Whitehot Magazine

David Kordansky Gallery Celebrates a 20th Anniversary with a Quintessential Californian Art Show

Betty Woodman, Red Room with Lattice, 2010, glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, acrylic paint, and canvas. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery.


20 Celebrating David Kordansky Gallery’s 20th Anniversary 

David Kordansky Gallery

July 8 through August 19, 2023 

By LITA BARRIE, August 2023

For twenty years, David Kordansky has played an important role as a facilitator of productive dialogues between California artists. The pioneering gallery’s ascension from a modest space in Chinatown in 2003, to a mid-size gallery in Culver City in 2008, to an impressive 25,000 square-foot gallery in the heart of mid-city Los Angeles in 2014, parallels L.A.’s ascension from a provincial to a global art city.

Mega-galleries like Hauser & Wirth, Spruth Magers, Pace Gallery and David Zwirner began opening impressive locations in L.A. in 2016 – already the home base of the Gagosian global network of galleries – in an effort to establish an international presence in a blossoming art metropolis known for its world class experimental artists, outstanding art schools and growing art collector base. However, Kordansky has a much deeper understanding of California art having studied at CalArts. He graduated in 2002 as a conceptual and performance artist, and soon applied this performative ethos to create an artist-centric gallery. Building on his close friendships with artists who were mostly CalArts graduates (including Lesley Vance who was the first artist he exhibited), Kordansky came to prominence by expanding his exhibition program to represent a greater number of intergenerational artists, from rising stars like Lauren Halsey to superstars like Mary Weatherford, Fred Eversley, Jonas Wood, Richard Tuttle and the late Betty Woodman, Sam Gilliam and Tom of Finland. It is a closely knit community of artist friends some of whom are even married to each other, whose lives and work are intertwined and informed by ongoing discussions with Kordansky and his artist wife Mindy Shapero. 

Mario Ayala, Lipstick Bail Bonds, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 51 x 61 inches, (129.5 x 154.9 cm), Photo: Grant Gutierrez, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery

Like the other most ambitious homegrown L.A. galleries - notably, Blum and Poe, Regen Projects, Kohn Gallery and Kayne Griffin Cocoran (now owned by Pace Gallery) – Kordansky’s gallery became world class when he expanded his space by purchasing  industrial buildings in mid-city L.A., refurbishing them to reflect the visual atmospherics of California in a light-filled architectural design that combines beautiful landscaping with outdoor sculptures. Kordansky collaborated with Kulapat Yantrasast, an L.A.- based architect, originally from Bangkok, who has designed a number of commercial galleries and museums.Yantrasast’s design for Kordansky Gallery connects adjacent 1930s-era buildings including Jackie Chan’s former martial arts studio, a car repair shop, and a food market, and retains the integrity of the gallery’s industrial roots by exposing infrastructure and ducts through cutouts in the ceilings of the entry, private viewing room and offices. Even the original bow trusses are striped and re-stained in a subdued gray tone that complements the color of the highly varnished concrete floors. This ethereal space, surrounded by high concrete walls covered in pretty creeping fig, has become a landmark alongside La Brea Avenue – a thoroughfare which is now a bustling hub of new developments inspired by the construction of the Wilshire/La Brea Metro Station, scheduled to open next year.

Kordansky’s gallery rooms are ideally suited to showing exhibitions of two or more artists in dialogue with one another. For the current exhibition, 20, Kordansky has taken his passion as an advocate for contemporary art to a new level, skillfully leveraging his ability to both critique art and facilitate art dialogue. He invited the 45 artists he represents to participate in the exhibition, which also includes iconic artworks selected from the estates of three who are now deceased. A few artists even made new work to celebrate their close friendship with Kordansky. In Derek Fordjour’s meticulously detailed new portrait of himself and Kordansky, both are dressed in hot pink, sitting on a comfortable couch in a living room filled with art. 

Kordansky is sometimes quoted talking about his interest in art that addresses sex and death and uses contradictory qualities. This exuberant exhibition provides several throughlines for the viewer to have fun navigating and enjoying the dark humor of recurring motifs of tumescent penises and wacky skeletons. In addition, four small pen drawings by the late Tom of Finland provide a hilarious take on gay S&M and bondage.

Another captivating throughline of this exhibition is a recurring references to L.A. car culture, especially “low riders” and advertising signage as seen in the vibrant paintings and mixed media artworks by black and Latino artists, like Mario Ayala’s painting of a hot pink car with “Lipstick Bail Bonds” painted on the back window. The street signage seen in these artworks also emphasize ethnically diverse cultures with different languages. Lauren Halsey, who grew up in South Central L.A., is an Afrofuturist who uses assemblage to look at the future and alternate realities through a Black cultural lens. Her new work for this exhibition, “portal hoppin hood poppin’, combines numerous unexpected photographs including one of an Egyptian sculpture in a black man’s peaceful garden juxtaposed against the surrounding auto parts and low riders. Amusing chicken sculptures stand in front of this light-hearted mixed media work.

Fred Eversley, Untitled ( parabolic lens), 2022, 2-color, 2-later cast polyester. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery.

Surprising juxtapositions serve as another intriguing throughline in this exhibtion. A beautiful painting by Jonas Wood looks at first like three separate small Japanese landscapes but closer  inspection reveals that it is a single painting that uses a subtle geometric gray and white background to create an illusion of depth of space which makes the profusion of green foliage in the exquisite landscapes stand out. Wood’s vibrant still lifes are like David Hockney paintings on steroids. He pays homage to his venerated predecessor by playing with multiple overlapping perspectives while amping up the bright saturated color hues and raising the viscosity of the paint medium. Like Hockney, he draws on the world around him in an ongoing exploration of Los Angeles’ visual dynamics and vernacular tradition. Hilary Pecis’  sun-drenched cityscape is a vibrant tableau of geometric patterning, bold linework and distorted perspectives filled with street signage. Her work juxtaposes the influence of Ed Ruscha with Fauvist complementary colors like turquoise and orange. 

Mary Weatherford’s large-scale Color Field painting with an illuminated sea-blue neon light tube - inspired by the neon signs she saw on old restaurant and factory buildings while driving around Bakersfield - is a magnificent visual translation of an ocean view. The late master painter, Sam Gilliam is represented by a 2018 draped work on cerex nylon. Gilliam’s drapped canvas paintings were recognized as a major contribution to the Color Field School in 1965 because he was the first artist to introduce the novel idea that a painted canvas could hang without strecher bars around it.   

Lauren Halsey, portal hoppin hood poppin, 2023, mixed media on foil-insulated foam and wood, 122 1/4 x 105 3/4 x 18 1/2 inches, (310.5 x 268.6 x 47 cm) Photo: Allen Chen, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery

20 is  filled with sculptures in all shapes and forms. Evan Holloway’s tongue-in-cheek aluminum sculpture functions as a large incense holder with an elegant curved shape that echoes the curls of incense ash. Two small, intimate postminimalist works by Richard Tuttle play with scale and line and also challenge rules of genre and media by merging aspects of painting and sculpture to collapse the boundaries between the artwork and its surrounding space. Legendary Fred Eversley’s new two-color parabolic lens is installed in the center of the first gallery room so that viewers can see reflections of themselves and other artworks in this room via these ethereal sculptures. Eversley is the only black artist in the first generation of the Light and Space movement, and came to prominence because he had a special skill set as an aerospace engineer-turned-artist. He read about the parabola – first postulated by Isaac Newton – when he was 13 years old, and immediately started experimenting to find a way to make a parabolic form, because it is the only shape that concentrates all forms of energy into a single focal point. His iconic parabolas have mesmerized a broad audience from both the worlds of art and science for over 50 years. 

Installation view

The exhibition also features ceramics, dramatically ranging from a micro- and macro-scale. Doyle Lane’s tiny, exquisite ‘Weed Pots’ are only 3 or 4 inches high, spherical or elliptical and designed to hold a dried sprig of weed. The double glazes have a timeless quality that resembles archaic, Peruvian and Chinese ceramics. Ruby Neri’s large ceramic sculpture combines abstraction and figuration draws upon Bay Area Figuration, German Experessinism, folk art and graffiti. She explores the way the human body can be an instrument of both pain and pleasure which positions her in the linegage of Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy. An exuberant work by the late Betty Woodman in her exceptional formal vocabulary that synthesizes ceramic sculpture and painting is a highpoint of this exhibition because her groundbreaking work is so radical she is still ahead of her time. 

Derek Fordjour, Anniversary, 2023, acrylic, charcoal, cardboard, oil pastel, and foil on newspaper mounted on canvas, 62 1/4 x 92 1/4 inches
(158.1 x 234.3 cm), Photo: Daniel Greer, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery

The extraordinary quality of the innovative artworks featured in this momentous exhibition are a celebration of a uniquely artist-centered gallery, which is analogous to the progression of L.A. art history. Before there was an L.A. artscene a small group of artists in Venice who were close buddies (Larry Bell, Ed Ruscha, Bob Irwin and Billy Al Bengston) began experimenting with new and found materials to respond to the distinctive qualities of California light, wide open spaces, car and surfer cultures. They became living legends who inspire later generations of L.A. artists -  including artists of color who come from ethnically diverse neighborhoods they respond to with the same passion in a wider conversation about art today. Many of the younger artists also draw influences from the 80s “bad boy” artists like Mike Kelley, Paul MCarthy, Chris Burden and Jim Shaw.  L.A. has become an artist city, much like its sister city Berlin, but it is also a vast laboratory for new inventions. This is the city where people came to create movies, rockets to explore outer space, electric cars, punk music, and street fashion. Experimental art will continue to evolve in L.A. because it is such a wide open space where people have the freedom to invent wonderful new things, new lifestyles and new ways to think about everything. David Kordansky Gallery is unique because it embodies this spirit of irrepressible curiosity by representing artists who live and breathe art, just as Kordansky does. WM



Lita Barrie

Lita Barrie is a freelance art critic based in Los Angeles. Her writing appears in Hyperallergic, Riot Material, Apricota Journal, Painter’s Table, ArtnowLA, HuffPost, Painter’s Table, Artweek.L.A, art ltd and Art Agenda. In the 90s Barrie wrote for Artspace, Art Issues, Artweek, Visions andVernacular. She was born in New Zealand where she wrote a weekly newspaper art column for the New Zealand National Business Review and contributed to The Listener, Art New Zealand, AGMANZ, ANTIC, Sites and Landfall. She also conducted live interviews with artists for Radio New Zealand’s Access Radio. Barrie has written numerous essays for art gallery and museum catalogs including: Barbara Kruger (National Art Gallery New Zealand) and Roland Reiss ( Cal State University Fullerton). Barrie taught aesthetic philosophy at Claremont Graduate University, Art Center and Otis School of Art and Design. In New Zealand, Barrie was awarded three Queen Elizabeth 11 Arts Council grants and a Harkness grant for art criticism. Her feminist interventions are discussed in The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand and an archive of her writing is held in The New Zealand National Library, Te Puna Matauranga Aotearoa.

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