publication of the International Sculpture Center
Absolut L.A. International Biennial Art Invitational 2003
by Collette Chattopadhyay
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Fontana, Concetto spaziale, 1960-65. Terra cotta, 15.5 cm x 23 cm.
Photo courtesy of Studio la Citta, Verona.
Inaugurated in 1993
to foster rapport between Los Angeles and the international art world,
the L.A. International Biennial recently celebrated its sixth season.
The exhibits profiled over 200 artists from North and South America, Australia,
Asia, Africa, and Europe, and nearly a quarter showcased sculptures or
installations. Several early 20th-century artists anchored the throng
of contemporary works that appeared in over 75 galleries and museums around
the L.A. basin.
and Lucio Fontana were profiled at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
and the Patricia Faure gallery respectively. Their early study of world
art fostered sculptural abstraction in the first half of the 20th century
and opened European art to previously ignored cross-cultural horizons.
In the age of globalization, dialogues have moved beyond their explorations,
toward the more equitable discussions highlighted by the L.A. International.
Perhaps the peripatetic
lives of Modigliani and Fontana partly account for their newfound popularity.
Modiglianis six sculpted heads, featured in the center of an exhibit
devoted predominately to painting, proved psychologically powerful. Borrowing
from ancient Aegean and pre-modern Ivory Coast art, Modigliani evolved
a signature archetypal idiom that crosses cultural and temporal borders
in the interpretation of modern individuality.
work, Fontanas is infused with a simplification of form that owes
a debt to the groundbreaking works of Brancusi who was 23 years Fontanas
senior. Following Brancusis death, Fontana paraphrased with breathtaking
directness Brancusi s Newborn. Rendered in clay that looks as though
it may not have been fired, rather than in marble, Fontanas Concetto
spaziale extends Brancusis inherent simplification and perfection
of form while altering the meaning of Newborn. Marking the egg/head form
with his signature slash, Fontana both names himself Brancusis heir
and announces the end of an artistic era.
i Arago, Tres mares, 1996. Bronze, single casting, 65 x 66.75
The Faure gallery
also showed works by Piero Manzoni, Luigi Carboni, and Pier Paolo Calzolari.
Using the simplest of materials, the Arte Povera artist Calzolari transformed
the gallerys back room into a peaceful, meditative chamber. Juxtaposing
thin neon tubes with flaming off-white candles, his works transcended
time and space, accentuating humanitys fascination with and reverence
for light. His sculptural odes to electric light also carried metaphors
of arts fragile relationship to life, where the artificial replaces
the real in ways that can be wondrous and spellbinding.
The sculptural works
of Guatemalan artist Lissie Habie at the nearby William Turner gallery
were even more hypnotic. Presenting imagined worlds that narrate tales
of hope, love, faith, bondage, and tyranny, Habies poignant works
converse with Magic Realism. Disturbing yet rewarding, her sculptures
unfold parables distinctive for their breadth of imagination, touched
with the consciousness of lifes finite nature.
Riera i Aragos
seemingly insouciant works, shown across town at the Tasende Gallery,
proved equally poetic. This Spanish artist plays the essence of real things
against their quixotic possibilities. His sculpture of a boat perilously
balanced atop a pyramid of water basins spoke of the struggle for survivalthe
vessel surfs an imagined wave whose power emerges from ever-expanding
pools of energy. Envisioning boats, airplanes, and submarines, his sculptures
explore travel in archetypal terms, encouraging viewers to journey beyond
the here and now to the liberating realms of invention and fantasy.
of the imagination to real space, the German artist Christine Rusche transformed
the Robert Berman venue into an expansive space by means of an architectural-scaled
installation drawing. Adding lines of perspectival illusion on the gallery
walls, Rusche visually transformed the rooms dimensions, creating
the illusion of a skylight lit space replete with a free-floating staircase
leading to a second level, and an expanded spatial depth for the gallerys
Such inventive approaches
to space were counter-balanced by the more sardonic inquiries of Rosamund
Purcell and Jean Lowe. Purcells installations at the Santa Monica
Museum of Art intertwined a late 1950s Beat aesthetic with contemporary
neo-gothicism. Following her earlier body of photographic work that questioned
the epistemological nature of art, Purcell toys with relationships between
the real and the replicated. For this installation, she created a replica
of a 17th-century curiosity cabinet known from an etching by the Danish
physician Olaus Worm.
conundrums, Jean Lowes works at the Rosamund Felsen gallery participated
in the spirit of the biennial by focusing on American consumer fixations
with 19th-century French Empire period furnishings. Fashioning faux imperial
furniture and furnishings in papier-mâché, Lowe questions
the continued relevance of the original, handmade art object in the post-industrial,
mechanical age. She sculpts, for example, a suite of papier-mâché
copies of Berninis Apollo and Daphne. Wryly playing with the Greek
myth of Daphnes miraculous transformation into a tree at the moment
when Apollo attempts to ravage her, Lowe paints each papier-mâché
sculpture a different faux wood grain, as though trying to guess which
type of tree Daphne became. Through these processes she metaphorically
suggests that the artistic era of material essences has been replaced
by a world fascinated by resemblances and replicas.
But it was the unconventional
roving sculptural work Charlie, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, that
played the trump card in the biennial. Created by the provocative Italian
artist Maurizio Cattelan, this work featured a sculpted young boy riding
a tricycle through the museum galleries under the watchful guidance of
museum staff members. Literally interjecting childs play into the
museum context, Charlie served to remind viewers that art can appear when
least expected, creating spontaneous, humorous, and even unexpected moments
of insight and pleasure.