August 2009, First Look @ House of Campari

August 2009, First Look @ House of Campari
Matt Chambers, Time and Experience in the Poet, 2009, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 inches, Courtesy of Angstrom Gallery

First Look at House of Campari
8783 Beverly Boulevard, West Hollywood, California
May 30 through June 14, 2009

First Look: An Exhibition of Emerging Artists from Los Angeles Galleries

Juka Araikawa, Justin Beal, Matt Chambers, Cal Crawford, Noah Davis, Alejandro Diaz, Angela Dufresne, Brad Eberhard, Luis Gispert, Jonathan Hernandez, Kaws, Elad Lassry, Gonzalo Lebrija, Melissa Manfull, My Barbarian, Eamon Ore-Giron, Adrian Paules, Lisi Raskin, Noah Sheldon, Simmons & Burke, Agathe Snow, Mateo Tannatt, Mickalene Thomas, Kaari Upson, Jeffrey Wells and Andrew Schoultz


This enticing and eclectic showcase, First Look: An Exhibition of Emerging Artists from Los Angeles Galleries, was a tasting menu of the work of 25 artists worth watching. Presented by House of Campari, the exhibit seemed to be characterized by an intoxicating sense of optimism. This was in striking contrast to another recent local survey exhibit - Nine Lives, Visionary Artists from LA, at the Hammer Museum – a collection of works with a pervasive theme more disturbing than visionary. Although, curiously, there is some overlap - the work of Kaari Upson was featured in both exhibits.

In the dual role of patron and muse, Campari has a history of supporting the arts from its roots in Italy in the late 1800s. This latest offering, the company’s fourth annual group exhibition in Los Angeles, was curated by the New York arts consulting firm, Scenic. The common denominator of the exhibit: all the featured artists either just recently had their first Los Angeles solo show, or will have in the upcoming season.  

The showcase included an intriguing selection of painting, collage, photography, video and some 3-D installations, of which only a small number can be mentioned here. Also featured was a piece by San Francisco-based Andrew Schoultz, the recipient of the Campari Commissions Initiative, a grant awarded to one artist selected from the previous year’s group exhibit. His new work, Ten Thousand Leaves in Darkness, has striking visual resonance and layers of significance, embodying a sense of ancient mythological symbolism with an undercurrent of contemporary political commentary. Emerging from a dark background and darker foreground, a dramatic tree trunk branches out in graceful curves. Luminous multi-colored shapes - the leaves - radiate from the tree and scatter on the foreground. Painted in acrylic and gouache, the work also incorporates collage. Approaching the canvas, it becomes apparent the leaves are made from cut-up paper notes of different international currencies.

At first look, the piece appears to connote a whimsical sensibility, perhaps exploring the notion of a money tree. But on closer consideration, there’s more. Flanking both sides of the resplendent tree are two dead tree stumps. Beneath the façade is a comment on global environmental degradation, a suggestion that the tree - a symbol of nature - is corrupted by the man-made influence of money. Schoultz succeeds in conveying a political message without being heavy handed, creating art that can be appreciated for its harmonious aesthetic and technical fluency. His work has been shown in solo and group shows in the U.S. and Europe and is on view at Chelsea visits Havana, Cuba. A solo exhibit of Schoultz’s work, White Noise and Silence: New Paintings and Works on Paper, was on view at Roberts & Tilton in Culver City from June 13 to August 1, 2009.

Another intriguing piece, Time and Experience in the Poet, by Matt Chambers, also invited a second look. Using oil and acrylic, Chambers has painted swaths of color on canvas, which has been cut into strips. The strips are stretched across the frame in different directions, so they intersect, giving the painting dimension and depth - a woven quality. The interplay of colors almost appears to be random. Chambers has had solo shows at Angstrom Gallery in Los Angeles, where he lives, as well as New York and Vancouver.

Also of special note was Portrait of Wrestler #1, by Mickalene Thomas, the recipient of the 2007 Campari Commission. Painting in oils, Thomas has chosen an austere palette, restricted to umber and pale yellow hues. Rhinestones have been applied for shading the face and neck, outlining the features, and to emphasize the eyes and lips. The subject looks directly at the viewer, not in confrontation, but as if gazing inwards. The minimal palette and the textured rhinestones combine to achieve a dramatic effect. Thomas lives in Brooklyn NY, and has exhibited in numerous galleries and museums. Her first solo Los Angeles show was with Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects in 2007.

There was much more – a few brief mentions: Greeting viewers in the front of the space was an engaging larger than life painted fiberglass sculpture entitled, Chum (Yellow), by KAWS. Like a mascot for the show, the sculpture has something of a trompe l’oeil effect in that it resembles plastic – like an inflatable green Michelin man from another planet; Black Widow, a portrait by Noah Davis of a seated woman with an elaborate hat – her elongated form vaguely reminiscent of a Modigliani; the whimsical mixed media sculpture, Ace of Base, by Agathe Snow – an inventive harmony of disparate found objects; and, a compelling C-print by Gonzalo Lebrija, Entre la vida y la muerte, of a car suspended vertically in the air meeting its own reflection as it enters a glassy body of water.

Overall, the exhibit was dynamic and heartening- a promise of more exciting things to come from these emerging artists. The opening and closing events were multi-media works in themselves. KCRW, the local National Public Radio station, presented live music acts - the indie folk band, Port O’Brien and singer Anya Marina. A network of co-hosts included Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles County Museum Contemporary Art Council. Two bars and roaming waitresses, artfully attired with extravagant feathers poking out of their chignons, served tasty Campari and orange juice cocktails. This inspired exhibit, and its entrée on the local scene, is clearly intended to whet the appetite of an expanding audience for contemporary art - while cultivating a taste for Campari as part of the deal.

whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Megan Abrahams

Megan Abrahams is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. The managing editor of Fabrik Magazine, she is also a contributing art critic for Art Ltd., Fabrik, ArtPulse and Whitehot magazines. Megan attended art school in Canada and France. She is currently writing her first novel and working on a new series of paintings. 

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