Monday, September 14, 2009

The Groaning Metaphor

"Swinging by the Pasadena Museum of California Art is often like grazing some kind of far-fetched fusion buffet — blithely mixing collectible vinyl action figures with early California Impressionist landscape painting, wrapped in a custom rainbow fumigation tent with a side order of spray-painted Kenny Scharf legume entities. The gestalt isn’t always successful, but the unexpected shifts can deliver the effect of cleansing the mental palate, piquing your appetite for the next new sensation.

The current menu is particularly appetizing, sandwiching a combination of smooth midcentury modernist design and funky, quirky postmodernisms between two slices of contemporary landscape experiments. And, appropriately enough, the largest of these shows is devoted to dinnerware. Edith Heath (1911-2005) was a Danish farm girl from Iowa, who reinvented herself as one of the central figures of midcentury West Coast Modernist design, founding Heath Ceramics in 1947 with a mission to produce sturdy, functional and affordable ceramic products — primarily dishware and tiles — in a minimal, Bauhaus-derived vocabulary of clear, simplified geometry and cool, subtle colors. The company still manufactures out of Sausalito and maintains a store on Beverly Boulevard...

The remainder of the large main gallery is taken up by a small survey of work from a peculiar California art-historical moment — when the hippest campus in the state wasn’t CalArts or UCLA or SFAI or CCAC but UC Davis, located just west of Sacramento in the Culture-forsaken Central Valley, and known primarily as an agriculture and veterinary university. Somehow, Davis wound up home to five of the more idiosyncratic representational American artists of the 1960s...

Of the two landscape projects bracketing the Heath and “You See” exhibits, architectural photographer Benny Chan’s is the more formally elegant and serene — surprising, considering that “TRAFFIC!” consists of huge, incredibly detailed aerial depictions of gridlocked L.A. freeways shot with a purpose-built 8-by-10 camera while dangling from the side of a helicopter. I’m not convinced of the ostensible consciousness-raising purpose of the work (“Heavens, you mean rush-hour traffic in L.A. sucks?”) but the built-in compositional framework and undeniable curvilinear beauty of the interchanges paired with Chan’s technical prowess make a persuasive argument for getting your own helicopter.

PMCA’s front project room is given over to the latest version of “a never-ending painting in three dimensions” by young landscape artist (and L.A. Weekly Annual Biennial alumnus) Annie Lapin. Over the past few years, Lapin’s lushly painted montage vistas have been subjected to increasing amounts of stress, from barely discernible discontinuities in slightly quirky pastoral scenes to furious torrents of barely cohesive planar fragments rendered in garishly saturated colors..."

Read the rest of Heath Bars, Lapin And Mash: Fusion Cuisine in Pasadena here.

And see the shows at The Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 E. Union St., Pasadena, through September 20.

Images: Edith Heath, Roy De Forest Every Trapper Should Have an Indian Dog (1960), Benny Chan TRAFFIC! (2008), Annie Lapin Parallel Deliria (Kansas City iteration) (2008)

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