Sunday, February 20, 2011

Steve Roden and John O' Brien at Cerritos College Art Gallery

"drawn into dialogue" Curated by James Mac Devitt,
Cerritos College Art Gallery.

Architecture in Peril...
Cerritos College Art Gallery, history of the architecture and its current state
john o brien and steve roden This exhibition is on the advent of a major reconstruction to the art gallery facilities at Cerritos College, located in the city of Norwalk, California.
In the mid-1950's, the seminal architecture firm Kistner, Wright and Wright were asked to create an affordable, modern and efficient art department facility for the then burgeoning historic Rancho Los Cerritos neighborhood east of Los Angeles. KWW's architectural aesthetic is inspired by Postmodernism, and rooted in DeStijl, Bauhaus, and centered around the notions of simplicity, harmony and function.

The initial construction coincides roughly around the time of the California Master Plan for Education in the 1960's.

As beautifully stated by James Mac Devitt, the curator of the Cerritos Art Gallery in the show statement excerpts:

The beautiful fragility of that post-war California dream is now reflected in the deteriorating facades of many of the buildings on the 21st century Cerritos College campus, including the Fine Arts building that houses the gallery. With eyes perpetually on the future, the dreamer that was/is Modernism just wasn't/isn't prepared to deal with the boring reality of maintenance. Modernism was never really interested in preserving the past or the status quo, even it meant giving up its utopian credibility.

We find ourselves at a very unusual moment in time, when our pristine dreams for the future sit side-by-side with the decaying dreams our past. We would be remiss if we allow this chance of self-reflection to pass by without comment and/or critique.

Here is a video of the site-specific sculpture created for the courtyard of the Cerritos College Art Gallery.

Art Installation Process is a "Duet"

The collaboration between the two artists, and the dialog that is reciprocal with the work makes for a contemplative and engaging show that is a reflection of the past, a nod to the future, and a moment caught in time.

The work of the two artists is distinctly different, but not without common threads, and a common understanding. The two are long-time friends, so it is only natural that their work bears a relationship already inherent in their personalities, interests and subsequently their friendship.
It is this friendship that upholds the integrity of the collaborative process. With that comes mutual respect as well as a kindred relationship with themes and execution. That aside, it is not entirely relevant to the work itself, but more of a point toward the nature of collaborations and the impact they make in the public sphere.

In this case, we see a coming together of minds on a visceral level with regard to time, and to subject matter. Both artists have created works that reflect the language inherent in the landscape, both as metaphor and as concrete examples.

Inherent relationships with the landscape
...more dialogue
john o brien, Storied Landscapes, Paesaggi StoriciIn the collaborative process, both artists mixed and matched work from their drawing archives as well as created new work that was site-specific and sight-inspired, if I can use the term plainly.
Two overlying themes are addressed in the work; that of the architecture - the main reason for the show in the first place, and that of the landscape - the decomposition, degradation, utopia, or the myth of utopia.
Architecture is called out in the metal "cages" created for the gallery space, as well as a site-specific sculpture outside that includes a sound piece. The landscape comes through in the drawings displayed in the gallery.

A few of my favorite pieces were a series by John entitled "Paesaggi Storici (Storied Landscapes)".
I immediately drawn to the apocalyptic, sublime beauty of the painterly places on the work, and the messages in the collage placement of photographs, repeated on the paper surfaces.

Geometry and Architecture
...further construction of the deconstruction
In addition to the works on paper by both artists there were metal grids that John had built and they were installed on the walls of the gallery, with the drawings behind them.

I have mixed reviews of these structures. Frankly, I found it distracting, and it gave a Jail quality to the space. It also confused the space, and it was unclear if these girds were permanent. Perhaps that is the most interesting thing about my observation because of the nature of the show and the reason for it...(see the "Architecture in Peril" Link for more on this).

Since both artists are such strong thinkers, I would not be surprised if this is exactly what they were going for , this jail/permanent/impermanent quality.

Regardless, my personal opinion I would have rather seen these grids made into a sculpture that created a structure within the space, rather than creating a mirrored wall/architecture response.
Either that, or perhaps one wall with this wall sculpture, but not with the drawings behind and in them...this is just my aesthetic choice.
More inherent relationships with the landscape
Both artists work with abstraction, but Steve's work differs from John's in its use of geometry related abstraction, as opposed to a more expressionistic realm that John explores. I like both equally but for these differing reasons.

In particular, although not the most geometric in the show as Steve's "Space Station (for Bruno Taut)".
Taut was a German architect of the Weimar period, and I am familiar with his "Glass Pavilion" - a helix/domed roof of colorful stained glass & concrete created in 1914.

The piece that Steve created has obvious references to Taut's architecture - the hex shapes, multi colors reminiscent of stained glass....but what attracted me to it was my landscape interpretation of the work. I read the shapes as crystals, before I read the title of the piece. In viewing it, a sharp, cold terrain came to mind. Knowing the title and the artists intent I see a nod toward man's intervention with the landscape and a dual meaning with destruction. I also see a visual attempt to relate to nature that architecture plays.
I also related to the black background and the ways that the colorful shapes were scattered on the page reminded me of the sky translation work that I do.

In short, I felt a kindred spirit with the works by both artists.

Steve Roden: In Between
excerpt for the catalog description for his solo show at Amory Center for the Arts.
Southern California artist Steve Roden is known as more than a painter; his internationally acclaimed, multi-media sound-driven works use musical scores that offer him a set of options to compose a segment of painting, sculpture, or other formal composition. Roden's every artwork, whatever its form, is both familiar yet utterly unexpected. He's an eccentric virtuoso whose paintings look abstract, but only in the way that a chair, a tree, a face or even a Pop-Tart becomes abstract the longer you look at it. This catalog of a 20-year mid-career survey of Roden's work includes an illustrated essay by curator Howard N. Fox and a CD with the four soundtracks from Roden installations.

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