Sunday, August 16, 2009

Where's our Bergamot Station?

I spent the last few days wandering around Los Angeles and stopped to see the current shows at Bergamot Station. The obvious perk of this place is that, among the forty or so galleries and artist spaces that are there, you are bound to find something that speaks to you. While I saw plenty of things I liked, my particular favorite had to be the current two-man show at The Gallery of Functional Art.

First there was Chris Mason, who's wire sculptures were on display in the front room. These pieces were a certain homage to the human form. The swirling wires did well to promote the movement of climbing in the otherwise fixed forms. The big figure, frozen in mid-rappel down the gallery wall, was probably most impressive to me, but what worked in the larger format was not lost in the smaller pieces. There is no question that Mason has a solid grasp on things like form and contour, and somehow I get the feeling that the guy has a good sense of humor.

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The second artist on display in The Gallery of Functional Art was painter Martiros Adalian. Having Armenian heritage myself, I was immediately drawn to the -ian suffix of his last name. However (and happily), his paintings were the real draw. I never take a painter like Adalian for granted, and often I think his breed takes a back seat to displays of weaker aesthetics mired in conceptual fog. Not that there isn't fodder for conceptual musing in these paintings (the juxtaposition of regal figures next to vicious K9s for one), but I would argue that the foundation of these works clearly consists of the paint, the forms, and the other various visual elements. The faces in particular have that certain quality of brushstroke that cannot be faked (must be seen in person). Adalian's attention to brushwork as well as to composition for me reinforces the power of representational painting as an art form more honest than realism but more relative than pure abstraction (a shared tenant with current gallery feature Ron Tomlinson's work).

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There were of course other shows worth seeing at Bergamot. I enjoyed seeing one of Alida Cervantes's portraits prominently displayed at Greenfield Sacks (the image of which is on their homepage). It was, as always, good to see the work of the late Peter Voulkos, which was at the Frank Loyd Gallery. I actually just saw some of the same works at Braunstein/Quay Gallery up in San Francisco and seeing them in a different environment was helpful in getting to know them better. The SMMoA (also housed at Bergamot Station) has an exhibition of Barkley Hendricks, most of which I saw for the first time at the Nasher Museum at Duke University last year. For those who like Hendricks, I would strongly recommend checking out Sedrick Huckaby, another influential up and coming African American painter who's work is seriously mesmerizing (I find him far superior to Hendricks). The Mostly Sculpture (Damn It) exhibition at Samuel Freeman was very intriguing, the wall of wax hammers (pictured below) was a favorite of mine.

All in all, the trip to Bergamot Station will not be a waste of your time. By far the most nagging thought I walked away with from my visit was how badly San Diego is in need of a place like this. From what I have heard, seen, and read, Bergamot Station, originally funded by the City of Santa Monica, has been a serious boon to the art scene in Los Angeles as well as to the overall cultural fabric of Southern California since its conception in 1994. Why has this not yet happened somewhere in San Diego? Don't we have some trendy industrialized location somewhere? Don't we have the funds? The artists? The interest? Any ideas??