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. www.jackrutbergfinearts.com

Copyright © by Simone Kussatz