Sarah Cromarty in LA Weekly 9.10.08

Opening Week at L.A. Galleries

 Aptly titled “PORTRAITS, PIN-UPS and Wistful Romantic Idylls,” the latest exhibition from the Birmingham-born, L.A.-raised, Chicago-based Marshall furthers his goals of “representing aspects of Black Culture rarely made visible in contemporary picture making” and “foregrounding the black figure in popular genres of painting not usually associated with the sociopolitical frame in which much African-American art is seen.” Such ends, undoubtedly admirable and easily achieved here, aren’t what makes this show impressive. Rather, it’s Marshall’s chops as a painter; his smarts as a student of painting’s history; and his talent for putting a mood behind a face or a scene, whether converting light bouncing off a sitter’s sweating temple into a tiny burst of electricity, imbuing the wagging finger of a pinup with both seduction and rebuke or nailing the Rococo in its essence not just in theme but in palette — using his command of hue as the most important tool in his address of the cultural limits of color. Koplin Del Rio Gallery, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-9055 Through Oct. 24.

Batura continues her infatuation with doughy human heads, and most notably their mouths, as sites of erotic tension. But while in the past she has relied on various flushing, blushing and rouging of her heavily stylized white sculpted clay heads, her latest work casts all of them in a single color or deep gray-brown, almost that of basalt stone. That puts more burden on pulling off her psychosexual maneuvering with form alone, and she generally excels. Polishing or giving wood-grain textures to harshly cut-off facets, Batura toys with the idea of the portrait head or bust as the mute object of décor, but some of these new sculptures seem almost to moan — they’re more about the bodies from which they’ve been cropped/chopped. Their positions, and the hints of bent, flexed and relaxed musculature still revealed despite the artist’s heavy stylization, suggest scenarios that elicit blush, if not a little angst, from their viewers. Western Project, 3830 Main St., Culver City, (310) 838-0609 Through Oct. 4.

The Brooklyn-based Bercowetz is a maker of idols, altars and icons that can be intimate, funny, humble and even sweet. But they also can be ominous and imposing, as is The Pale Memory of Man, a massive structure suggestive of a combination temple and high-voltage tower — its tip appearing to pierce the gallery ceiling and supporting a structure of weeping, branchlike extensions that envelop you as you stand beneath its canopy. Cobbled together from scavenged wood, wire, chain, rope and cardboard, and drenched in black, it’s like an Alexander Calder sculpture crossed with a tree from a haunted forest, after a flood. From it hang crude medallions bearing pictures of people and places familiarly unfamiliar, as well as a messiah or cult figure or two. It’s a work that both compels and repels with its form, but also speaks to the compulsion and revulsion of faith and hubris. The Happy Lion, 963 Chung King Rd., L.A., (213) 625-1360 or Through Oct. 11.

Painting over photographs — both appropriated and produced by the artist herself — of biker chicks, cowboys, lovers paddling a canoe, sports cars, beach babes in miniskirts, and oh-so-many palm trees, all of it mounted on corrugated cardboard and laced together with webs of string art, glitter rainbows and beaded diamonds, Cromarty offers a view of America borrowed from Richard Prince but given a whole different spin of both indulgence and dread. Like her installation including a 3-D self-portrait as a dead raver — an update of Paul Thek’s 1967 work The Tomb — Death of a Hippie — her collaged works suggest an almost complete fusion of outsider, fringe, avant-garde and mainstream culture into a single Americana, the consumption of which titillates, and also sickens you only slightly less than your inability to deny the extent to which you’ve already internalized it. Circus Gallery, 7065 Lexington Ave., L.A., (323) 962-8506 Through Oct. 11.

Alexandra Grant’s is an art in which the activities of writing and picture making are codependent, mutually hamstrung and dealt out in deployments and counter deployments. This game is one in which abstract and quasi-pictorial composition wins out, and words pop out here and there, not unlike the way they sometimes do in motion graphics, a sense of which she manages to pull off in static designs. The best of Grant’s sculptural and drawn/painted works seem to take on mood and attitude. But even these wind up as only so much textual wallpaper and décor compared to her videos, which use her sculptures and paintings as visual fodder. These videos do much more heavy lifting in exploring the intertwined sensual, emotional and intellectual aspects of experiencing language spoken, written or otherwise manifested. Honor Fraser, 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 401-0191 or Through Oct. 25.

The collaborative duo of Case Simmons and Andrew Burke share a tendency toward epic spectacles that fuse human triumph, folly and cosmic events with the likes of 15th-century Netherlander Hieronymus Bosch or 16th-century German Albrecht Altdorfer. But while such forebears delivered such imagery as Christ issuing his last judgment from a kind of divine bubble hovering above a scorched and debouched earth, or a portal to heaven opening above a massive battle scene, Simmons & Burke are more likely to deliver Karl Lagerfeld decked out in white and emerging from the clouds, Michael Jordan dunking in the sky or Mr. Roarke and Tattoo of Fantasy Island mounting a podium while Britney and Madonna kiss in the corner. All this is handled via collage reminiscent of dada, with a kind of post-tweaker mania about it, and arranged in compositions that recall the sort of Renaissance and Baroque layouts art historians diagram with diagonal lines and triangles, but that you’ve probably seen more familiarly while tripping on a kaleidoscope. The most pleasurable eyestrain you’ll ever know is paired with equally cacophonous layered soundtracks matched to each of their Paradise on Earth visions.Kim Light Gallery, 2656 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 559-1111 Through Nov. 1

One of L.A.’s most enduring and endearing sculptors continues his blending of the refined and the clunky with a collection of sculptural objects that convert squiggly shapes — kin to the sort of thought- and speech-bubble forms used in cartoons to render head space flat on a page — into three-dimensional works that both retain the abstract experience of line drawn against ground and engage the viewer’s space both physically and metaphorically. Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., B-4 (Bergamot Station), Santa Monica, (310) 828-8488 or Through Oct. 4

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