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Sultan Draws From the Past and the Present

November 22, 1987|ZAN DUBIN

Donald Sultan may borrow an image or two from Manet, but roofing tar, butyl rubber, squares of vinyl tile and a late 20th-Century point of view make his works a mix of old and new.

Sultan, a New York-based artist, will be the subject of a one-person exhibition opening Tuesday at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Temporary Contemporary. More than 50 large- and small-scale paintings and charcoal drawings from 1981-87 comprise the final segment of MOCA's yearlong exhibition, "Individuals: A Selected History of Contemporary Art, 1945-86."

"This body of work by Sultan represents a singular vision," said MOCA assistant curator Elizabeth Smith, "or a unique tendency in art today: He takes much inspiration from history and has been inspired by many of the great masters of the past, and has joined this sensibility together with a very contemporary one."

Sultan uses many of the same still-life motifs that were chosen by his predecessors, said Smith, who installed the exhibit, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. For instance, the artist, who taught himself to draw by copying Rembrandt, Goya and Velasquez, fashioned his paintings of lemons in the exhibit after those of Francisco de Zurburan, 1598-1664, and Edouard Manet of the 19th Century.

A sense of resonance, not post-modern austerity, pervades Sultan's work as well.

"One of the real contributions of Sultan's paintings is his sense of physicality, of beauty and succor, which is also not frequently associated with painting of today, but very much so with ages past," Smith said.

However, "cityscapes," industrial landscapes and harbor scenes also populate Sultan's paintings, Smith said, made with materials such as tar and rubber, the stuff that contemporary urban life is littered with.

The artist worked as a builder early in his career, hence the modern industrial materials and often dark or muted tones of his paintings. Brilliant areas of color create sharp contrasts in the work, which teeters between representational and abstract, Smith said.

"You get only a general sense of the source of the image with many of his paintings," she said.

Sultan, who first showed his tar and vinyl-tile paintings in the pioneering Chicago artists' space, N.A.M.E. Gallery, seems to be attracted to duality in many forms. An exhibit of the artist's recent prints at the Cal State Long Beach University Art Museum in January elicited this statement from Times art writer Suzanne Muchnic:

"On one hand, this work is about as straightforward as art can be. On the other, it is so fundamentally equivocal that it causes us to question the very notion of mundane objects. Artists have been doing that for centuries, but they didn't often do it so directly."

Sultan "is definitely one of today's top New York painters of the younger generation," Smith said.

The Sultan exhibition is scheduled to run to Jan. 10. From MOCA, it is slated to travel to the Fort Worth and Brooklyn museums.

OPEN CALL: Emerging and established artists working in any media may enter the Artists' Liaison third annual competition, a three-part program that will provide opportunities for national exposure to artists throughout the nation.

The program consists of the following activities: A six-person jury will select about 40 artists for Artists' Liaison Major Exhibition, planned for fall, 1988, at the Evanston Art Center in Chicago; 25 gallery dealers from California and Chicago will select 175 artists whose work will be documented in a widely distributed catalogue; and about 125 more artists will be selected for shows in the dealers' galleries.

Los Angeles jurors selecting artists for the Major Exhibition are Elizabeth Smith, curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, and art critics Peter Clothier and Colin Gardner, a contributor to The Times' Friday Galleries column. Other judges are art critic Bruce Guenther, curator, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; James Yood, editor, New Art Examiner; and Judith Kirshner, curator, the Terra Museum.

A total of $10,000 in cash and purchase awards will also be presented to artists selected for the catalogue.

For a prospectus, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Artists' Liaison, 1341 Ocean Ave., No. 61, Santa Monica, Calif. 90401. Information: (213) 399-9306. Deadline for submissions is March 5.

PEOPLE: Kim Kanatani, an education specialist at the Museum of Contemporary Art, has been named "California's Outstanding Art Museum Educator for 1987" by the California Art Education Assn. Kanatani received the honor for developing "Contemporary Art Start," co-sponsored by MOCA and the Junior League of Los Angeles, now in its second year of operation, to introduce elementary students and teachers to contemporary art and culture.

John S. Gordon will leave his post as dean of the USC School of Fine Arts in December. In January, Gordon, a member of the USC faculty for 13 years, will join the staff of the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland as vice president for academic affairs.

GRANTS: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has won a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in a new grant category intended to support long-term programming by museums.

The new Special Artistic Initiatives grant of the endowment's Museum Program is designed "to define or reaffirm (a museum's) mission or to move in a new direction artistically through a carefully coordinated sequence of exhibitions, reinstallations, educational programs publications and interdisciplinary projects," said endowment chairman Frank Hodsoll in a prepared statement.

The County Museum of Art, one of eight museums awarded a total of $640,000 in federal matching grants, will use the funds to support the planning phase of a series of 24 monthly exhibitions from its permanent collection and related educational programs intended for the new Pavilion for Japanese Art, scheduled to open in spring or summer of 1988.

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