another year in LA
Curated by Linda Day
Nancy Evans, John Koller, Tom Krumpak, Chris Martin, Robin Mitchell, Irene Pijoan, Cathy Stone,
Steve Roden, Hector Romero, Jerrin Wagstaff
Chris Martin, “Everything is Finished Nothing is Dead: An Article on Abstract Painting,” The Brooklyn Rail, April 2003
I was stunned when I first read those words last spring. Certainly such a declaration of purpose was, at best,
immodest – even out-dated – given the ambitions and aspirations of 20th century abstraction, the myriad of
manifestos that has marked its history, the end of modernism and the subsequent critique that challenged notions of
authorship and originality – let alone any aspirations to the spiritual. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the
implications of Martin’s words and began making a list of the work of artists today that stirred in me that same sense
Immodesty is an exhibition that brings together the work of ten artists whose work takes on what some advocates of
abstraction might call the ultimate challenge: in the spirit of Kandinsky and in the words of Chris Martin, ”We are
trying to paint what is real.”
In 1985 the LA County Museum mounted, The Spiritual In Art,” an exhibition that examined modernism’s complex philosophical origins and its dependence on mysticism. Although the artists presented in this exhibition do not have an interest in the occult, their diverse approaches to abstraction suggest a desire for transformation and a practice that might be defined as devotional.
But of course none of this work is didactic or, in some cases, even transparent in terms of this aspiration, but
is embedded within a personal iconography and a seductive materiality.
Many of these artists draw from the sacred art of non-western cultures. Pijoan and Mitchell use fragile materials,
reminiscent of the sacred decorative arts of Mexico and India. Evans’ work translates hindu icons into vegetable
form that she decoratively embellishes while Stone’s “wrapped” sculpture simultaneously suggests both healing
and the weight of flesh and visceral decay. Koller creates contemporary fetish objects, inspired by non-western
ritual and the low-brow aesthetic of popular culture. Wagstaff’s enigmatic religious narratives are constructed
out of symbolic forms inspired by the Los Angeles landscape. And Martin, a New York artist and resident of
Williamsburg, references everything from tantra to psychedelia, infusing his body of work with a generous
extravagance that borders on the profane. Some of the work is based in a translation of systems in which
imagery from any and all sources collapse within the resultant visual intricacy. Both Krumpak’s and Roden’s
work employ rich visual overlays and inter-weavings of pattern that are gem-like in the paintings’ color and
complexity. And finally Romero’s intricate psychological drawings suggest the ruminations of a mind in an
All of these artists couple their “immodesty” with a complementary modesty. Whether the work is iconic or based on a patterned field, almost all of the work is small in scale. Further, the hand of the artist is present in all of these works, as evidenced in the actual mark-making or the transparency of the sometimes humble “handicraft.” And there is a modest sense of humor in all in all of this work – a visual kind of touch and tickle.
It’s not fashionable to admit to an interest in the spiritual aspects of art in our contemporary art world.
Spirituality – what does it even mean? And “devotional practice?” It could indicate anything from a reality tv
obsession to an habitual exercise routine.
And any art that touts itself as spiritual is rarely interesting. Too New Age. Too precious.
The artists included in Immodesty are of different generations, have different stylistic concerns and rich and
varied practices. All, I think, take on in very different ways, that profound subject: the reality of human frailty and
the belief in the possibility of transformation.
Artist's Info and Images
another year in LA is located at 2121 N. San Fernando Road, #13, Los Angeles, CA 90065
Gallery phone: 323-223-4000