||"California New Old Masters" at Gallery C
By Garrison Frost
"California New Old Masters," the latest in a series of exhibitions being presented by guest curators at Gallery C in Hermosa Beach, seems to be posing an argument about the participating artists. In fact, all you have to do is put the word "masters" in the title of any exhibition show and you will find yourself involved in some kind of argument about whether the artists are, or are not, worthy of the title. Moreover, any review of such a show should include some judgment on the part of the author as to whether the statement is accurate.
So, the reader now asks, are they masters? My only answer is that, hell, I don't know. How could I know? And as far as I can tell, that's not the point of the show. If it is, I'm not playing.
After strolling around Gallery C's spacious galleries, it finally occurred to me that the title of the show should merely stand as a reference to subject matter, to the sort of museum wall-ness of the pieces. Most of what is in the show looks like the type of art that one would see in a museum by a famous artist only it's different. And it's this difference that makes the show. This art is new and by California artists who may or may not be masters, but are certainly working with a certain style or subject matter that we would associate with a "master."
Nothing in the show exemplifies this quality more than Martin Vero's marble sculptures of nude female figures. In material, style and subject matter, the pieces appear right out of a Greek or Italian excavation. But the fact that the female figures reflect an utterly modern sense of beauty tips us off that the artist is more in the area of what guest curator Donald Kuspit would call a "New Old Master."
Classicism is just one of the many paths down which Kuspit takes us. Li Huagi's "Dark Painting, #4," a dazzling reminder of the stylized Asian landscapes that have carved their own corner of the art world for centuries. James Doolin gestures toward two different aspects of the theme with "Primal Landscape #6" and "Upwardly Mobile," which recall western landscape art and the dynamic poses of European heroic figures, respectively. However, each does so in a unique way. "Upwardly Mobile" sets its classical figures in a junkyard, with a caption, "Life is a Cabriolet My Friend." Guy Diehl and Ron Rizk plant a flag in the still life category, and Chester Arnold's "Triumph" evokes the love of ruins that swept through fine art in the 19th Century.
Everything in the show is good, worth seeing. But the difficulty with a show like this is finding pieces of art that one likes just for themselves. Sure, I am a fan of American Realism, but just because Kenny Harris is mining this territory doesn't mean that his paintings speak to me personally. Make no mistake, they're great, but the piece that I just kept walking back to was Benjamin Bryce Kelley's sculpture "The Lola Project: Stainless Lola 2." Rendered in bronze, wood and stainless steel, the piece manages to look both mechanical and organic all at once.
"California New Old Masters," curated by Donald Kuspit, runs through March 26 at Gallery C.
(Feb. 15, 2005)
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