06/19/2013 12:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Art Thoughts

Stefan Altenburger

First, please note: I don't usually write about work without having seen it at first hand, but I'm making an exception in the case of Gwynn Murrill's major installation on Avenue of the Stars in Century City. I have been a fan of Gwynn's work since the early 1970s, when she was creating life-size animal forms (mostly cougars and coyotes) out of laminated wood. These beautiful and profoundly moving sculptures attracted me both as sensuous abstract forms, and as eerily life-like evocations of the spirit of the creatures they represented. Since that time, the artist's work has evolved and matured, with different materials and a growing repertoire of species drawn from the natural world. From the handsome book of photographs put out in connection with the exhibition, her current installation of bronze sculptures includes tigers, deer, a flying eagle... all strangely commanding presences in the setting of Century City high-rises, water treatments and busy avenues.


Five Tigers: Tiger 2, 2001, Bronze, Edition 2 of 6, 42 x 62 x 31 inches; Tiger 4, 2001, Bronze, Edition 1 of 6, 57 x 76 x 21 inches. Photo Courtesy LA Louver, Venice CA

This installation shot gives a sense of scale...

Photo courtesy LA Louver , Venice, California

The installation has been in place since November, 2012, and will remain through October, 2013. If you're in the area, please take the time to see this work. You'll find more pictures here.


If I were writing as a proper art critic, I think I would be less than kind to the huge Urs Fischer exhibition that presently occupies most of the space at both MoCA museums. Fortunately, I'm not, I doffed that hat a long time ago, so instead I can just enjoy it. By far the better part of it, in my view, is installed at the Geffen building, where virtually every square inch of the whopping floor space is cluttered with a massive array of collaborative clay work. Fischer's inspired idea was to bring in 1,500 Angelenos and Angelenas of all ages to work with him on the show, so that the installation becomes a truly populist event that includes everything from the joyously amateur to the really quite accomplished work of art...


Credit for all images: Installation view of URS FISCHER at MOCA Grand Avenue and The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, April 21 - August 19, 2013, photo by Stefan Altenburger, © Urs Fischer, Courtesy of the artist and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles




Much of it is desiccated by now, cracking open and decaying, so it becomes a glorious and absurdly democratic mess, a homage to the creative spirit in each one of us, and to the wildly diverse human imagination, as well as a reflection on the old belief in the durability of art versus the impermanence of life.

Included in the Geffen part of the exhibit are several works by Fischer himself: two statuesque wax figures--one of them modeled after the 16th century "Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna...


... equipped with strategically placed candles designed to burn the monument away in the course of the exhibition (they were half gone by the time I saw the show); and an intriguing trompe l'oeil wallpaper installation recreating the walls of a New York artist's studio. Outside the Geffen, Fischer has transformed a small clay sculpture into an imposing monument that towers above the parking lot. (Shades, I think, of Oldenburg here.)

All well and good. I love the playfulness of it, the giant gesture, the genial disrespect for the unspoken sanctities of art. But for me these same qualities work less in the artist's favor in the context of the main museum. The huge sections of wall that are cut out and misplaced elsewhere seem somehow more arbitrary, more "arty" here. The rain shower of enlarged, blue-green sperm and the house built of bread have the same spirit of playfulness, perhaps, but feel lightweight and self-conscious, as do the neo-surrealistic constructions that involve skeletons and various household furnishings like beds, stoves, cabinets...


I left with the feeling that the artist would have been better served with less space to occupy in the main museum; that even his quirky imagination and quick wit had been overworked by the scope of the exhibition, stretched to capacity -- and then somewhat beyond. The huge paintings? Well, that unkind critic might suggest, snarkily, that they do little except occupy wall space. Lucky that I don't happen to be that critic any more, so I don't have to say it...

All of which, anyway, could speak to nothing but my own mind-fatigue. Stretched to the fullest by the Geffen show, it's possible that my visual intake capacity had reached its limit by the time I got to MoCA! I would encourage others to go see for themselves.