Art review: Julian Wasser at Craig Krull Gallery

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As a photojournalist working in Los Angeles for Time and other magazines, Julian Wasser was responsible for numerous familiar images, especially from the 1960s, when the city began to take off in the American consciousness. Several are among 38 prints in his fine show at Craig Krull Gallery.

Among them are photographs of comic Lenny Bruce on stage, a cigarette held between fingers that seem poised like an upraised benediction from an unlikely savior; essayist Joan Didion dressed in a caftan and leaning -- as if a prosperous yet bored housewife -- against a Corvette Stingray whose long, tumescent shape fairly shouts ‘phallus;’ and, perhaps most famous, artist Marcel Duchamp at his landmark 1963 retrospective in Pasadena, playing chess with the buxom, pointedly nude writer Eve Babitz in front of his iconic Dada construction of frustrated erotic encounter, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.’


Less familiar but nonetheless riveting are street scenes, including the wryly funny sight of patrons munching away at the wiener-shaped Tail O’ the Pup hot dog stand, with Mount Sinai Hospital rising not-so-subtly behind them, and a vertiginous view up Doheny Drive that creates a jarring visual collision between high-rise homes and hillside suburbia.

Most compelling, however, is an aerial view of Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. Five lanes of traffic are headed to and from an abrupt precipice at the glistening Pacific shore, as cars move like lemmings oblivious to the cliff. Wasser’s photographs tell stories, but ambiguity is key to the best. RELATED:

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— Christopher Knight

Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through Jan.14. Closed Sun and Mon.