Why We Need and Love Artists

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Why We Need and Love Artists

It's been a good month for sculpture in L.A. First of all, there is a good survey of new work by twenty up-and-coming L.A. based artists at the Hammer Museum. Most of the work on display was made over the last few years and none of the sculptures had been exhibited before. You will not find in this exhibition, named "THING: New Sculpture from Los Angeles," trendy site specific installations or work by video or sound artists, just old fashioned, hands-on sculpture-making that all of a sudden looks rather daring. After more than two decades of steady erosion of the definition of what sculpture means, here is a group show where artists return to actual object-making. Among the highlights are Joel Morrison's abstract, lumpy forms, ready to burst through their tight, shiny skin. You may be pleasantly surprised if not shocked to learn that the artist collects garbage, which he then stuffs into large garbage bags, and then casts these unruly shapes into fiberglass or metal sculptures. And voila! The full transformation of garbage into a strangely anthropomorphic figure, bringing to mind Pilobolus dancers wrapped in stretchy nylon sacks. I was especially impressed with the large ceramic sculptures by Kristen Morgin, an artists I haven't encountered before. Her two sculptures - a life-size, vaguely 50s American car and a full sized grand piano - are made from unfired clay over the armature of wood and wire, and everything held together with cement and glue. Think about this disintegrating car as an ancient archeological object or look at this piano as remnants of a precious and beautiful instrument that Mozart might once have played himself. I think about these two sculptures as witty and powerful works of art, making one think about the impermanence of life. The only thing missing is the motto Memento Mori.

But if you are in the mood for more traditional sculpture as defined by the depiction of human forms, the place for you to go is Beverly Hills' Ace Gallery, where the mini retrospective of Robert Graham presents his sculptures, drawings and photographs of the last 40 years. The big news for me is that the artist has been making videos all these years. In a small, darkened room there are about a dozen small plasma flat screens lining the wall showing prancing, dancing, strutting gorgeous young women in high heels. If you know anything about the art of Robert Graham, you won't be surprised to learn that all these young women are blissfully naked. For almost 40 years, the artist has been known for making sculptures of nude female forms and here in this exhibition there are more than 50 sculptures of standing, sitting or lying women. As usual, Robert Graham wins you over with impeccable craftsmanship. In this respect, no one comes close to him among contemporary sculptors. But a strange mixture of misogyny and an obsession with the female body continues to prevent me from enjoying the art of this distinguished sculptor.

If you want to be amused and even dazzled the way I was then drive east on Wilshire Blvd. past LACMA to the Ace Gallery's other location on Miracle Mile. After more than two months with the help of a dozen assistants, New York artist Tara Donovan made huge room-sized installations, as well as tiny sculptures, out of all improbable materials that neither you or I would ever consider worthy or practical for that matter. And that's why we need, and love artists. How about a cloud of maybe 100 thousand Styrofoam cups suspended from the ceiling. Or a carpet made of a myriad of tiny loops of clear Scotch tape. Or a perfect cube composed of a million (and I mean literally, a million) wooden toothpicks. You have to see it to believe it. Alice in Wonderland would love it, and so will you-

THING: New Sculpture from Los Angeles
Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles
CA, 90024
310 443 7020
ENDS: June 5, 2005

ROBERT GRAHAM: The Female Form
Ace Gallery Beverly Hills
9430 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills
CA, 90212
310 858 9090
ENDS: May 7, 2005

Ace Gallery Los Angeles
5514 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles
CA, 90036
323 935 4411
ENDS: May 31