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Lynn Geesaman, Seemingly at Crossroad, Treads Lightly

February 02, 2001|HOLLY MYERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The formal perfection and unique technical style of Lynn Geesaman's garden landscape photographs attest to the artist's many years of concentration on her subject and medium. Her color photographs have a peculiar watery texture, as though painted on thin sheets of glass. Her colors--soft greens and pinks, primarily--are sweet and ethereal. Her black-and-white photographs have a similarly glassy texture and utilize a wide range of creamy grays with a sharpness of focus that makes the images subtly surreal.

Both styles are distinctive and lend an element of fantasy to her solid compositions. At the same time, however, the body of her recent work currently on view at the Stephen Cohen Gallery seems to be poised at a crossroads.

Perhaps because the formal elements of the work are so resolute, the thematic tensions are ever more apparent. They seem to be pushing the work to the limits of its style. There is an uneasiness, for example, in the contrast between the masculine angularity of the narrow tree trunks, which structure many of Geesaman's compositions like disciplined squads of soldiers, and the lush feminine extravagance of the flowers, which engulf others in shapeless waves.

The distant sophistication of the black-and-white format, which tends to favor the sharp lines of the formal gardens, is at odds with the immediate, almost guilty pleasure of the color format, which embraces the broad, grandfatherly oaks and the profuse greenery of the more sensual gardens.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 8, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 54 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Art review--A photo accompanying a review of an exhibition of works by Kevin Hanley at ACME was inverted in Friday's Calendar. Also, the phone number for the gallery is (323) 857-5942. It was listed incorrectly in the article.

The most pressing tension, however, is the one between the dependable marketability of lovely landscape photographs and the more treacherous space of photographic experimentation. On the whole, Geesaman seems to be treading lightly, as though hesitant to offend either those who will appreciate (and purchase) her photographs for their decorative qualities and those who will value their strangeness.

I fall into the latter camp. In exploring these photographs, I found myself longing for recklessness, for a decisive break with the starched traditions of the picturesque. There is a brilliant quality to her strangeness--the best of her color photographs are like dreamy, girlish acid trips--and I found myself mentally urging her to embrace that strangeness boldly. The path of formal perfection has its share of ruts. It would be a shame to see such dynamic work resign itself to one of them.

* Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 937-5525, through Mar. 10. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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The Modern: The early work of Dorr Bothwell, who died last fall at the age of 98, reads like an interpretive textbook of mid-century Modernism. The works on view at Tobey Moss Gallery (which date from 1924-1955) move through art historical categories with the ease and eagerness of a comic doing impressions: Social Realism, Fauvism, Surrealism, Dadaism, etc.

It would not be appropriate to call the work derivative, however. Bothwell was not imitating other artists, but rather participating in contemporary styles as they developed, examining and engaging them on their own terms. In moving through her oeuvre, one comes to appreciate art history--particularly Modern art history--not as a parade of primarily white, male heroes but as a form of community, into which people have entered and worked with a degree of metaphysical entanglement.

This work lacks the sort of signature trademarks that might have distinguished Bothwell's name in popular memory. But in their absence, the work possesses a refreshing sense of versatility and restlessness--driven by an apparently unflagging enthusiasm for color and form. In relieving the viewer of the obligation to grope for grand signature themes, Bothwell's unself-consciously variegated approach allows one to take pleasure in the work's small revelations: the exquisitely smooth rendering of conical rooftops in a Gauguin-like portrait of a Samoan village, for example, or the elegant use of line in a small, wonderfully intimate sketch of a Siamese cat.

Above all, Bothwell's early oeuvre might be characterized as a passionate exploration of the two-dimensional surface. It is not particularly reflective work--not distinguished by great emotional depth or psychological complexity. But its spirit is curious, sprightly, and agile, clearly fascinated with style as a noble exercise, and marked by a seemingly irrepressible and entirely enchanting sense of humor.

* Tobey Moss Gallery, 7321 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 933-5523, through Feb. 28. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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