Los Angeles painter Lari Pittman is known for producing some very large works: bright, wall-sized paintings that often Cuisinart various aspects of visual culture: folk art, advertising, textile patterns, Victorian silhouettes and corporate logos, weaving them together into darkly jubilant compositions that pulse with manic sexual energy.
Now Pittman has gone small. Like, verrry small. His new suite of paintings, in fact, are just 7 inches tall. The best part: The installation, titled "Homage to Natalia Goncharova ... When the avant-garde and the folkloric kissed in public," is currently hanging in a box in Culver City.
A box is certainly not the sort of place you'd expect to see work from an artist such as Pittman; he's regularly exhibited at museums all over the world and is represented by prestigious Regen Projects in Hollywood. But in bringing his latest work to the experimental Proxy Gallery, the gallery in a box that hangs at the Otis College of Art & Design's graduate school studios, it's clear the artist has an adventurous streak (not to mention a good sense of humor).
The two-year-old Proxy space is, literally, a box, roughly a foot square, curated by Otis graduate professor Annetta Kapon. But it comes with all the trappings of a regular gallery, including hardwood floors, painted walls and full-blown artist receptions. (I wrote about the space last fall.)
Into this space, Pittman manages to cram a lot: an imaginary encounter between a pair of opposing artistic styles -- folk art and Rayonism, an avant-garde Russian movement of the early 20th century. In one canvas, a figure reaches forward making the gesture of a kiss. Elsewhere, abstraction and folk patterns meet.
Kapon said she asked Pittman to do a show a couple of years back when she first launched the space -- and he quickly agreed. (The two know each other through Pittman's husband, Roy Dowell, who is the chairman of the Otis Graduate Fine Arts department.)
"I think it's a radical gesture on both our parts given that Lari makes gigantic paintings and shows in all the most important museums," Kapon said via email. "And, on my side, the gallery may be small, but I take it very seriously and have some big ambitions -- including showing very famous and very unknown people in the same way."
Pittman ranks among the better known artists she has shown. The painter currently has a wall-sized work on view at the Broad's inaugural exhibition in downtown Los Angeles. Titled "Like You," from 1995, it shows a supercharged urban landscape dotted with whimsical bearded performers -- some of whom are naughtily exposing themselves. (It's impossible to get a clear view of it, however, because sitting right in front of it is an unfortunately placed sculpture by Jeff Koons.)
All of this makes the experience at Proxy even more of a treat: intimate scale, no crowds, no sold-out ticketing and an unobstructed view of the work. Though there is always the possibility that, as you take in the show, you'll overhear the minutiae of an academic staff meeting in the next room.
Lari Pittman, "Homage to Natalia Goncharova ... When the avant-garde and the folkloric kissed in public," is on view through Sept. 30 at Proxy Gallery. Otis Graduate School Studios, 10455 Washington Blvd., second floor, Culver City, ospace.otis.edu/proxy_gallery.