Friday, Dec. 12, 2008 | 2 a.m.
IF YOU GO
What: “L.A. Now”
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays, through March 8
Where: Las Vegas Art Museum, 9600 W. Sahara Ave.
Admission: $6, $5 for seniors, $3 for students and free for children younger than 12; 360-8000 or www.lasvegasartmuseum.org
Beyond the Sun
Asked to curate an exhibit of Los Angeles art for the Las Vegas Art Museum, David Pagel sat down and listed 20 emerging artists whose work was most memorable to him over the past year.
And that was that.
Pagel, art critic for the Los Angeles Times, figured he’d get a few works from each artist, throw them into a stew, avoiding (he hoped) a themed exhibit, saying he’d rather show really strong work than “really similar work.”
The resulting show, “L.A. Now,” opening today at the Las Vegas Art Museum, is very physical, industrious and generous with materials and multifaceted references to everything, really — pop culture, contemporary society, politics, nature, life, death, urbanism.
It makes for a lively conversation among works by young and talented artists who have rolled up sleeves and built, carved, painted, glued, welded, photographed, baked and stacked various materials.
The works — amusing, serious and collectively dark — are strategically arranged so a “surprise” is offered at every turn. It’s busy. It’s chatty. It’s fresh. It’s fun.
Wayne White’s mammoth mixed-media installation, “Country Boy,” is a giant “hick” of a sculpture goose-stepping with a fishing pole over his shoulder and stitching on his overalls. His head continuously spins, changing his expression from happy and dumb to slightly creepy. His left foot is a planter of carefully tended flowers. Look into a slot on his back to find a diorama of a woodsy pathway and the phrase “I hid it in the woods” on Burma Shave-style little white signs.
Katie Grinnan’s “Cheerleaders,” a multimedia installation, includes a wall-size photo of headless and hollow cast cheerleader sculptures formed in an impossibly balanced mount. The photo backs a sculpture in which the cheerleaders, wearing blood-red and orange uniforms, have been cut up and refitted in frozen bedlam.
Jared Pankin’s faux taxidermy sculptures mix a surreal reference to Picasso’s cubism with an unexplainable Christmas gift from a distant uncle. “Hog Wild,” for example, features a three-dimensional boar’s head patterned with a coat of shag rug and synthetic animal fur. Eyes, horns and even a little mouth pop out unexpectedly from the sides, creating a visceral, yet memorable, experience.
Wendell Gladstone’s “100 Years of Tears” is a mosaic-style narrative painted with “video game clarity” telling of a primitive landscape in peril. Jeni Spota’s frosting-like images of “Giotto’s Dream” are creamy portions of riveting and barbaric religious narratives mixed with fantasy.
Nathan Mabry’s “A Very Touching Moment” humorously places Peruvian fertility figures atop a minimalist block, all cast in bronze. Christina Nguyen’s “Emergence of the Kelp Deer,” a photographic work on paper that creates a sort of underwater, supernatural landscape (with deer), anchors the back wall near Don Snugg’s “Feast Poles,” uber-slender towers of plastic food, sippy cups and cheap grocery store cereal aisle items that vertically align American consumerism in a monumental, yet seemingly physically delicate, order.
Then there is the clever, storyboard format installment of photographs, “Palm Pilot” by Nathan de Large, an artist who bought (then returned) a ladder from Lowe’s to climb up and pollinate date palm trees on the median of a well-traveled road in Upland, Calif.
He waited for the dates to mature, harvested them, boiled them down to date jerky, sold the jerky and used the money he made to make a bronze sculpture of himself in a Palm yoga position, then affixed it to the ground near his project.
And that’s not even half the show.
Pagel jokingly refers to the show as anti-esoteric because of its general accessibility of work.
He says he thought about big encyclopedic museums where works from various centuries co-mingle and manage to talk to one another.
“L.A. Now” definitely provides the same experience. It’s no wonder Pagel had such a blast during the installation.
Just don’t expect to find a valid summary of Los Angeles contemporary art.
“The dry, cerebral engagingly slow stuff isn’t really in my show,” Pagel says. “The tasteful, retiring, bland abstractions aren’t in the show either.”