Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Douglas Messerli | "Painting Theater" (on Gronk's "Theater of Paint")

painting theater
by Douglas Messerli

Gronk Theater of Paint, Los Angeles, Craft & Folk Art Museum, Howard Fox, Pablo Capra, and I attended the show on Sunday, July 3, 2016

Just a few weeks ago I mentioned to my husband Howard that I had not seen new work by the Los Angeles artist Gronk for some time now. In fact, it turns out that he has not had a solo museum exhibition in Los Angeles for more than two decades. Now, fortunately, the Craft & Folk Art Museum reveals to us what Gronk has been up to in a stunning new exhibition, “Theater of Paint.”

Certainly there are a few older paintings and photographs in this show, including two versions of his famed female image La Tormenta, a strong woman figure facing away from the viewer, her back to us, forcing us to stare into the same distant space in which she is looking. And there are a few older documentary works from his early days working with the ASCO group. But even these exceptions merely reveal that Gronk has been interested in performance and theater since his earliest days. Along with Patssi Valdez, Willie F. Herrón III, and Harrry Gamboa, Jr., Gronk staged several street theater pieces, improvising narratives that interacted with the real space. And in 1997 La Tormenta was herself the subject of a concert piece, written by Froykan Cabuto with music by Otto Cifuentes performed while Gronk painted, in time with the music, yet a another image of his iconic figure; so here too Gronk reveals, as he explained to Howard, our friend Pablo Capra, and me in a personal tour of the show, that he has long focused on painting in a theatrical context.

     Beginning in 1989, moreover, the artist turned his attention directly on creating large canvases with wooden and cardboard accessories for plays and operas. That year he painted the single “backdrop” for Milcha Sanchez-Scott’s Stone Wedding for the Latino Theatre Lab of Los Angeles Theatre Center. The work, so he told us, had been stored at that theater for all these years, and was rediscovered when director of the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Suzanne Isken called the Center.
     In 1990, Gronk did sets for four more plays, including Culture Clash’s The Mission and a production by the East West Players for Come Back, Little Sheba.
     The following years, he added several other new plays to his resume, including Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, a character who, once more, closely relates to La Tormenta, and a play by the noted Peruvian author, Mario Vargas Losa, performed at Los Angeles’ Chapel Court Theater, which won the Drama-Logue Award for set design. Numerous other plays followed before, in 1998, he began working with the noted director Peter Sellars, first for an adaptation of Jean Genet’s The Screens by Gloria Alvarez, Peter Galindo, Lynn Jeffries at Cornerstone Theater Company, for another collaboration between Gloria Alvarez and Sellars of Igor Stravinsky’s L’Historie du soldat. Ainadamar, with a libretto by David Henry Hwang and music by Osvaldo Golijov, which Sellars directed for The Santa Fe Opera and was later performed at Lincoln Center in New York; a Production of Henry Purcell’s The Indian Queen, this directed by Sellars for The Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre in Russia, followed.

      This new exhibition contains several full backdrops—which Gronk creates after extensive research into history and mythology, aiming for an emotional expressivity rather than a specific setting—along with models and video screenings of the sets. “Theater of Paint” also includes an entirely new work,  inspired by the book of surrealist-like poems by Chuck Rosenthal and Gail Wronsky which Gronk illustrated. The set also contains a decorated stage with cardboard props so that museum-goers can themselves become actors, playing out events of their own imaginations. Pablo snapped a picture of Howard and me with Gronk, appearing to my way of thinking, a bit like three monsters holding a kind of alien baby.
      The exhibition will also feature a performance of Tormenta Omnia on July 16, in both English and Spanish, a poetry reading by Rosenthal and Wronsky on July 24th, and conversation between Sellars and Gronk on August 6.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Douglas Messerli | "The Feminist Scent" (on "Eau de Cologne" at Sprüth Magers in Los Angeles)

the feminist scent
by Douglas Messerli

Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Cindy Sherman, and Rosemarie Trockel Eau de Cologne / Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, I visited the show with Deborah Meadows on June 29, 201

http://www.awarewomenartists.com/wp-content/uploads/BKR_JHO_LLA_CSH_RTR_Install_SMB_2015_1-1140x741.jpgThe “new” show at Los Angeles’ Sprüth Magers galley in the Miracle Mile, is actually an older one, a follow-up not only of the Berlin show in 2015, but a work that featured the same five artists who Monika Sprüth first showed in her Cologne gallery in the late 1980s, Eau de Cologne, which also resulted in a magazine published by Sprüth from 1985-1989, which featured “portraits, interviews, conversations and essays with many other contemporary German and American artists” of the period, most of whom have now become major international figures, but were often ignored and underestimated at the time of that original Cologne show.
      Today, Cindy Sherman, showcased at the current Broad Museum of Art show in downtown Los Angeles, Barbara Kruger, who is featured at the Broad building of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Jenny Holzer are well established, and, although lesser known in the US, Louise Lawler and the German artist Rosemarie Trockel are now internationally recognized.
      Accordingly, I can’t report that I was totally wowed by this show, although I appreciated its historicity, and admired many of the works that it contained. Holzer and Kruger both, despite their popularity, have always presented problems for me, since they center their work on language, but simply do not have quite have the skills of my poet friends. At least Kruger, in her Dazed and Confused series combines her short narratives with images of slightly “dazed and confused” figures which give her work a kind of powerful narrative energy. Holzer is at her best in the more aphoristic horizontal LED signs, as in the show’s Survival and Living, than she is in her black granite benches with their purposely “poetic” sounding, but actually quite incoherent messages. I liked the show’s spray paint on canvas Lady Pink, despite its rather unoriginal and didactic statement: “Trust visions that don’t feature buckets of blood.”
      Cindy Sherman is hard not to like, but these works, representing her Murder Mystery series of 1976, show the artist in a very different context from her usual self-portraits. If her portraits represent various articulations of identity and gender, these far more narrative sequences reveal the fictional processes at the heart of her art, expanding the more autobiographical genre she has established since, and which is at the heart of Broad’s extensive collection.
       Even more fascinating were Sherman’s photographic images of dolls from 1999, featuring the odd figures in numerous sexual poses that recalls the work of German artist Hans Bellmer. These works, in fact, connect to many of her grotesque self-portraits later in her career, while yet revealing a completely different aspect of her art. These Broken Dolls are, in fact, all sexually destroyed, ready to be tossed away as perversions of the Barbie world in which they might once have existed.
Louise Lawler’s stunning large painting (Bunny) Sculpture and Painting (adjusted to fit) from 1999/2015 features images of Jeff Koon’s Rabbit (1986) and Peter Halley’s The Acid Test (1992), while recontexualizing those male artist’s works in terms of context and space.
      Most astonishing to me were the “wool” pictures of Rosemarie Trockel, created, so the gallery handout explains, by wrapping loose strands of yarn around the canvas in stripes, creating beautifully vertical bands that might have been at home in The Washington School of Art typified by Gene Davis and Anne Truitt, while, on the other hand, referencing a feminist context through its very materials.
      It’s a treat to have this new galley, directly across the street from our home, in Los Angeles. And I look forward, after their early shows of John Baldessari and George Condo, to their future exhibitions.

Los Angeles, July 3, 2016

In March of 1992, Howard curated a show by German artist Gerhard Merz at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, titled, Archipittura. At the time Merz was living with Philomene Magers, the co-gallerist of what is now the Spürth Magers Gallery of which I write above. We had lunch with them a couple of times at one of our favorite local restaurants, the Italian eatery La Trattoria, which they had discovered by themselves, and where, because of its excellent cuisine ate most of their Los Angeles meals. I took the Chilean author José Donoso to the same restaurant when he visited Los Angeles.