Up Close and Personal: Happiness and Monsters

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Unless you are a man or woman of steel, I doubt that you had the willpower to shut out the media blitz surrounding the release of the last and hopefully final installment of Sex and the City. Am I the only one who looks at the impossibly teased 'do of Sarah Jessica Parker and gets spooked because it reminds me of Medusa, the mythological creature with snakes instead of hair?

 At the well-attended opening of the exhibition of LA artist D.J. Hall at Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Culver City, which neatly coincides with her current retrospective at the Palm Springs Art Museum, I saw a lot of ladies of a certain age who looked like older cousins of the characters from Sex and the City. There was a sense of excitement during the opening that mirrored the happy mood and bright California sunshine of D.J. Hall's paintings, where ladies of leisure – big smiles, dark sunglasses, drink in hand – lounge poolside. For more than three decades, the artist has delighted her public with beautifully crafted images of California life in its most perfect, polished, camera-ready version.

at080603b.jpg But as you might suspect, such perfection comes at a price, similar to all the labor, money and water required for the maintenance of a perfect garden in Southern California. If you give these paintings more than a cursory glance, you may detect a certain unease behind the smiles and casual poses, as if these ladies feel obliged to express happiness as the modus operandi, which keeps their fears of aging at bay.

at080603a.jpg In the essay for D.J. Hall's museum catalog, we read about a privileged upbringing marred at a young age by her mother's mental illness and her own sense of paralyzing insecurity. In some of the recent paintings, including the self-portraits, the artist and her models appear to be more relaxed, more mellow, and instead of being exposed to the merciless afternoon sun, they are enveloped in the soft evening light. One wants to root for these ladies and wish them well.

at080603d.jpgThe exhibition of recent figurative and abstract paintings by Takashi Murakami at nearby Blum & Poe surprised me with a newfound energy, which may have something to do with the artist deciding at last to abandon his trademark images of cutesy, smiling cartoon characters.

at080603c.jpgAfter his exhibition last year at MOCA, I thought I would never want to be annoyed by his art again. However, here I am, urging you to see his new paintings, which throw punches and roar with dramatically juxtaposed colors and unexpected compositional shifts. It's as if, having become one of the most commercially successful artists of our time, Murakami now wants to prove that he has the courage and vision to challenge the status quo and introduce new ideas into his art. He definitely has what it takes.

at080603e.jpg And as long as we are touring Culver City galleries, here is one more highly recommended stop: Jorge Pardo's exhibition at Maloney Fine Art, which hides discreetly in a back alley. An internationally acclaimed, LA-based artist, Pardo is known for creating architectural environments that range from coolly minimalistic to highly theatrical. This exhibition is an example of the latter; the interior is defined by the large, wooden, oval table encrusted with a jewel-like pattern. Above the table, a jungle of chandeliers evokes the décor of a vintage suburban Chinese restaurant. With additional help of the dark wallpaper, with its moody, computer-generated design, the artist pulls off the nearly impossible: creating an interior both kitschy and smartly ironic.

D.J. Hall: Full Circle
On view at Koplin Del Rio through July 12

D.J. Hall Thirty-Five Year Retrospective
On view at the Palm Springs Art Museum through September 14

Takashi Murakami: Davy Jones' Tear
On view at Blum and Poe through June 14

Jorge Pardo On view at Maloney Fine Art through June 28

Banner image: detail of D.J. Hall's The Conjuror, 2000; Oil on linen; Museum purchase with funds from the estate of Lionel R. Bauman Acquisition Fund and Mr. and Mrs. Hans Ries Acquisition Fund; © D.J. Hall