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Lesser-known artists are poised for a breakthrough

The Pacific Standard Time museum extravaganza will give some of the unsung heroes their due as well as their more celebrated colleagues.

September 18, 2011|By Jori Finkel, Los Angeles Times

There is one exception: David Hammons has become an art star for his socially loaded but intimate work using humble materials like margarine, cigarettes and his own hair. Jones says interviewing Hammons in the '80s led her to many other artists now in her show.

"He talked about an entire community of L.A. artists that basically supported him and gave him voice," she says. "David's phenomenal, don't get me wrong, but the isolated genius is not the story I want to tell. I want to tell the story of the whole community."

One section of her show focuses on local gallerists whom she considers strong artists in their own right. She calls Suzanne Jackson a "phenomenal painter … whose paintings have the lyricism of Francesco Clemente and precede Clemente by a decade."

Jones also names Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi, who have large installations in the show. Hassinger used wire rope with some of the gnarly effects of Eva Hesse; Nengudi filled pantyhose with sand, making bulbous hangings that anticipated Ernesto Neto. Both artists, trained in dance, also found unconventional ways to bring performance into their work, and they often collaborated. According to Jones, "They are the bridge between the finish-fetish group and the post-minimalist artists we know about in L.A.," she says.

Finish-fetish work and its more expansive, ephemeral cousin Light and Space are the subjects of "Phenomenal," the new show at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Museum Director Hugh Davies sees Doug Wheeler as one artist from the show poised for reappraisal.

He also names Mary Corse and Helen Pashgian as artists who have never gotten their due. "You don't have to be a psychiatrist to understand why," Davies says. "Much like New York minimalism, Light and Space here was a very macho movement too."

The San Diego show includes Corse's all-white canvases, which have glass micro-beads embedded in the acrylic paint to create a surface that shifts dramatically with the light. It also features examples of Pashgian's acrylic spheres — globes with an unreal glow, seemingly lighted from within. (Davies is not the only one betting on these artists: Pashgian just had a solo show in L.A. with Ace Gallery; Wheeler and Corse have shows coming up with David Zwirner in New York and White Cube in London, respectively.)

Karen Moss, a curator of the Orange County Museum of Art show on conceptual art, "State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970," says one of their biggest discoveries was Robert Kinmont. She says he has been off the art-world radar for years, partly because of his location in Sonoma ("State of Mind" is one of few Pacific Standard Time shows to include Northern California artists). But he has recently gained more attention, at least on the East Coast, through a 2009 show at the New York gallery Alexander and Bonin.

That's where Moss first saw his work, including a series of photographs from 1969 that show him holding a handstand in eight dramatic sites in the Sierra Nevada mountains, starting with the edge of a precipice. Moss and co-curator Connie Lewallen liked that image enough to make it the cover of their exhibition catalog.

"It felt right because the work is very much about the edginess, experimentation and also humor we associate with the period," says Moss. "He works the border between adventure and danger."

Moss also hopes the show will be an eye opener for people who think they know the work of Suzanne Lacy, an activist, community-oriented artist.

"People don't know about Suzanne's early performance work, her roots as a solo performance artist," says Moss. "They also don't know that she studied premed to become a doctor," she says, describing the theme of decomposition implicit in a 1973 work made of animal organs called "Lamb Construction" that is now being re-created.

MOCA's chief curator, Paul Schimmel, also chose Lacy, "an extraordinary artist who is right on the verge." In "Under the Big Black Sun," his sweeping survey about culture, politics and pluralism in the 1970s, he has included one of her public interventions: a map of Los Angeles, originally displayed near City Hall, on which she stenciled "RAPE" in red letters every time the crime was reported over three weeks in May 1977.

"It documents a sort of social atrocity in this very physical way," the curator says, suggesting that its blend of art and activism was ahead of its time. "I would be shocked if this piece [on loan from Lacy] doesn't end up in a major museum collection."

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