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Begamont Station Arts

People in Los Angelels  like to tell visitors not to miss the Bergamot Station Arts Center, where the megalopolis' hippest galleries are now located. With its 9.4 million inhabitants, this 30-mile-long, multiethnic, multilingual and multi-everything city has more than 250 galleries at last count, scattered in the LA's vast array of neighborhoods in Venice to Malibu, Santa Monica to Beverly Hills and Westwood to West Hollywood. All this makes it the U.S.'s seond largest art market, after New York, of course. While the old-line galleries have kept their deluxe addresses in Beverly Hills, La Brea and West Hollywood, teh newcomers are displaying their wares on the borderline between Venice and Santa Monica, in the Bergamot's Station Art Center, surrounded by modest middle class home with yards (but unusual– by LA standards–for their lack of swimming pool, a handicap compensated by the beach nearby). 

The Bergamot Center occupies form warehouse building augmented by inconspicious new structures. It is now home to 26 galleries, including three devoted exclusively to photography; four architecture and design offices, two of which specialize in lighting and layout for museums and other public spaces; a company that installs "outdoor sculpture" (which could bring to mind lawn jockeys); a picture framer; a printer, a Japanese papper storel a charity sales shop; a cafe where local artists' work is granted some grudging display; and auction facilities.  It also includes a vast exhibition space run by the Santa Monica Museum of Art, which opened last May with Liza Lou's show Back Yard & Kitchen. In short, this is a sort of artist's village where stroller might expect to discover the work of young artist from California, the rest of North America or just about anywhere else, for that matter. But unfortunately, with a few exceptions, this visitor's disappointment was as big as everything else in the state. More often than not, the pieces shown are medicore in quality and meant to please the tourist trade, with little novelty in terms of form or controversy in terms of content. Some of it is just plain kitsch that can't even be considered an ironic take on Tinseltown.

What does mkae this an interesting place to visit is that stylistic mix offered up by each gallery, as if they were selling bric-a-brac or other chatchkas. Aside from entertainment value, it also affords the chance to see some contemporary classics, such as Helen Frankenthaler paintings on paper from 1950s at the Bobbie Greenfield Gallery: work from the 1950s and '60s by Yayoi Kusama at the Taka Ishii Gallery (simultaneous with her excellent retrospective at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, see Art Press 236); and Anslem Kiefer's large-format woodcuts at the Shoshana Wayne Gallery. A show at the very well-respected Patricia Faure Gallery brought out the links between a leading figure in the LA hard-edged abstraction current of the 1950s, John McLaughlin (whose work is also on exhibition in Elusive Paradise, a retrospective covering the last 40 years of art in Los Angeles at the Museum of Contemporar Art), and today's younger California painters such as John Miller. This current was marked by geometric shapes and translucent surfaces, perhaps suggestive of the city's famous year-round sunlight, and represented the "contructed" side of California abstractionism, in contrast to the more expressionist painting of Sam Francis and Ed Moses.

In terms of strictly contemporary work, this typically Californian luminosity also infuses Jenny Okun's color architectural photos of the Getty Center (at the Craig Krull Gallery), while the black and white shotes by Texan Kieth Carter at the Gallery of Contemporary Photography are down-right horsy (pardon the stereotype). British photographer Lewis Morley's work at the Luisotti Gallery (which also represents Lewis Baltz) focuses on scenes of London life. 

Among the high points of this visit were Roy Arden's shots of broken-down cottages and ghasly landcapes in teh Vancouver area (at the Patricia Painter Gallery), along with Patrick Hughes' perspectivist paintings at the English gallery of Flowers West (which just opened an outpost in Bergamot) and the typical Richard Shelton large-formats portraits at the Sherry Frumkin Gallery. 

There was also a pleasant surprise at the Patricia Correia Gallery: paintings by the young British artist Jeremy Kidd, who now lives in Malibu, done from photos of objects and plants, covered with synthetic material.  The allusions to organic matter, body fluids and the constellations, and the contrast between material reality and deliberate illusion, give these works an original quality that is both playful and mysterious. Kidd's work is also included in the exhibition Pop Surrealism (at the Aldrich Musuem in. Ridgefield, Connecticut). The California Coagula coined its own term for this movement, "massurealism." But then, maybe that's ust another work for daily life on Venice Beach. 


SEPT 1, 1998



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