Japanese artist is already receiving a lot of attention on the circuit of international exhibitions and represents Japan this year at the Venice Biennale. So I wish my response to his work went beyond thinking how labor-intensive it must have been. Calder - Ritou I

In this respect, I want to mention a seductive exhibition of a couple of dozen Alexander Calder mobiles at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. What a guilty pleasure to step into a space filled with such colorful, almost unbearable lightness of being. I know of no other artist who can suspend lightweight sculptures in the air with such a sense of gravitas.

Calder - Yellow Disk In the back room of the gallery there is a floor-bound sculpture made by Calder in the last years of his life. Perched on top of a black cutout of mountains is a balancing act of two colorful shapes connected by a wire. If I didn't know better, I would think this was done by a Japanese artist creating a haiku-style image about life in L.A.

"Yutaka Sone: Jungle Island"
May 4 - July 27, 2003
MOCA Geffen Contemporary
152 North Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 626-6222

Alexander Calder's Mobiles
May 3 - June 21, 2003
Gagosian Gallery
456 N. Camden Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 271-9400