A piece from Wild Wild West at Scott White Contemporary Art
Kristján Gudmundsson @ Quint Contemporary Art
If nature is written in the language of mathematics, as Galileo implied, it may also be true that art springs from an elemental grammar of light, form and idea. This aesthetic hypothesis finds its most concrete exploration in minimalism and conceptualism, but it must also be said that such art, like mathematics, requires rigor in the practitioner as well as a patient openness in the viewer. Kristján Gudmundsson, whose recent work, Paintings in Gray and White Frames, on exhibit in La Jolla's Quint Gallery (www.quintgallery.com) through March 6, is one of the most uncompromising of these artists. The paintings are put together from binary variations of simple components, including canvases painted black or white, steel frames painted gray or white, and regular rows of circular holes, big or small, punched in the frames. The assembled results, however, have a surprising aesthetic presence—a still, severe beauty that is at the same time broken by the liveliness of their perforated surfaces and by an endless dialogue between order and infinity. A droll wit, moreover, is always at play; these are painted canvases, after all, at war with their enclosing frames, which have not yet decided whether to reveal or conceal.
Seeing Beauty @ Museum of Photographic Arts
Perhaps because it's described as an educational exhibit, Seeing Beauty, which opened at MoPA (www.mopa.org) on Jan. 30 and runs through 2011, can be forgiven its didactic, faintly patronizing tone. But I'm inclined to think that a museum dedicated to the photographic arts should have more faith in both its audience and its images—giving viewers space for interpretation and allowing the photographs to speak for themselves. Instead, the exhibit literally spells it out, with questions like “What is beauty?” and “Is beauty always beautiful?” writ large on the wall. Each image is accompanied by text, which, in addition to some historical background, offers a fairly simplistic interpretation of the photographer's intention: “The curve of the seaweed” (in a piece by abstract impressionist Aaron Siskind) “invites us to question—how did the seaweed get there?” (according to the curator). An image by Judith Fox, taken from her series I Still Do, is robbed of its poignancy by text that tells us the photograph “invites us to see the beauty and love she still feels for the man.” A placard stating simply that the image is of her husband, who suffers from Alzheimer's, would have allowed the image, not to mention the audience, to do its own job.
Wild Wild West @ Scott White Contemporary Art
In this vivid interpretation of the modern American West, Deborah Oropallo presents a surreal digital collage of faceless cowgirls amid prairies and rodeo rings in her solo show at Scott White (www.scottwhiteart.com). These images juxtapose the traditional frontier and its gaudy, Texas-sized, sequined caricature. In feminist fashion, these supposedly powerful women, with their lassos and spurs, are objectified and reduced down to costumed shells, coy poses and bright hats; the core of their identity—their faces—are removed, as is any hint of skin. But, the most haunting image in the collection is “Phoenix,” an eyeless rodeo clown dressed in a polka-dot frock; it's the thing childhood nightmares are made of. Despite my ambivalence, Oropallo's work is impressive in both size and technique—many of the pieces are nearly 7 feet tall, silently daring you to not examine their painted aluminum façades. In naming her exhibit, Oropallo's love of irony is obvious. Still, she skates the line between self-aware kitsch and political statement, never settling on either. The show runs through March 6.
—Lorena Nava Ruggero
Anna Zappoli @ Swift Gallery
San Diego's Anna Zappoli is that rare artist capable of integrating her extensive training and explorations in technique, her own personal history, as well as the entire history of art, into work that is at the same time perpetually fresh and lacking all traces of self-consciousness. Her collection of recent paintings, The Garden of Mythos, is the inaugural exhibit of the new Swift Gallery in the NTC Promenade (www.arts4change.com), and includes a number of large format oils, alive with both beast and human, joyful in color and yet sober in shade, where mortal figures confront the abstractions of form and the insistent materiality of paint. Zappoli's garden is no domesticated Eden but, rather, a place before good and evil, a half-wild place where fear and desire persist. Here Eve lingers at the unguarded Eastern gate, free to return or to wander into the unknown. Here the immigrant stands, dreaming of home and yet breathless before the American sublime. Here mythic understanding is neither duty before jealous god nor echo of decorative nymph, but an internal necessity that must always be created anew. The show runs through April 4.
The Future Imperfect of Cities, Landscapes and Dreams @ Art Produce
Everybody seems to have an opinion on what's happening in North Park. Galleries are moving out, nightlife clubs are moving in and the natives are getting a little restless. With impeccable timing and creatively treading the line between art and design, the New School of Architecture—itself located in the similarly gentrifying East Village—has assembled a faculty and student exhibition of plans, dioramas, 3-D diagrams and collages of an idealized North Park. Some are exact, intricate and meticulously constructed renderings of utopian visions, while others are wacky, instinctual fantasies that could be any neighborhood under siege. One piece, which, like the rest, is anonymously displayed with no indication of who's behind the vision, has a bird's-eye view of the neighborhood, with huge rivers of green running through it—as if the portions of the enclave had been flooded with kudzu. Like the show itself, on exhibit through March 7 (www.artproducegallery.com), the pieces can seem jumbled and thrown together, but look closer and you'll see the minute details, as well as a respectful contemplation of a future and, to paraphrase Faulkner, a past that isn't even past.