Hernandez Explores Some Modern Ruins


It’s no secret that people act differently when thrown into unfamiliar situations. Vacationers usually do so publicly, letting go of the restraints of their buttoned-down lives and living it up until they return to work.

Packing everything you own into boxes, even for a move across town, precipitates even stranger behavior--although it takes place privately, visible only to friends and relatives. When separated from the stuff of our lives, we often act out of character.

Even though most of us don’t notice, the stress induced by moving has a lot to do with acknowledging our mortality. Sorting cherished keepsakes from disposable odds-and-ends causes most people to reflect on experiences that have defined their lives. It doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to picture someone else sifting through one’s belongings, assessing what our lives were like after we’re gone. In this cast of mind, we often ask, “What have I done? What does it all mean?”


Similar questions take powerful form in Anthony Hernandez’s photographs of abandoned modern buildings. Made during 1998 and 1999, when the L.A.-based photographer was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, these sumptuous yet austere prints at Grant Selwyn Fine Art address these questions not to individuals but to civilization in general.

Collectively titled “Pictures for Rome,” Hernandez’s Cibachromes depict the interiors of generic buildings, which, never finished, have been left to the elements. In urban centers, “the elements” include people. There’s no shortage of graffiti and garbage left behind by transients, who took temporary shelter in the bunker-like structures he has photographed.

Many of the derelict construction sites Hernandez visited were abandoned after the concrete was poured but before such refinements as plumbing, electricity and drywall were installed. This makes it difficult to know whether you’re looking at a mall, hotel, office or parking structure.

A more profound sense of placelessness suffuses these images, which contain few indicators of their Roman locale. Signs of the multinational times in which we live, Hernandez’s pictures present the bland architecture found in every major city, from Singapore to Helsinki, Nairobi to Vancouver.

Others photographs show buildings that were so close to being completed that they include lighting fixtures, escalators and bathroom tiles. This emphasizes the abruptness with which these projects were terminated, and the finality of such decisions.

All of Hernandez’s images suggest that some cataclysmic event has taken place, compelling armies of workers (and investors) to forfeit the results of their labors and flee. Natural disasters come to mind (Pompeii is not far away), as does the man-made devastation caused by war.


These are ruins before their time. The neglected commercial buildings invite viewers to look at the present from a point of view not too far off in the future--long after the current economic boom has gone bust and the dust has settled over our acquisitive, rapacious age, in which immediate gratification is king.

* Grant Selwyn Fine Art, 341 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 777-2400, through Dec. 2. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Promising: Robert Olsen’s first solo show is a promising debut. (The young painter is a graduate student at UCLA.) His page-size oils on panel are promising not because they anticipate future works that are likely to be even better, but because they address the ways works of art make and break promises right now, defying some expectations while fulfilling others.

At Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 11 finely crafted paintings depict bus shelters, parking meters, vending machines, water dispensers, check-cashing windows and ATMs. No people appear in any of Olsen’s images, all of which are close-ups.

Half have the presence of portraits. Eerie anthropomorphism takes shape in two paintings of solitary Coke machines, whose glowing fronts appear to be eye-less faces, their logos having been painted out by the artist. A futuristic parking meter in San Francisco, flanked by a pair of SUVs, makes R2-D2 and C3PO look like the old-fashioned movie stars that they are.

Olsen’s portraits of a phone booth-size water dispenser and a free-standing ATM made of mirrored steel are both set in anonymous parking lots, whose asphalt surfaces shimmer with the intensity of mirages. Each seems to be the last outpost of a civilization that has eliminated the necessity of face-to-face interaction. Like the objects they depict, these paintings require viewers to put something into them to get something out of them.

The other half of the exhibition consists of hauntingly beautiful pictures of one type of bus shelter. Each compact structure is an instance of Modernist efficiency: Two glass walls are transparent so passengers and drivers can make eye contact; a third is reserved for back-lit advertisements to offset construction and maintenance costs.

To make these works, Olsen drove around Los Angeles at night, searching for shelters whose light boxes were blank, left bare and empty in the downtime between monthly contracts. Depicted from the front, back and sides, in the manner of a suspect’s mug shots, these compressed landscapes give form to a world from which people have vanished.

Rather than bemoaning impersonality, in which authentic human interactions are few and far between, Olsen treats the distance between artists and viewers as a free space in which art does its best work--which no one controls. Like the streamlined structures they depict, his remarkably mature paintings do not transport viewers to better places or times. Instead, they allow a hushed silence to descend upon ordinary things, endowing solitude with a succor all its own.

* Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 5363 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 933-2117, through Nov. 11. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Think About Them: The two dozen tabletop sculptures in Robert Hudson’s first L.A. solo show in 11 years look as if they’re held together by magnets. Each is a loose constellation of six to 12 oddly shaped fragments that the Bay Area artist has cast in porcelain and affixed to one another. Despite their resemblance to houses of cards or wobbly stacks of building blocks, they form teapots, vases and bowls that are nominally functional.

At Frank Lloyd Gallery, the largest parts of many have been cast from ax-split chunks of firewood that Hudson has cut into sections wider than they are long. The necks, handles and mouths of old moonshine jugs appear in a few, as do semicircular sections of knobby bicycle tires. Finger-size branches, which would make good kindling, protrude at odd angles from half of the pieces, adding to the sense of instability that animates the show as a whole.

One of the funniest has been cast from a stuffed rabbit, whose front legs hold a bark-covered stick that serves as the vessel’s spout. Fishing lures, a coil of string, a cartoonish top hat, a large pair of wings and a beehive-shaped dome appear in equally idiosyncratic sculptures.

A handful of smooth, crisply delineated forms painted in stark, black-and-white patterns stands out because of its geometric perfection. In radical contrast, everything else has the well-used feel of a secondhand store’s overcrowded back room, where treasures can be found amid worthless discards.

Hudson glazes all of his ceramic sculptures. The colors and patterns he chooses sometimes mimic reality. At other times, there is no rhyme or reason to them.

Although you could use his willfully inelegant vessels to perform ordinary domestic duties, their real purpose is to set you thinking. Trying to wrap your mind around Hudson’s deliciously illogical objects requires your brain to perform cartwheels, handstands and other acrobatic leaps.

Goofy? You bet. But stimulating nonetheless.

* Frank Lloyd Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 264-3866, through Nov. 11. Closed Sundays and Mondays.