February 5, 2022
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This Week's Contents
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Rainbow: In Memory of
Hung Liu

No Body: New Work by
Mike Rea and Casey Whittier

Jeff Wall
Artist deadlines are coming up, February 14 & 21
Rainbow: In Memory of Hung Li
by Jody Zellen
Hung Liu, “Resident Alien,” 1988, oil on canvas, 60 x 90”. Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art

Walter Maciel Gallery, Culver City, California
Continuing through March 5, 2022

Hung Liu passed away from pancreatic cancer on August 7, 2021. Just prior to her death, the exhibition “Hung Liu: Golden Gate” opened at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, where it remains on view through August 7, 2022. The exhibition at the de Young includes a reproduction of her seminal work, “Resident Alien” (1988), enlarged to span an entire wall. The painting depicts Liu's own Green Card inscribed with the name "Cookie, Fortune.” A Chinese immigrant, Liu was formally trained in the social realist style of the Chinese Communist Party, yet through her graduate work at UC San Diego (begun in 1984; she came to the United States to study at the age of 36), she started to use her art to explore stories of immigration. Since the mid-1990s, she had been a professor at Mills College in Oakland, CA.

As Liu’s original gallery supporter in Los Angeles, it is fitting that Walter Maciel is hosting this exhibition to honor her memory and celebrate her career. A gracious wall text by Jeff Kelley, Liu's husband and studio manager, serves to introduce the exhibition and informs us that Liu's mother passed away from pancreatic cancer ten years before the artist succumbed to the same illness. Liu returned home to visit her ailing mother and produced a suite of fifty-one small paintings during the year after she passed. This body of work, titled “To Live” is on view as a homage to both mother and daughter.
Hung Liu, “To Live 38: February 1, 2012,” oil on canvas, 12 x 12”
Hung Liu, “To Live 9: Power Strip,
January 3, 2012,” oil on canvas, 12 x 12”
Presented in groups on horizontal bands of color representing the rainbow, the paintings take us on a journey of remembrance. The “To Live” paintings are juxtaposed with other works that span Liu's career, ranging from video to paintings on hand-made ceramic tiles. There are also selections from her “Unthinkable Tenderness” series, inspired by Dorothea Lange photographs, like the large-scale enigmatic depiction of the migrant mother from ”In the Camp II” (2016).

Though bittersweet, the paintings that make up “To Live” call attention to everyday life, things taken for granted or overlooked, while bringing significance to that which is left behind. Liu began this series working from photographs she took of ordinary things left in her mother's Beijing apartment, such as a bulb of garlic, bowls and jars of food, a shower stool, a power strip and other personal objects. Liu painted these things in close-up — cropping the objects so they fill the picture frame — quickly and expressively with large sweeping brush strokes. She created one 12-by-12-inch painting each day. Together, they become a portrait of a person as defined by the things that surrounded her. 
Hung Liu, still from “Black Rain,” 2013, still from video, 3:57
“To Live 33” depicts an empty bed and is followed by an image of a flatlined hospital monitor. It is here that the sequence shifts from a celebration of life to the reality of death. The next two images, “To Live 34 (II): Blackness, January 28, 2012” and “To Live 34 (III): Circle on Black, January 28, 2012,” illustrate the feelings of loss. Liu then moves on to the process of mourning in the remaining paintings of lit, flickering candles. It is impossible to view these works and not wonder how they relate to Liu's own collection of objects. The lighted candles now serve as a tribute to the spirit of the artist herself.

Three videos, a medium Liu was not very much known for, complement the “To Live” paintings as meditations on life and death. Projected in a darkened room is the short loop “Between Sky and Earth” (2013). In this mesmerizing piece, Liu cycles through a continuous grid of twenty images that morph from cloud-filled skies, to lit candles and roadkill featuring birds and deer, as well as the amazing shapes of the citrus fruit known as Buddha’s hand. Based on snapshots Liu took with her cellphone before her mother's passing, the work, especially now, carries a powerful meditative force. During the less than four-minute duration of “Black Rain” (2013) dark drips slowly cover a screen to obscure the orange glow of a cloud-filled sky. The 4:49 minute “Red Candle” (2013) also complements the candle paintings in “To Live.” For this video, Liu filmed a flame of a burning candle against a deep black void, while focusing on the disappearing wick and melting red wax. Again, given that the exhibition is a tribute, this symbol of the trajectory of life to death gains in emotional intensity and brings us into a more personal intimacy with the artist.
Jody Zellen is a LA based writer and artist who creates interactive installations, mobile apps, net art, animations, drawings, paintings, photographs, public art, and artist’s books. Zellen received a BA from Wesleyan University (1983), a MFA from CalArts (1989) and a MPS from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program (2009). She has exhibited nationally and internationally since 1989. For more information please visit www.jodyzellen.com
No Body: New Work by Mike Rea and Casey Whittier
by Robin Dluzen
Casey Whittier, “Proof: We,” 2022, cast glass, 8 x 8 x 8”. Photo Credit: T. Maxwell Wagner
Cleaner Gallery, Chicago, Illinois
Continuing through February 19, 2022

In “No Body,” Kansas City artist Casey Whittier and Chicagoan Mike Rea realize an unlikely pairing of absurdity and serious craft. Here, woodworking (Rea’s) and ceramic and glass (Whittier’s) are the materials for objects and imagery of a very personal nature. While in the past both sculptors have created highly realistic facsimiles of vernacular objects, in “No Body” both Whittier and Rea have shrugged off hyper-realism. The intentionally unpolished finish of these pieces underscores the process of their fabrication, and the relationship between the artist’s hand and the intimate nature of that which is depicted.
Mike Rea, "Back View/Venus of Somewhere in Germany," 2021, wood, paper, ink, epoxy resin, spray paint, interior oil paint, 64 x 52"
Mike Rea, "Garter Harness/The Doors, Fan," 2021, wood,
paper, ink, epoxy resin, spray paint, interior oil paint, 64 x 52"
Whittier’s pieces represent the kinds of things that are worn often, and close to the body. Baseball caps and eyeglasses are rendered in dense, cast glass, capturing the textural nuances of that which they index: tiny bolts at the hinges of the temples, the folds of mesh backs, the relief stitching of a John Deere logo. A t-shirt hangs from a steel post in the wall, the garment — with “All Vintage Guitars go to Heaven” emblazoned across the chest — is crafted from delicate, interlocking loops of clay. These objects feel fragile, as if the preciousness of someone’s well-worn items has been transferred into, and even accentuated by the fineness of the media into which they have been cast. Whittier’s shirt, glasses and hats seem uniquely specific to someone, although it’s her cast glass sets of teeth that have singular auras. In “Proof: We” and “I and You,” sets of top and bottom teeth are stacked upon each other, suggesting an orthodontic retainer or a mouthguard as a potential mold for the cast. In Whittier’s hands, what is essentially a dental record is also a profoundly poetic gesture of intimacy.

Whittier’s sentimentality is countbalanced by Rea’s sublime absurdity. Several large-scale works on paper are rendered using a mosaic-like method, with tiny squares of wood scrap adhered to gessoed paper. In “Coda Chrome Away” and other works the wooden pieces are colored in with squares of ink. Up close, these works have an earthy, timeless quality, the rough, gessoed paper contrasting the geometry of the wooden tiles and their velvety smooth surfaces. They feel like studies in material and abstraction, enough to lose yourself in their seriousness before realizing what it is you’re looking at. These are not abstractions, after all, but images of strappy leather gear binding up invisible bodies of negative space. “Garter Harness / The Doors, Fan,” and “Back View / Venus of Somewhere in Germany” feel campy and playful. They are triple-framed in wood of various tones, as if to “triple down” on the seriousness of Rea’s craftsmanship.

“No Body” is a lot of fun, with its unexpected dualities of high and low, the vernacular and the refined, earnestness and absurdity. However, there is a palpable melancholy surrounding it all. The leather in Rea’s images is wrapped around empty space; the hats and glasses of Whittier’s castings reverberate with the energy of the body that had, at one time, worn them. The fact that there are no bodies here, consistent with the exhibition’s title, makes one wonder whether, in non-pandemic times, this absence would feel so acute as it does right now. 
Casey Whittier, “Tractor Time,” 2022, cast glass scraps, 6 x 7 x 11 1/2”. Photo Credit: T. Maxwell Wagner
Robin Dluzen is a Chicago-based artist and writer. Her writing has appeared in Visual Art Source, Art Ltd., Chicago Art Magazine, Art F City and others. Her artwork has been featured in venues throughout the country including the Dorchester Art Project in Boston, MA; Indiana University Northwest in Gary, IN; Bert Green Fine Art in Chicago; Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Chicago; the Union League Club of Chicago; Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago; and the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. For more information, robindluzen.com
Jeff Wall
by David S. Rubin
Jeff Wall, “Actor in two roles,” 2020, inkjet print in 2 parts, 94 7/8 x 134 1/2” each, edition of 3 + 1 AP.
All images courtesy of Gagosian, Beverly Hills, © Jeff Wall
Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills, California
Continuing through March 5, 2022

In ten works created over the past decade, veteran photographer Jeff Wall really puts our powers of observation to the test. In these characteristic large-scale digital prints, in which everything appears life size, Wall cleverly toys with our perceptions of what we are seeing. Carefully constructing each scenario as if he were directing a movie, the artist employs performers (a more apt term than “models”) who enact what he calls “near documentaries.” These may seem believable at first glance, yet no narrative or storyline can ever be fully determined, as the implications of the performers’ actions always lead to open ended speculation, and illogical details may thwart any interpretation at all.
Jeff Wall, “Man at mirror,” 2019, inkjet print,
50 3/8 x 58 3/8”, edition of 4 + 1 AP
During the 1970s and ‘80s, Wall earned considerable acclaim for his pioneering backlit photography. He mounted large photographic transparencies over light boxes to bring a cinematic quality to his imagery. In his more recent digital prints, it is photographed light that plays a pivotal role in establishing a mood and directing our attention to or obscuring it from activities within a composition. In “Man at mirror,” for example, a table lamp illuminates a mirror with writing that we cannot read because it faces at nearly a right angle within the composition. But it is the focus of a young man staring at it. 

In “A woman with a necklace,” intense daylight behind a curtained window pulls our gaze away from the main subject, a woman reclining on a couch contemplating a necklace, making it difficult to discern her features or the objects on the table in front of her. Carefully orchestrated positioning of table lamps also moves our eyes through two different views of the same common living room (actually a room in Wall’s home) in the diptych “Pair of Interiors.” In this subtly deceptive psychological drama, a couple is shown in two different types of interaction. In the left panel, they sit close together on a sofa, engaged in conversation. In the other, each is lost in inner thought, with the man sitting in a chair and the woman on the sofa.
Upon prolonged inspection, we ultimately realize that a single couple is played by two sets of actors and the backgrounds are not identical, so we are seeing different sides of the room.

Another diptych in the exhibition is somewhat disconcerting, as the left panel is more dynamic than the right one. The two-scene comparison in “Actor in two roles” is meant to provoke reflection on the multiple identities that make up an actor’s life. The imagery in the left panel, which replicates a moment from an actual play, shows two multiracial groups of four women, one of them vigorously marching in place and the other reacting with gestures and expressions of trepidation. The right panel, by contrast, features a quiet encounter between two people. While the juxtaposition of the panels may generate some interesting ideas about different types of moods or theatrical genres, the left side alone is far richer in visual fortitude and layering of potential meanings, which relate to race, gender, and identity — all very timely issues. 
Jeff Wall, “Staircase & two rooms,” 2014, lightjet print in 3 parts, 95 1/16 x 70” each, edition of 3 + 1 AP
A multi-section work that provides a greater stimulus for our imaginations is “Staircase & two rooms,” which reveals three fragmented views of the interior of a Hollywood rooming house. Aesthetically cohesive in its distribution of pastel colors and decorative patterning throughout, this intriguing triptych begs us to respond to it as if solving a mystery. In the left panel, a man with eyes shut holds the door of room 18 slightly ajar, yet it is unclear whether he is closing the door or opening it. The central scene is of a staircase just a few doors down, adjacent to room 15. It directs our eyes upward, yet we get only the barest glimpse of the floor above. In the right section, a man lounges at the far edge of the bed, as if he could easily fall off. His room is barren, as there are no pictures on the walls and the doors to his room and to either a closet or a bathroom are both closed. No single scene dominates the triptych, but each tends to instill a sense of expectation.
Jeff Wall, “Listener,” 2015, inkjet print, 62 3/4 x 91 3/4”, edition of 3 + 1 AP
Similar feelings of anticipation may be experienced viewing “Listener,” the most dramatic work in the exhibition. Set in an earthy outdoor landscape, the composition centers on a pale-skinned man, his shirt off and wearing sandals, shown kneeling with his left arm extended downwards in an awkwardly stiff position. He is surrounded by five other men who are fully clothed and wear suitable shoes for the terrain, yet he is the only figure whose face is fully exposed. We can see half of the face of the man at far left, who looks out at us with an impatient expression. Another man, seen from behind, bends towards the central figure as if to offer assistance. While any number of storylines might be imagined, the composition may plausibly be understood as a morality tale showcasing three different archetypes for human behavior: those who are vulnerable and victimized, those who are apathetic, and those who care. Due to its alluring ambiguity and thought-provoking imagery, “Listener” exemplifies Walls at his best.
David S. Rubin is a Los Angeles-based curator, writer, and artist. As a curator, he has held positions at MOCA Cleveland, Phoenix Art Museum, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, and San Antonio Museum of Art. As a writer he has contributed to Arts MagazineArt in AmericaArtweekArtSceneGlasstireFabrikArt and Cake, and Visual Art Source. He has published numerous exhibition catalogs, and his curatorial archives are housed in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art.
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