Hunter Drohojowska-Philp Reviews Billy Al Bengston’s Current Exhibition


Miklos, 1965

 

Another artist influenced by Voulkos and ceramics in the 1960s is Billy Al Bengston. A wide ranging survey of his paintings from that time to the present is on view at Samuel Freeman through October 29. Selected from the artist’s studio, there are many surprises including a couple of 1965 muted trapezoids with chevrons in the center.

In addition, there is a boutique of sorts, “Billy’s World,” based on Jams World, maker of the Hawaiian shirts favored by Bengston and for $2200 you can own a customized shirt with patterns of leaves and orchids echoing those on the paintings.

image: Billy Al Bengston, “Miklos,” 1965 Lacquer on formica; 30.25 x 40in

Italian architect and designer Gaetano Pesce, born in 1939, is known for battling against the rigid and rational aspects of modernism. His own website proclaims that for him, “modernism is less a style than a method for interpreting the present and hinting at the future in which individuality is preserved and celebrated.”

That individuality has led to curvaceous chairs, tables shaped like ponds or puddles and wildly unconventional vases molded in cast resign. In Gaetano Pesce: Molds (Gelati Misti)on view through November 27, there are vases in as many shapes as dried pasta. Drips, curls and waves conspire with little regard for their functional mandate. The translucent plastic glows in rich tones of scarlet, gold or emerald, sometimes combined on the same vessel. At the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Pacific Design Center location, there are dozens of the charming creatures arrayed on pedestals or platforms. Some stand on little tripod feet, others are covered in rounded bumps, or surrounded by a mass of soft spaghetti. Each has great personality.

Pesce also trained as a glass blower in the Murano studio of Venini and that awareness is evident. But these vases are made of poured and cast resin, which lends them an industrial and slightly naughty aura as well as making them less precious.

It is not that easy to see a big group of Pesce’s work so the show is definitely worth a visit. However, though MOCA senior curator Bennett Simpson is given partial credit for the show, it is co-organized by John Geresi, self-proclaimed scholar on the work of Pesce and, a more significant problem, the single largest donor. Letting Geresi, a former banker, present 31 pieces from his own collection, MOCA courts the accusation of allowing its reputation as an independent institution to be sullied. If Geresi had promised the works as a gift, that’s another story, but right now MOCA is simply enhancing the value of Geresi’s collection.

In addition, checklists for the show are frustrating to decipher and there is no catalog. Though Pesce’s visions and vases are wonderful and the show is staged outside of the Pacific Design Center, it might as well be inside in one of the commercial dealer’s showrooms. In the wake of similar accusations when Jeffrey Deitch was director at MOCA, there really should a greater awareness there of even the appearance of conflict of interest.

Ceramic artist Jun Kaneko, born in Nagoya, Japan in 1942, studied ceramics in Chouinard in the 1960s under legendary Peter Voulkos. Like that artist, he has produced ceramic sculpture on an architectural scale, casting it in huge kilns. Edward Cella Art + Architecture presents a single example, a monolith larger than a Sub-Zero and glazed in Kaneko’s signature cream and black. It stands alone in the center of the gallery but a long bending wall built by Kaneko to extend from the entrance, along a corridor and through the gallery is painted in thin stripes of neon color. It feels like walking into a sunset and then coming upon a monumental totem. Kaneko has been praised for his opera sets including staging operas lately, including Madame Butterfly opening this November in San Francisco and this installation has an operatic presence of its own. It is on view through October 29.

Another artist influenced by Voulkos and ceramics in the 1960s is Billy Al Bengston. A wide ranging survey of his paintings from that time to the present is on view at Samuel Freeman through October 29. Selected from the artist’s studio, there are many surprises including a couple of 1965 muted trapezoids with chevrons in the center.

In addition, there is a boutique of sorts, “Billy’s World,” based on Jams World, maker of the Hawaiian shirts favored by Bengston and for $2200 you can own a customized shirt with patterns of leaves and orchids echoing those on the paintings.

Finally, one of my favorite fall events takes place this weekend and it is art of a different sort. Elite, even Olympian, equestrians worldwide gather for Longines Masters, the show jumping competition held this year in Long Beach rather than the downtown convention center. There will be million dollar horses galloping over five foot jumps at record speed to collect the big prize money. But with a dedicated following of the big rich and their equestrian offspring, there is plenty of people watching as well. The Springsteens are regulars, coming to cheer their talented daughter, Jessica.