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The Distinct Worldview of Joyce and Max Kozloff


"Crossed Purposes: Joyce and Max Kozloff" is a visually sumptuous, two-part exhibition that pairs the work of Joyce and Max Kozloff, a painter-public artist and photographer, respectively. Organized by the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, this traveling show is divided between UC Riverside's Sweeney Art Gallery and the Otis Gallery and features Joyce Kozloff's map-based collage paintings (from 1993 to 1999) and Max Kozloff's dynamic, color-drenched photographs of parks, carnivals and open-air markets in India, Belgium, Colombia and other countries (from 1984 to 1998).

The Otis installation is the larger of the two, although both sites offer a terrific selection of works. Together, the two venues facilitate an enthralling conversation between artists-spouses who, until now, had never actively collaborated or explored the common threads that link their separate bodies of work.

Joyce Kozloff's earliest works from the late 1970s helped launch the Pattern & Decoration movement. Kozloff employs all-over patterns and colorful, repetitive motifs that recall those of mosaics, quilts or decorative textiles. She also incorporates "low" forms of crafts-making into the exalted tradition of painting by adding fabric, sequins, glitter or beads to her compositions.

Maps provide Joyce Kozloff with a compelling way to dissect different forms of standardized knowledge, particularly those that frame our understanding of other nations and cultures. In her recent map pieces, Kozloff sets a range of visual elements at play.

Dense with historical and cultural allusions, her mesmerizing collage-paintings incorporate things like paper cutouts, food recipes, torn book pages, postcards, rhinestones, anatomy drawings, movie stills, hand-drawn atlases and contemporary street guides, many of which are souvenirs collected during her travels. Usually, Kozloff cuts them up into postage-stamp-sized squares and arranges the pieces in radiating mosaics and swirling constellations.

From a distance, these incredibly elaborate paintings recall crazy quilts, flower beds, mosaic tiles or stained glass. Not only are they visually seductive, these spectacular works also speak to a range of complex issues concerning the world beyond the canvas itself, such as colonial legacies, ethnic biases and the relationship of knowledge to power.

Two maps at the Sweeney Gallery, titled "Naming" and "Naming II" (both 1996), replace the street names in Paris and New York with those of famous French and Jewish women from those cities. They remind us of the tradition of naming streets after famous men, and of how rarely we encounter streets and boulevards that similarly honor women of achievement.

Perhaps the most stunning piece by Joyce Kozloff at either venue is an installation at Otis Gallery titled "Mekong and Memory" (1996). It consists of a large vertical panel that stretches out horizontally across the ceiling to form a canopy. This central panel contains a map of the Mekong River, collaged from postcards and Vietnamese foil ornaments, and is flanked on either side by two narrow columns depicting scenes from violent, '70s-era movies.

Equally mind-blowing in their visual complexity are three works at Otis that address the lingering impact of British, French and Spanish colonialism. They combine maps from different historical periods, tiny film stills, vellum overlays, and sequins and glitter that evoke cities seen from the air at night.

Max Kozloff's photographs are a highly personal and intuitive means of "mapping" the places he visits. Compared to Joyce Kozloff's meticulously planned and executed paintings, his streetscapes appear haphazard. Snapped while walking through the streets and plazas of foreign cities, these images reflect a tourist's perspective of his strange and fascinating surroundings. They also depict ordinary urban street life as an organic and constantly evolving form of cultural expression.

The longer you study these photographs, however, the more you realize that Max (who is also a prominent photography critic and writer) pays just as much attention to texture, pattern and especially color as Joyce does. He activates every inch of photographic space, often canting the angle and collapsing foreground and background so that his subjects almost appear to be sliding into one another.

At the Otis Gallery, a standout piece titled "The Rhapsody of Geneva" (1985) suggests there is untapped formal elasticity within the otherwise straightforward genre of street photography. While photographing a street carnival in Geneva, Max Kozloff mistakenly returned an exposed film cartridge to his camera and reshot it, a common error that turned out to be fortuitous. He liked the filmy overlay of double-exposed images that resulted, and developed the negative into a 45-foot-long strip of double-exposed photographs that is mounted horizontally across the wall.

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