David Richard Contemporary in LA Arts Show

- January 17, 2012

“Carrying coals to Newcastle?”

I dropped into David Richard Contemporary the other day in order to see some more mid- to late-20th century work of California artists as part of my attempt to keep up on things relevant to PST, the mammoth Getty Museum-driven Pacific Standard Tim, the outpouring of art that is absorbing all the energies of so many galleries, movie screens, concert halls and museums in California during almost six months, bridging from last year into this. There were, in fact, few representatives of that era evident during my latest visit to this Lincoln Avenue space, which, almost always, has work of this kind. The space was, instead, filled with many packing crates poised to ship a mountain of California art back to California for the LA Art Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center January 18 -22, Carrying coals to Newcastle?

There was, however, a pair of wonderful shows in place until mid-to late-February: Beatrice Mandelman, Music in the Garden, and Ward Jackson, A Survey of Five Decades.

These being survey shows from the estates of these deceased artists, the work was often quite representational of the individual and varied output of each artist, although more so in Jackson’s case.

Jackson, an abstract painter who died in 2004, studied briefly with Hans Hoffman and was befriended by Hilla Rebay, the curator of the Guggenheim Museum. David Richard Contemporary describes his work in this way: “Inspired by Piet Mondrian and Josef Albers, his earlier gestural work from the1950s was replaced in the 1960s by simple reductive compositions comprised of hard-edged geometric shapes on square or diamond shaped canvases, which became his signature style and best known work. As a result of that transition, he showed a group of black and white diamond paintings in 1964 at the Kay Mar Gallery alongside artwork by Jo Baer, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Robert Ryman and Frank Stella in what became a seminal exhibition with respect to the early development of minimalism.”

That very accurate description notwithstanding, I was particularly taken with his earlier watercolor works, which, for me, evoked John Marin, without ever being, even remotely, derivative. I was also quite drawn to an untitled work from 1957-59 (above). As with these works, I found myself, at every turn, unable to move away from each piece in the show until I fully absorbed the complexity of the artist’s expression before I could move on to the next work. I viewed the show in chronological order, then doubled back to see some of my favorites and then randomly, all the while finding something new and fresh.

The exhibition, which runs through February 19, is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue with essays by Lilly Wei and Stephen Westfall and a bio written by Jackson’s nephew, Julian Jackson, and Rene Lynch.

The Beatrice Mandelman show, Music in the Garden, on view until February 25, is a feast for the eyes at every turn of one’s head.

This is a group of works that Mandelman produced during the1990s, when the artist painted a number of diptychs and triptychs in several series, such as "Jazz," "Carnival," "Moon," "Winter," "New York" and "Music."

The gallery describes her as “Influenced throughout her career by various artists who practiced a range of modernist styles from different art historical movements,” adding “much of her work from the 80s and 90s was a melding and fusion of the past into the present. She developed her own signature style though and extended into painting the same collage-like approach that she loved and utilized in her earlier works on paper.”

Though the above is well-stated, my approach to art is always separate from the written description of an artist's work. As strong and powerful as each of these pieces might seem when moving from large work to larger work all around the front space in the gallery, they can also be immensely personal, which is the way I found each to be. This is the kind of show that one must experience in person and one that does not translate viscerally to the spoken work. See it for yourself before the 25 of next month

The arc of Mandelman’s life story both mirrors Jackson’s and has a trajectory all its own. The mirroring occurred in the intersection of her career with other important artists of the 20th century as friends, teachers and fellow travelers in the art worlds of New York, Paris and Taos, among them Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Stuart Davis, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, Louis Ribak, Ed Corbett, Agnes Martin, Oli Sihvonen and Clay Spohn. Her life and art were richer for it all.