Sonntag, 26. Dezember 2010

Interview with Manfred Menz at ROSEARK

The earlier oeuvre of Manfred Menz consists of artworks that deal with social critical subjects such as racism, euthanasia or homelessness in a capitalist society; they take the form of installations or collages with texts from self-written poems or excerpts from screen-plays. However, in the past few years the German born artist has been working with digital manipulation in which he removes the iconic structure from famous architectural landmarks by replacing them with the stark white of photo paper and leaving us with only elements of nature. Some of these works can be currently viewed at ROSEARK in West Hollywood.

Simone Kussatz: Do you rather see yourself as a conceptual artist or photographer?

Manfred Menz: I consider myself to be a conceptual artist, although, I've worked with all kinds of cameras. In the beginning of my second career - I worked in film at first - I did more installations than photography. And when I did photography I used them for collages and added texts to them. Now the photographs at Roseark which are part of “the Invisible Project and Invisible Asia” are a combination of photography and digital work.

Kussatz: What inspired you to create photographs of landmarks that can't be actually seen?

Menz: I started with this work about 10 years ago. My work has two components. They are made out of a conceptual and an emotional part. I was first interested in the emotional part, which was to focus on what has always been there, but we've missed seeing, which is nature around landmarks. Obviously if we decide to take a tourist picture of the Eiffel Tower we want to see the tower, and don't care much about the surrounding nature. So I wanted to see what was there. The other part, the conceptual part, was that digital imaging became popular at that time and although I wasn't much into computer work, I felt fascinated by the idea that it would allow me to alter images in ways that one could never tell what happened to the pictures. Therefore I removed the landmarks. I started with my project in Europe. I went to Germany, London, Paris, and Rome. I took a photograph of one of the oldest landmarks, the Colosseum and later worked in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In 2007 and 2008, I went to South Korea and Japan.

Kussatz: Since the focus of your work is on nature do your works carry any environmental message?

Menz: There are many messages in my work and I'm always happy, when I discover another one, which I originally hadn't seen. The environmental message as I mentioned earlier is to see things that surround us, yet we've never seen and paid attention to. In regard to the Eiffel Tower I found these four trees that in some way give us an impression of the relation between the landmark Eiffel Tower and the trees. The trees are not very large by nature, and they can be overlooked easily, but they have a wonderful beauty to them, which fascinated me. However at the end of my project, I realized that most nature around landmarks are man-made. Most plants hadn't grown naturally. And that provided another interesting view which is to what extent do we value nature as what it is, or what we wanted it to look like. Therefore, my pictures show how our alter ego presents itself as nature. That's why I call them documents of society's self-portraits.

Kussatz: In your work “Tate Modern” you have these luscious looking trees and a white ground that appears to be from a winter landscape. In your work “Changdeok Palace” we see trees with colors that represent the different seasons also on what seems to be a snow-covered ground. Isn't there a contradiction?

Menz: I only take pictures during the end of April towards mid-May, because that's when we get to see the freshest green in nature. I have about 30 pieces throughout the world; some may look as if they have more than one season due to my removal of everything. I usually use grey for the ground, which enhances the green tone of nature. And that makes it look like cold winter snow. It's a nice reflection on the fresh green. So you may be puzzled, when you first look at it, thinking how it is possible that there is this fresh green in winter. I wasn't aware of that at first and it wasn't planned, but I like that effect. It's an optical illusion. As far as “Changdeok Palace”, it's my favorite image, because it's unique to get a chance to be able to see all seasons at once.

Kussatz: Karl Marx Boulevard (Karl-Marx-Allee) was your first image in this series. Is there any political agenda in this?

Menz: Karl Marx Boulevard is a well-known street in Berlin. It doesn't only bear the name of Karl Marx, but associates his ideology with it. However, my first thoughts were about the painters of the past that dealt with images of alleys lined by rows of trees. They were creating this optical illusion, a sense of infinity, by using a tunnel vision. I liked the perspective. Those two rows of trees are parallel in reality. The conceptual part of this picture is that I removed the remaining traces of all social achievements and capitalistic buildings of our collective awareness. And what I left is perhaps the 21st Century's version of a virtual reality. I'm not a Marxist. Karl Marx said of himself he isn't a Marxist. He also said “Art is not a mirror to held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it” and that's exactly what I think I did.

Kussatz: Can you tell us more about your work in the Korean Demilitarized Zone?

Menz: I worked from the position of the Joint Security Area. I took pictures with a view from the South Korean to the North Korean side, where there was this gigantic watchtower, from where the North Koreans would watch what was happening on the other side. There is a lot of tension with about 2 Million soldiers total on both sides standing face-to-face. In my opinion this is the most dangerous place on planet. Being from Germany that was a divided country for a long time after World War II, I expected to see military equipment or a military environment on the Northern Side. But instead, I rather looked at something that seemed to me like Disneyland. There was this wonderful nature with trees and so forth. And what fascinated me was the relationship between what reality is and what we're made to believe it is. And I think my work shows that.

Kussatz: You mentioned that you came across some difficulties when you took these pictures?

Menz: I needed to get a permit in Panmunjom first and a military escort for my own protection. I used a panorama camera. It took time to set it up. Therefore the circumstances under which I worked were very interesting.

Kussatz: Since the show includes images of Berlin and Korea, did you try to compare the former situation in Germany with the current situation in Korea?

Menz: I would never compare the two political situations or juxtapose them. They are very different from each other. Yet, it's natural for me to be interested in Korea because I know what it looks and feels like to be divided as a country and the meaning of it and how it's being presented. However, Korea was very different from what I thought it would be. It was much tenser, and yet there was this wonderful nature in such a political difficult environment. And then they have this artificial village on the Northern side. Nobody lives there but it looks very impressive, and obviously it's just there to make us believe something that's not real.

Kussatz: Your picture “Rodeo Drive” seems to me the most artificial one in that show.

Menz: It is the most artificial one and it is the most colorful one. There is the illusion that there are these potted plants floating in the air. And it appears to us as if we're standing at a point looking down at the palm trees, although it was exactly the opposite from where I took the photograph. I was actually looking up. And in a way this is how we feel, if we go shopping on Rodeo Drive. We think as if we belong to the top of society by holding a bag from one of the most well-known streets in the world, where it actually is the opposite. It doesn't make us what it appears to be. It's only an illusion.

Copyright © Simone Kussatz
Interview was published in Whitehotmagazine on December 24, 2010.

Images: Courtesy of artist Manfred Menz (right - Karl-Marx Boulevard, Berlin 2003, 36x44; left - Tate Modern, London 2003, 43x39)

Montag, 29. November 2010

Cheryl Ann Thomas "New Work" at Frank Lloyd Gallery

“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet,” American poet, Emily Dickinson, once wrote in the 19th century. It is exactly the same awareness of our mortality that American ceramicist Cheryl Ann Thomas toys around with in her new works that are currently showcased at Frank Lloyd Gallery. But more than that, her work is also about aging; the disappointments, the hopes and hardships, the dealing with suffering, all the ups and downs that shape our precious lives. Thomas said, “My work is an intimate and experiential inquiry into fragility and loss; I construct, I sabotage, I reconcile.”

The exhibit is comprised of ten elegant black and soft creamy white-colored sculptures, primarily made out of porcelain, except for two bronze and one stainless steel sculptures. Most of them contain the title Relics and several numbers, which indicate the different parts they’re made of. The simplicity in the titles and the reduction to two colors is a conscious act of the artist. Thomas wanted viewers to bring their own interpretations and experiences to her work. Therefore they almost function like a Rorschach test, where one can project one’s inner dialogue. The majority of sculptures sit individually. The two sculptures Coupled-Relics and Five Relics are installed together. Made in the same manner as her former work, the Santa Monica-born artist created them through the coil-technique, where hundreds of clumps of black, white, and gray clay are hand rolled into thin, ropelike strands and stacked, which were later over-fired.

In Six Relics, one can see what seems to be a hooded black cape with a floating creamy white scarf wrapped around it. The sculpture suggests the mysterious interplay between life and death – perhaps death made an appearance, but life force was stronger and pulled him away. In Threesome Relics, a solely creamy white sculpture, one is exposed to what seems to be a figure that could be an aged man wearing a large straw hat, resting his forehead on his left knee. In contrast to Six Relics, this sculpture presents perhaps a life that has yet been spared from a direct encounter with death.

The beauty in Cheryl Ann Thomas works is their elegance and philosophical content. Like each life entering the world, her oeuvre also seems to have that uncertainty of the outcome.
- Simone Kussatz

Copyright (c) by Simone Kussatz

Published in Art Ltd. March 14, 2011

Sonntag, 14. November 2010

Henri Cartier-Bresson at Peter Fetterman Gallery

Henri Cartier-Bresson at Peter Fetterman Gallery

By Simone Kussatz

In this art world jungle where many artists want to outdo each other by using sensationalism, provocation, and high-tech manipulated images, it feels soothing to view the works of French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who knew how to create grand effects with a small German-made Leica. Cartier-Bresson’s sense for subtle, aesthetic composition, human dignity, historical relevance and psychological insight can be currently viewed in an exhibit that celebrates Peter Fetterman Gallery’s 20th anniversary. Henri Cartier-Bresson: Eye of the Century displays a collection of photographs created during Cartier- Bresson’s journeys to Belgium, former Yugoslavia, China, England, Greece, India, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Russia and the US with a strong focus on life in the 50s and 60s. The exhibit also includes landscape and street scene images of France, portrait photographs of Truman Capote, Alberto Giacometti, and Matisse as well as rare prints including a photograph by Cartier-Bresson taken in Provence about two decades after his retirement, when he'd returned to his first love, drawing.

The picture of children and women in Aquila Degli Abruzzi in central Italy is here too. The women are wearing long black dresses, their heads covered with black bandanas. Some wear aprons and carry cake trays on their heads while walking through the alleys, others are gathered at a plaza. It is an image of a slow-paced life. This high-angle shot exemplifies the influence of painting in Cartier-Bresson’s photography – perhaps the influence of André Lothe with whom he studied in Paris. Geometric forms appear as in cubist paintings or in Lothe’s L’Escale: triangles, rectangles, parallelograms, and trapezoids. A vertical axis created by a balustrade in the lower part of the photo and a building above it, as well as diagonal axes provide the photograph symmetry.

Next to Aquila Degli Abruzzi, there is a photograph of two girls walking through a narrow alley in a long shadow. It was shot in former socialist Sarajevo, the city where Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism have been coexisting for centuries. The image was taken two decades after the city was liberated from the occupancy of German Nazis and seventeen years before the Bosnian war, when Josip Broz Tito was president. The two girls with their braided hair, embracing each other and holding what appears to be school supplies, suggest the quiet and peaceful and political atmosphere at that time.

And then there is a photograph that had never been printed before by a collector until gallery owner, Peter Fetterman, discovered it in an obscure book years ago. It is the image of a fundraiser ball (a very posh event) for Queen Charlotte’s hospital, one of the oldest maternity hospitals in Europe. This high angle shot captures some of the same joie de vivre that Cartier-Bresson so much admired in Hungarian photographer, Martin Munkasci’s work, especially in his photograph of the three African nude boys running into the surf at Lake Tanganyika. Yet, it doesn’t have the spontaneity of the African boys; the action seems much more controlled, which is emphasized by Cartier-Bresson catching the dancing couples positioned in perfect diagonal lines. Due to their moving the image is a bit out of focus, which has some of the effect of an aquarelle blurring.

In Decisive Moment Cartier-Bresson wrote, “In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject.” In photographs such as Barber Rome (1951) and Brussels, Belgium (1932) those human details are telling a story of absurdity and curiosity. There is the image of a barber standing next to a mannequin head covered with a wig, looking through his showcase touching his bald patch. How does he feel working with hair, while losing his? Or there are the two men in Brussels, one of them looking through a hole of a circus tent, the other with a handlebar mustache and distinctive features looking to the side as if he guards him or is distracted by something that catches his curiosity. What could it be?

The Roman Catholic Church enjoyed a huge political influence under Communism. That becomes obvious in Cartier-Bresson’s photo Mass, Warsaw, 1956. Again shot from a high angle, it shows a group of people herded together with a priest sitting in a hanging chair above them. Since the photo was taken in 1956, the year Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski was released from his three-year detainment due to his opposition against communism; it’s possible that the photo showed a service with him.

Published in Whitehotmagazine November 2010.

Copyright © by Simone Kussatz

Mittwoch, 6. Oktober 2010

Lezley Saar at Merry Karnowsky Gallery

Lezley Saar at Merry Karnowsky Gallery

By Simone Kussatz

Lezley Saar’s “Autist’s Fables”, an oeuvre she created over a span of two years, seems to be a continuation of her former body of work, “Mulatto Nation” - dichotomy and the anomalies of nature, too, play a key role. Saar’s body of work invites viewers into the world of her 18-year-old autistic daughter Geneva to learn to appreciate her creativity, sensitivity, penchants and overcoming isolation. The solo exhibit contains a combination of illustrations with circular color photographs collaged into paintings, glass-encased dioramas, and the gallery’s smaller exhibit hall set up as a living room, in which gothic-looking photographs in ornate golden frames are decorating its walls and a small TV monitor encircled by red velvet curtains shows the court métrage - a short film - Le Mystère de Geneviève.

The influence of Aubrey Beardsley in Saar’s paintings is obvious. There are the black ink illustrations on pastel hued backgrounds, the flexuous lines and curvy shapes, creating interesting negative spaces. Overall the exhibit is created as a third-person narrative, part of it written down in English, part of it told in French, as in Saar’s short film. The tale employs lifeless figures and Victorian settings similar to Edward Gorey’s stories. Although autobiographical, it uses techniques of fiction: Geneva is Geneviève, Lezly is Lisette, and Geneva’s father is Albert. The story unfolds with the key steps in Geneva’s development, including her birth, her loss of speech, the fantasy world she creates as a little girl in which villains and imaginary friends appear and dolls that allude to the children she won’t be able to bear. Part of the narrative applies fable elements in the manner of Aesop and Jean de La Fontaine. Mysterious looking animals – hybrids - are its main protagonists, delivering the moral that autism, as any other deviation from the norm, should be accepted in society.

In contrast to paintings such as “A imaginary life, imaginary friends,” “A calendar savant”, “A beautiful Initiation”, “All the months had a special color,” and “A Very Sensitive Child”, where the positive, extraordinary sides of Geneva’s personality are accented, the photographs “Bad Seed Boy Villain”, “Family Portrait on Stage”, “Genevieve with saw”, “Genevieve with Tall Friend and Bad Seed Boy”, seem to acquaint us with her sometimes aggressive tendencies. Generally, the exhibit conveys beauty, complexity, mystery, perplexity, and enchants viewers into another reality.

Copyright © by Simone Kussatz

Photo © belongs to Merry Karnowsky Gallery

Dienstag, 28. September 2010

"Combustione: Alberto Burri and America" at Santa Monica Museum of Art

By Simone Kussatz

There is a fine line between being a European-born American, and being a European with a second home in America. Italian artist Alberto Burri--who was married to the American dancer Minsa Craig with whom he wintered in Los Angeles for 28 years and kept his main home in Italy--falls under the latter category. This makes sense considering that Burri, a former physician, was first brought to America by force as a prisoner of war, rather than, say, Italian-born artist Joseph Stella who came to America freely. Burri also seemed to be more inclined towards Italian culture, showing a greater interest in Italian Renaissance than in the work of his American contemporaries such as Robert Rauschenberg, whose works he supposedly summed up as being "un'americanata e basta" (an American thing and that's all). Therefore it is no surprise that his ambiguity towards American culture made him nearly forgotten in the canon of American art history, at least until this fall, when the Santa Monica Museum of Art reintroduced him and his contributions to American art.

The exhibition, including 25 paintings (from 1951 to 1986) and ten prints (from 1990), is as beautiful as it is important due to its striking color combinations and display of found objects and outre materials, some with historical significance. White (1952), a painting composed of oil, bronze, enamel paint, cotton fabric and gold leaf with a cracked surface, seems to be inspired by the damaged frescos of Benozzo Gozzoli, which Burri viewed after his return to his hometown Cita di Castello after World War II. Composition (1953), made of oil, gold paint and pieces of burlap stitched together, with small areas of red paint shimmering through, is part of his Sacchi series, reminiscent of the Marshall Plan supply sacks, used by Americans to help Europeans with goods after the war. Nero Plastica L.A. (1963) demonstrates one of Burri's other working methods, in which he pulled and draped black plastic and created holes with a blowtorch. In Bianco Cretto C1 (1973), a white canvas with a craquelure encircles a round smooth area created by thick acrylic paint, sometimes mixed with sand or earth, dried in various ways; the work is part of Burri's Cretti series inspired by his numerous trips to Death Valley. The exhibit beautifully reveals Burri's creative progress, and the artistic expression he found in the merging of two cultures, even two worlds.
Review was published in ART Ltd. on January 7th, 2011
Copyright (C) Simone Kussatz & Art Ltd.

Dienstag, 21. September 2010

Jordi Alcaraz at Jack Rutberg Gallery of Fine Arts

Jordi Alcaraz at Jack Rutberg Gallery of Fine Arts

How does one paint one’s breath, show the composing process of a travel book or reduce a room into a painting? These are the kind of questions Catalonian artist Jordi Alcaraz enjoys toying with. Some of his works can be currently viewed at the Jack Rutberg Gallery of Fine Arts, the space that gave him his first U.S. solo-exhibit “Traslúcido”.

One aspect that makes Alcaraz’s show so appealing is its Catalonian sensibility. There are organic shapes in Gaudi’s style, reflected images with a surrealistic appeal, and many evocative pieces of works that keep one wondering. Some have a feeling reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War. Others seem to be inspired by Robert Motherwell, especially his painting “Elegy to the Spanish Republic”. The show, spread out through the two main gallery rooms at Jack Rutberg’s is particularly beautiful, because of its poetic and philosophical nature, its subtle colors and the elements Alcaraz works with: transparency, reflection and writing.

“Time” consists of an antique wooden sculpture, a nun-like figure, partly painted in white and beige, who reaches her fingers of her left hand through an opening in a vitrine, whose front wall is slightly bent inward and ends into what looks like the upper part of a martini glass. The contrast between the two materials, one seems to represent the traditional, the other, the modern world, is analogous to what we find in today’s architectural landscape in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. The enclosed sculpture also provides an interior versus exterior perspective, and creates the dimension of someone from the past looking into the future and vice versa. The idea of glass surrounding the sculpture seems is reminiscent of modern architectural concepts, where buildings include large glass windows and sliding glass walls ( as in Richard Neutra’s buildings) to bring the outside in. Situating a religious sculpture in a modern frame, the work also suggests the development of religion over time. But then there is also the element of a nun breaking through a wall, maybe the wall that leads to the mysterious and unknown as in the works by Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies. And that’s exactly what American curator and critic Peter Selz’s calls attention to in the book “Jordi Alcaraz dibuiox”, when he writes “Alcaraz takes physical space, objects, and ideas and projects them into new dimensions.”

In “painting and breathing”, the surface of a white paper is displayed as two pages of an open book. The surface is covered on the left-handside by a black mark that is similar to a Chinese or Japanese calligraphy character, and the work is covered by two layers of plexiglass. The top layer is smooth, the bottom one has a slight distortion that appears to be a chain of bubbles. Delicate shadows are thrown onto the paper. Alcaraz’s work evokes the idea that the creation of art is as essential to an artist as breath is for the human being. It also suggests process and evolution, and the association with breath has a meditative implication - breathing is practiced in Yoga and Qigong.

“Process to reduce this room into a painting”, among the more surrealistic pieces in the show, consists of a mirror with a silver surface that looks like liquid. There is a hole in the upper left corner from which that liquid seems to run. The reflection in it of Rutberg’s gallery, is soft and melting, like the watches in Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory.” The hole is implicated as being the entire gallery. Hence, Alcaraz not only turned a three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional one, but also made the inside of a gallery space appear to be bigger than the gallery as a whole, stressing the importance of the inner walls of a gallery.

In “Book of Astronomy”, Alcaraz pierced holes into the pages of an open book and the plexiglass covering it. Two of the holes have tiny black dots painted in them, similar to a pair of eyes. The remaining holes seem to be the solar system. Pictorially, the most direct influence on Alcaraz works where pierced holes seem to be dominant is likely the Spanish artists who lived through the civil war, as Peter Selz pointed out. Therefore, the holes in the astronomy book seem to be inspired by the holes that Manolo Millares once put into the cover of a catalogue at his show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, as well as they’re inspired by the penetrating eyes in the works of Antoni Saura’s, and the cutting of the eye in Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s film “Un Chien Andalou.”

One of the more philosophical pieces “Book of Travels”, is an opened book showing two blank pages, where the writing of the underlying shimmers through. Several layers of plexiglass cover the book, on which black lines of various sizes are engraved, leading in different directions. Some of the lines cross each other, like the life lines on a palm; others expand to the left and right over the edges of the book. In this piece Alcaraz reminds us that he’s more interested in the composition process than the art work itself. Through the different layers of the plexiglass, some lines seem to be closer to the page than others. Therefore, suggesting that some thoughts are to be written down, others are still in development, and a few might lead to other thoughts and another project in the future. The work can be also understood as a metaphor for the human being and the journey he or she takes.

Aside from an aesthetic point of view, what’s striking about Alcaraz’s works is that he seems to be more interested in the evolutionary aspect of art making than art itself. He places value on all art forms and their origin, and shows them in relationship to other fields, like the sciences and humanities. He takes the viewers' and art dealers' perspectives and interpretations in consideration, drawing attention to not only what he’s trying to convey, but to the perception of others, or even the world.

Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 357 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 938-5222, through Nov. 30. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Copyright © by Simone Kussatz

Dienstag, 17. August 2010

Matthias Merkel Hess at Steve Turner Contemporary

By Simone Kussatz

Having a BA in environmental science from the University of Kansas and a MFA from the ceramics department at UCLA, it is not surprising that Iowa-born artist, Matthias Merkel Hess, would come up with an art project that would engage his viewers in a discussion about societal and environmental issues.

Therefore what would usually appear in the real world in plastic - Rubbermaid Brute trash cans and beer buckets – Merkel Hess turned into colorful glazed ceramics that are displayed in a group show “Wet Paint 2” along with the work of eight other artists at Steve Turner Contemporary, located in the Mid-Wilshire district across from LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

Merkel Hess' works, which are presented in either dark blues, light yellows and pinks, or a combination of dark blue on the outer and ocher or orange in the inner, remind one of the sculptures of Swedish-American pop artist, Claes Oldenburg, who also turned ordinary objects into art objects. Yet, Merkel Hess' work is much smaller in size and not been seen in public open spaces yet.

During an artist talk at the gallery that followed the day after the reception, Merkel Hess mentioned that his project is partly influenced by a book by Thomas Hine "I Want That", which made him think about American society and the relationship between people and objects, as well as his take on it. “I make objects, sometimes big, physical things, so I'm trying to understand both my own interest in objects and how we value them as humans,” he said.

The young artist also mentioned that being a potter made him always interested in vessels and their meaning and how people use them. However, instead of making bowls, coffee mugs and teapots, he wanted to make pottery that would be of interest to a contemporary art audience.

Furthermore, Merkel Hess, a former artist-in-residence at the 18th Streets Arts Center in Santa Monica, explained that since we live in a “hyper-consumer society”, where people are desensitized to the fact that the merchandise they find in current department stores were once luxury items, his work attempted to deal with this “by taking mundane, utilitarian objects and through a transformation of material, make them something for people to think about and consider more closely,” he explained.

Although Merkel Hess' art objects look as if they have a function that is to say to store our garbage and cool our beers, they are actually unsuitable for what they were designed to do as they are heavy and fragile. Therefore, instead of serving a literal function, they become a point of discussion. “I believe this is the main function of works of art,” he said.

Merkel Hess' work will be showcased at Steve Turner Contemporary till August 21, 2010, followed by a solo-exhibit “Devils Tower-LA” between September 4th until October 2nd, 2010 at Las Cienegas Projects.

For further information about the artist, please visit his website or Steve Turner Contemporary's website

Photos by Simone Kussatz
All the contents of this site belong © to Simone Kussatz

Mittwoch, 11. August 2010

Galerie am Rathaus - "The Second Life" of Renita Schnorr

(Images by artists Karl-Heinz Koch Stoeber, Dhanya Dampfhofer, Ewald Christian Tergreve and Peter Z. Malkin)

Galerie am Rathaus - “The Second Life” of Renita Schnorr

By Simone Kussatz

Situated in a historical district in Berlin known as Bayerisches Viertel, a former predominately Jewish area close to Rathaus Schöneberg (the city hall in Berlin where John F. Kennedy held his famous speech proclaiming “Ich bin ein Berliner”), Galerie am Rathaus is a contemporary gallery featuring figurative and abstract paintings, landscapes, photography and sculptures.

The gallery is run by Regina Schnorr, a retired pulmonologist born in Dresden, in former East Germany. “During my childhood and youth it was natural for me to be interested in art. My father, whom I lost during the war, had many art books,” she explains. “Also, the Dresdner Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister [Dresdner Old Masters Picture Gallery] turned into my second home, where I would meet up with friends when it was raining. I always had the need to own a picture. Sometimes I would cut a print out of a book, frame it and hang it up in my room.”

As a young doctor, Schnorr started buying paintings from a Russian artist, as well as from her students, and exhibited the works in the clinic where she worked. But instead of making a name for herself, she clashed with the ideological foundation of the Social regime. In the eyes of her colleagues and authorities, she acted too independently.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Schnorr went into business for herself and led a large pulmonology office in Berlin Mitte [a district in Berlin that used to belong to East Berlin]. “This enabled me to showcase artists in my office,” she says. Soon after “The Turn”, an old schoolmate of Schnorr, with whom she used to play music, told her about painter and musician Karl-Heinz Koch-Stöber, whose paintings were forbidden in the former German Democratic Republic (DDR) after he was continuously seen socializing with French artists and university lecturers during his stay in Cambodia. “I liked his paintings and bought many of his works so that he could finally exhibit them. This became a friendship that lasted until 2000, when he died.“

During the 1990s, Schnorr and her husband went on a trip to San Francisco. One afternoon while they were walking through the streets, they came across Vorpal Gallery, whose windows were covered by blinds. Curiosity and intuition brought them into the building where they met the curator, Jerry Emanuel, who gave them a long tour through the gallery. When Schnorr saw a painting with colorful figures in a golden shimmer, she fell in love with it and learned from Emanuel that it was created by Israeli painter and poet Peter Zvi Malkin, who captured Adolf Eichmann [ Eichmann was a German Nazi, responsible for facilitating and managing the logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps ] in Argentina in 1960.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about Malkin’s painting,” Schnorr reveals. “I got to know him later on and we developed a very deep friendship. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2005, but I have exhibited him several times in Berlin - in my office as well as in my gallery. Through his story and paintings I will always stay connected to him and will continue to exhibit him in the coming years.”

More than a decade later Schnorr followed her creative passion - writing. In 2004-2005 she published her first novel, “Die Mahagoni Schatulle” [The Mahogany Casket], published by Goldbeck-Löwe. The novel is about an attractive and intelligent Jewish woman who makes it through the Nazi era in Germany due to her will to survive and ruthless adaptability. The first reading of the novel was held by an actress at a gallery in Schöneberg.

Due to her wish to keep her autonomy and independence, as well as to show her collected artwork to the public, Schnorr decided to give up her medical office in 2007 and opened the Galerie am Rathaus in order to start “a second life.” She also wanted to create literary salons and provide music performances for the public, yet the gallery, which shows exhibits between 5-6 times a year, has not sold as many art pieces as she had expected. Schnorr hopes to change this soon by attracting more contemporary artists to her gallery. “I have plenty of offers, both from Berlin and other countries - Italy, France, Austria. I’ve already exhibited the works of Russian and American artists. What’s important to me is to have a good connection to the artists and they need to be good and reliable.”

For more information, please visit the gallery’s website:

All contents of this site © belong to Simone Kussatz

(Edited by Marta Kos)

Freitag, 30. Juli 2010

Hamilton Galleries - An art oasis by the Third Street Promenade

(Images: Crane Operator by Brooke Adams, Salon Style by Dan Shupe, Free-style swimmers and Moonlit Lagoon by Warren Long)

Hamilton Galleries: An art oasis by the Third Street Promenade

With its idyllic view of palm trees and sailboats cruising in the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Plaza Center, located at 1431 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica is a great location for viewing the work of local and international artists presented by four galleries: Hamilton Galleries, Bleicher/Golightly Gallery Nano Gallery and, across the fountain courtyard, Jeanie Madsen Gallery. Together the galleries create something of the same sense of community that artists’ colonies often have.

Hamilton Galleries opened at its current location in 2001, the first gallery of the four in the Pacific Plaza Center. The gallery is owned and run by Leigh Hamilton. Born in New Zealand, Hamilton enjoyed the free-wheeling exposure to the arts afforded by her Bohemian family. Her father was a jazz pianist, clarinetist, and bandleader, and her mother a classically trained dancer. Feeling more drawn to the stage and visual arts, Leigh Hamilton worked in the theatre and the motion picture industry as an actress for almost three decades, while spending her free time in galleries and museums and studying the lives and oeuvres of artists. Her second passion turned into a career as the TV and film roles dwindled and the act of selling herself to producers and directors became more and more frustrating and humiliating.

The moment Hamilton saw the gallery space in the Pacific Plaza Center she fell in love with it. “I thought it was beautiful with the view towards the Santa Monica Bay and the natural sunlight,” she says. “It seemed perfect for displaying art. It was an empty shell and nobody had leased the space for three years.” Hamilton was no newcomer to the business, as she had already run a small gallery in Pacific Palisades and a larger one on Robertson Boulevard in West Hollywood. But it was the first time she was able to work without partners sharing the gallery space, relying only on the clientele she had built up over the years.

Recalling her days as an actress in New York, when graffiti art emerged and artists such as Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat were active, Hamilton wanted to bring a similar atmosphere of life and excitement to her new gallery by focusing on “spontaneity, originality and the politics of the day.” During the Bush administration, for instance, she exhibited the biting work of satirical political artist Katrin Weise for two years.

Hamilton enjoys working with local artists. For one thing, she’s able to build relationships with them. For another, she can visit the artists’ studios and select the art works herself, rather than have to rely on a middleman. “It is a very personal process for me to curate the art show for the gallery,” Hamilton observes, “and I need to feel very committed to the artist. Many people paint; however I do believe it takes at least 10 years and a body of work to be any kind of an artist. I am drawn to a painter whose unique vision and style captures my attention and my own imagination.” Another reason Hamilton tends to represent local artists is to provide them the support the local community often fails to give them. “We need to support our own artists more, because that’s what helped artists like Ed Moses, Guy Dill and Ed Ruscha emerge to prominence. There should be more written about our local artists in local papers and magazines than about 18-year-old movie stars.”

Hamilton savors figurative paintings with contrasting moods and colors. The gallery displays works featuring oceanic images, radiating joy, peace and tranquility, or portraying the progressive and eccentric California lifestyle, where women are eager to equal or surpass men in athletic activities such as synchronized swimmers in the open sea. On the other hand, Hamilton also offers more dramatic works, depicting fires and explosions or conveying the complexity of our modern world in which we are flooded with information. The art Hamilton features runs the range from expressive and exuberant to dark and subdued. All her artists are highly skilled, but they don’t fit into one particular genre. One can find elements of pop art, photorealism, assemblage art, Renaissance art, South American figuration, surrealism and expressionism – among other tendencies – in their works. The artists Hamilton shows can be called postmodern, as they manifest irony, parody, and humor and push – some more than others, but all at least a bit – at the boundaries of what is accepted as the status quo. Interestingly, however, while postmodern on the one hand, they also rely on the modernist principle of innovation and distinctive stylization. Hamilton’s artists, as critic Clement Greenberg would have phrased it, are “profoundly original.”

Leigh Hamilton continually exhibits a stable group of about a dozen artists. Among them are Cassie Taggart, Dan Shupe, Esau Andrade, Margaret von Biesen, and Hamilton’s husband Warren Long. The Gallery has also shown international artists such as Edith Vonnegut (daughter of writer Kurt Vonnegut) and German neo-expressionist Rainer Fetting. Hamilton mounts about four to five major exhibits per year, with smaller group shows in between. This guarantees that the entire permanent group of artists cycles through every season.

As a result of her acting career, Hamilton has attracted a faithful group of notable collectors associated with Hollywood, including Robert and Leslie Zemeckis, Robin and Mel Gibson, Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub, and Sharon and Ozzie Osborne. (Adams and Shalhoub are also part owners of the gallery.) Although her regular collectors are mostly based in Los Angeles, the majority of Hamilton’s clients are visitors from out of town who chance on the gallery at its ideal location, between downtown Santa Monica and the ocean.

Another interesting aspect to the Hamilton Galleries is its constant flow of interns, mostly from Italy, who learn about the art business in the States while receiving college credit for their gallery work. “I lived in Italy for a couple of years and have a great affinity for the country, its people, and of course the culture,” Hamilton reminisces. “I was walking into every church. I really love renaissance art, I love Caravaggio. The interns also get to brush up on their English, which is required, while I can practice my Italian. And it is such a pleasure to have the energy of youth around.”

Hamilton Galleries also hosts an annual fundraiser to support The Hamilton Galleries Rob Le Mond Surf Scholarship. The scholarship sends inner city children, selected by the Santa Monica Police Activities League, to take swimming lessons or to participate in a surf camp in Malibu.

For more information, please visit the gallery’s website:

All contents of this site © belong to Simone Kussatz

(Edited by Peter Frank)

Donnerstag, 22. Juli 2010

Bleicher/Golightly Gallery

Bleicher/Golightly Gallery

Have you ever seen an artist hypnotized and his subconscious talks about art to an audience, or an exhibit where a suitcase is moving by itself, while carrots are whistling on top of a globe, and a milk-like liquid is pouring from one drawer in a cabinet piece to the one underneath it? If not, you need to visit Bleicher/Golightly gallery in the Pacific Plaza Center on 1431 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. The gallery offers a variety of events, including concerts, gallery talks, as well as interactive projects between artists and gallery visitors.

The gallery, run by artist and curator, Om Navon Bleicher, and his business partner, Paul Golightly, exhibits works in multiple disciplines - photography, mixed-media, conceptual art, painting, sculpture, craft and design. Unique in its approach, Bleicher/Golightly focuses on works that cross opposing genres and ideologies and sometimes integrates elements from visual fields that are not fine art. Bleicher believes that one place to find meaning and new ‘movements’ is in the intersection of opposing fields e.g. figurative-abstract, conceptual-expressive, insider-outsider.

Bleicher/Golightly Gallery concentrates mainly on ‘mid-career’ breaking artists. Yet, established artists are part of their roster too, as well as emerging artists. Most of them are local, but the gallery also has a handful of national and international artists. Bleicher chooses his artists based on the fact that “they are highly prolific and ambitious, but authentic in their approach and desire to create.”

Instead of focusing on popular art works and short term trends, Bleicher tries to exhibit works that will have a long term impact and a lasting emotional or meaningful connection and relationship with the buyer.

Om’s hope is to bring back human meaning to highly innovative works as an anecdote to the “anything-goes’ Wild West in the wake of post-modernism.”

Overall, the gallery has a friendly and open atmosphere. Similar to museums, explanations are often put on the walls or descriptions can be found in a folder at the entrance door, as well as its knowledgeable staff readily available to explain about the artists and their process of work. Everybody that walks in is treated in a respectful way. Bleicher/Golightly also holds art related events on a weekly basis, making the gallery an approachable meeting point for the bayside Santa Monica district arts community, and an enjoyable night out for visitors to the area.

After the exhibit “Turned On” - curated by Joella March - comes to an end, the gallery will kick off its next project, which will feature Airom Bleicher as well as artists, Jim Holyoak, and Matt Shane. It will be an interactive project, “where hundreds of works will come together (mostly works on papers) in a multi-faceted installation that will change constantly through the course of the exhibit as artists add more work.” Every night a new guest artist will stop in to collaborate with Holyoak, Shane and Bleicher. The general public will also be able to participate on certain sections of the installation.

For more information please visit the gallery’s website

All contents of this site © belong to Simone Kussatz

Montag, 14. Juni 2010

Painting as theater - the works of Yvette Gellis

Painting as theater - the works of Yvette Gellis

By Simone Kussatz

Los Angeles based artist Yvette H. Gellis has been an Artist-in-Residence at the 18th Street Arts Center since August 2008.

Born and raised in Chicago, Gellis was classically trained at the École des Beaux Arts in Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France, before she started painting abstracts and making installations. “The training was unbelievably confined,“ she says. “Even when we were doing figure drawing, they wanted the entire figure on the paper. Therefore, the limb couldn’t be going off the page.” Subsequently, Gellis went to the U.K. to study Shakespeare at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in order to progress as an artist. “It was really to study the theatricality, tragedy, drama and the humor and all these aspects of life,” she says. “We have to make psychological choices on a daily basis, and so life mirrors art and art mirrors life.”

In addition, Ms. Gillis’s work is inspired by southern California’s Light and Space artists, notably Robert Irwin, James Turrell, and Larry Bell. “I’m influenced by their work with this sublime light. At the same time, I’m committed to the mark in painting. Every move I make is a mark. I make strong, powerful and confident marks. That’s the foundation of my practice.” Further, Gellis applies philosophical, spiritual and scientific theories to her work, incorporating a range of knowledge from quantum physics to the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. “I’m interested in everything in terms of intuition. Jung talked about the spiritual instinct in art. Donald Kuspit talks about intuition. But even more fascinating to me is Tesla and his idea of energy, like the Zeno effect, where everything is energy and electricity and our thoughts are influencing what’s happening to us.”

Aside from creating huge installations, Gellis works primarily on large scale paintings with abstract imagery. Among other media, she employs oil, acrylic, oil pencil, graphite, and charcoal. Her paintings engage exuberant colors – pinks, purples, reds, oranges, bright greens and blues, -- or pastel hues often placed adjacent to thick black calligraphic marks or rich grey-toned forms. Some of her paintings present architectural structures, providing perspective and depth. In others she combines feminine organic shapes with masculine man-made ones, juxtaposing bright and dark colors and establishing vivid contrasts. Painted beams of light appear, suggesting a spark of sublimity. Parts of some of her paintings are covered with resin, which seems to have a life of its own, while the other forms are connected with each other.

Gellis’ preference for large-scale paintings derives from an incident during her studies at Claremont Graduate University, when a professor noticed that she painted from her shoulder rather than from her hand. Also, the confinement of the graduate studios pushed her once again to do abstract works and installations. “There is something rather dramatic happening with the work I’m doing, as I see painting as theater,” Gellis explains. “I employ the surface of the canvas like a stage to set up a theatrical condition, where the abstract mark functions as the protagonist, or the heroic self. The more space I have, the better.”

In a review in Art in America, Constance Mallinson put Gellis’ work in the context of 1950s New York Abstract Expressionism, comparing it especially to the works of Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell due to her black calligraphic lines. However, the influence of ‘50s Bay Area figuration, notably Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff, also shines through. “I’m inspired by great art in terms of where it fits into a long term conversation,” Gellis explains. “Again, confident mark-making is really fundamental to me. I’m not interested in a mark trying to find itself or to try to sell an idea. I’m really committed to the artists from the ‘50s who promoted the idea of intuition, phenomenology, presence in the mark and color. But for me it doesn’t stop there, I go even further than that.”

Instead of trying to make pictures, Ms. Gellis is trying to get to the essence of the experience that inspired her to paint in the first place, which she then tries to communicate through her paintings. “It’s kind of when you paint a horse and you don’t describe the beauty and the muscles and the sweat,” she says. ”It’s more like using your senses, what was the feeling of being on a horse, when the hands rubbed up against the strength of that neck and the power of that animal compared to me?” She continues, “When you go to Venice, Italy, and see those fabulous four horses inside of St. Marks, you can see the symbolism, but also all the attributes that are connected to a horse. It’s a big heavy theme to take on. So to do that successfully one needs to be a master painter. Susan Rothenberg did some fantastic horse paintings years ago, capturing this. But I don’t want to do that, although I have the technical skills. For me this was just an exercise at school, but the idea of using those senses one can still find in my work today.”

Gellis tries to blur the distinction between painting, installation and the environment. “They’re really informing each other, so the objects I’m using in the installations, the fabric, the tubes, are functioning like a paint brush,” she explains. “Through my installations I want to create a three-dimensional abstract painting, so that the audience can walk into the painting, as if I were to create a gallery space.”

Although Gellis is fond of the 19th century Hudson River School, she doesn’t produce representational paintings herself, but only uses the concept of sublimity in her work. She considers herself an abstractionist rather than an abstract painter per se. “My marks and the abstract marks in my paintings are very controlled and they are very thoughtful,” she explains. ”It’s not as if I’m just moving paint around abstractly. There is a long process to putting together these paintings. I collect a lot of photographs, some of them my own, and I do a lot of research and look at abandoned and destroyed places, photographing and looking at them and finding a meaning in this fleeting energy in life that comes and goes, this quickness of life, this ephemeral aspect to living.”

(Edited by Peter Frank)

The contents of this site belongs © to Simone Kussatz

Sonntag, 30. Mai 2010

The works of Megan Madzoeff

The works of Megan Madzoeff

By Simone Kussatz

California artist Megan Madzoeff, trained at Art Center College of Design and Claremont Graduate University, doesn’t stick to one genre. Instead, she has a penchant for mixing abstractions with real images, inviting the viewer to submerge in her art work, as in her abstractions with ostriches that were showcased last year during the exhibit “Realities of Abstraction” in Project_210 in Pasadena. ”People feel uncomfortable if they can’t recognize what an art work is," Madzoeff says. "I’ve been always fascinated with ostriches. I love their faces and expressions. They look very curious to me. I wanted the viewer to look at my paintings the way ostriches take in the world through their eyes.”

In a fashion similar to Jackson Pollock, Madzoeff creates paintings utilizing pouring techniques, which she later contours with a palette knife. In one of her works, “Hive of vestige," she creates a bright green shape on a white background that looks like a parrot, whose left wing extends to a mountainous grey ground. In front of the painting, on the gallery's floor is a pile of dirt, providing the work a life in three dimensions. “I was so fascinated by the shapes that I created through the pouring of the paint," observes Madzoeff, "because they are things I would have not thought about on my own. And then I had this idea of worship and looked at my piece as a narrative. I don’t worship in my life, but I’m fascinated, because so many people take it seriously and there are wars over this. So, it’s kind of mocking worship.”

Aside from painting, Madzoeff, who studied film as an undergraduate, also does sound installations. In “21st Century Indexing," the viewer is surrounded by three white walls bearing an indistinct pattern in shades of green, orange, black, and blue. Fourty-two little speakers installed in the walls - each play something different - creating a chaotic sensation that refers to the overwhelming effect of the media on the human being. “I had to work in advertising and make senseless advertisements for movies. I could see how the ads and news were manipulating and bombarding people. And most people are not aware of its exhausting power. Also, in the air there is all this wireless activity happening, and we don’t see it, but it’s all over the place and I wanted to demonstrate how these multiple activities are coming at you.”

In another piece, “24 986 Miles," Madzoeff took about 4500 photos over a year, shot out of her car window during her daily four-hour commute between Orange County and the Mid-Wilshire district in Los Angeles. “I was sitting there wasting hours away in my car and then started taking pictures and documenting, and became really excited about it. Suddenly it became this big story of commuting and Los Angeles and the freeways and the trucks, and so I thought it is interesting that all our things come on trucks, yet everybody hates these trucks, because they’re big and they go slow, but on the other hand we want things in the store.”

Madzoeff belongs to the third generation of Armenian immigrants in the United States. When I asked her, if her Armenian roots come into play in her work, she said “The third generation doesn’t feel completely Armenian or American. I think one can find a relationship to this in my work. I don’t like to belong to any one thing. I’m a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Being Armenian-American gave me a different perspective and I feel I can relate to everything.”

Madzoeff is currently working on different projects, including a photography book about “24 896 Miles.” She’s also preparing for an exhibit on June 11th at the City Council Art Gallery and Performance Space in Long Beach titled “Ménage à Trois – an evening of Art, Music and Wine, benefiting a woman’s cancer foundation (for further information please visit the website “I first wanted to show my abstractions with the ostriches that I had shown last September in Pasadena and I was going to have them framed. But then I've felt I’m kind of passed that work and wanted to go back to pure abstractions, which I’ve done in the past and moved away from.”

Edited by Peter Frank

All contents of this site (c) belong to Simone Kussatz

Freitag, 7. Mai 2010

Artist Warren Long - lover of life and appreciator of nature

Artist Warren Long – lover of life and appreciator of nature

By Simone Kussatz

Artist Warren Long has been working as a professional artist for more than 20 years. He’s a regular at Hamilton Galleries in Santa Monica, which has showcased his work since 1996. Aside from numerous other galleries in California, his paintings have been exhibited in Milan, Italy and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

However, before Long got into painting, he first started out as a functional artist, making sculpted furniture, such as carved peacock chairs and large fish tables for Tops Gallery in Malibu. Influenced by artist Jim Wagner, known for his Santa Fe style furniture and paintings, Long explained that working with furniture became too labor intensive for him. “I’m not a carpenter,” he said. “What I wanted to do was to splash paint onto canvas. There is an immediate gratification in that.”

The California artist has also been known for his murals. One of his largest ones can be seen behind a high-school at Morning view Drive in Malibu. "They're a lot of work, but I like doing them. I use scaffolds."

Yet, Warren Long hasn’t always followed an artistic path. Before his brother’s death, he wanted to become a doctor and majored in ecological systematic biology at San Francisco State University. He only minored in art. But the frequent visits in the hospital to see his brother, who was an artist, made him realize that he’s more inclined to the artistic world. “I couldn’t see myself being so exact, doling out medicine. I’m too casual for that. Yet, medicine and anatomy still interest me and I often apply this to my paintings.”

Long- a prolific and versatile artist - spent part of his childhood in Mexico. His collection of work consists of animals, flowers, figurative, landscape and seascape paintings, in which he often adds skeletons and skulls to his imagery. “It’s probably, because I lived in Mexico, where they celebrate the Day of the Dead. To me death is a natural thing. I find skulls striking. You certainly will notice them.”

Long has developed his own style. He combines beauty and nature with unusual settings. Therefore his style is easy to recognize and one cannot pigeonhole him. From humorous images such as hula hooping penguins or a floating pig to elegant water ballet swimmers and lavish flower bouquets, Long knows how to express himself visually in a unique way, allowing his mind to fantasize without limits. “This is what’s going on in my head”, Long explained. “I like pigs. They are sweet. They’re kind of god’s jokes. My brother actually raised some. As far as the swimmers in the ocean - my wife was a synchronized swimmer and I tried to do that, it’s a lot harder than it looks. But I think it’s beautiful. It’s kind of funny too. It’s hilarious and beautiful.”

In addition Long has a collection of works where different atmospheres dominate the canvas, such as “Moonlit” or “Blue Number 18”, one depicting a lagoon at night and the other a life-guard station. “My wife and I like to go out swimming a lot. I find the life-guard stations comfortable and beautiful. Often there is not even a person in there, but just the fact they exist turn them into sanctuaries. Theoretically, they are there to help you if you’re drowning. There is something pretty about them. I’ve done quite a few of those with different color combinations.”

Aside from being an established artist, Long also teaches art. Among his students were actor Mel Gibson’s children who came to learn from him, when he was still teaching at a private school in Malibu. Now Gibson’s son has followed in his teacher’s footsteps and also exhibits his art work at Hamilton Galleries.

Among Long's collectors are Harry Shearer & Judith Owen, Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub, Robert and Leslie Zemeckis, Ozzie & Sharon Osborne.

For more information please visit,

The contents of this website © belong to Simone Kussatz