A kaleidoscope of artists, styles and media are on view in Brand 38, the annual National Juried Exhibition at the Brand Library Art Galleries organized by the Associates of Brand Library.
As juried by nationally renowned artist Ruth Weisberg, with awards to be announced Saturday, the Brand exhibit offers 74 mostly Southern California artists riffing on a theme of “Works on Paper: Beginnings.”
But while all the oeuvres might originate on paper, the renderings cover the gamut of media, including oil, etching, colored pencil, linocut, photography, graphite on wax-infused paper, archival inkjet printing and the application of Chinese ghost money to a pulp-paper sculpted figure.
Whether the theme “Beginnings” refers to the earliest works of the creator or the launch of a conversation between the artist and the viewer, there are statements designed to titillate, sadden, amuse and provoke.
You know you are in for some challenges when the first piece you see in the gallery is a photo of a middle America, freckle-faced kid wielding a long knife like a samurai sword in Niku Kashef’s “Untitled.”
Other notable photographic works include Catherine Roberts Leach’s “Beauty,” a shot of a small-town beauty salon window exterior in which the reflection is not traditionally beautiful. Sandra Chen Weinstein offers a beautiful, saffron-haloed giclée print titled “Pilgrims at Holy Ganges.”
Abram W. Kaplan’s photo of the eponymous “Truck Stop” is a reflection in a big-rig hubcap, the rural humanity of the place warped by the curve of the steel hubcap surface and gleaming tire bolts.
Some works are subliminally unsettling, such as Art Werger’s etching titled “No Way Out,” a bird’s-eye view of a suburban neighborhood whose meandering lanes leading to the brick two stories look inviting, until you realize that there is, indeed, no way out. Pieter S. Myers’ copper plate photogravure “The Tarantella” composes innocent Victorian China dolls with a central figure that would appeal to Chuckie from the “Child’s Play” horror movies.
In an era where artists experiment increasingly with technologically skewed media like inkjet printing, it is refreshing to see the exceptional caliber of etchings, a printing technique first developed in the 15th century.
Jonas Kulikauskas’ “Madonna Layers 2” presents a traditional Madonna figure on what looks to be wallpaper, highlighted with disturbing, violent, stigmata imagery in exquisite detail.
Other striking examples of etchings include Victoria Goro-Rapoport’s “Balancing Act” depicting a man traversing a high wire over a modern city, beleaguered by mythic winged creatures; Tallmadge Doyle’s “Lepus the Hare” and Dan R. Kirchhefer’s “Jack the Dog Goes to Heaven or a New Leach on Life.”
While there are plenty of abstract and post-contemporary works, some of the simplest figurative compositions tell fuller stories.
Sharon Allicotti’s “Side View Mirror, Badlands” (which won the Associates of Brand Purchase Award) is a pastel and charcoal on paper showing a vast expanse of plains under an ominously cloudy sky; a woman’s noncommittal expression is seen in the side-view mirror of a car, insulated from the approaching storm.
Amanda Harrison’s pastel “Letting Go” (winner of the Jane Friend Donor Award and Carter Sexton Merchandise Certificate) is an example of hyper-realism as a scene set at a graveside. A young woman is dropping a handful of dirt into the grave while a young man (her brother?) stands severely above her, with blackbirds circling in the gray sky above.
The chance to see the vision of so many artists in a museum-like setting is a tribute to the contemporary art scene. And the Brand Art Center, originally donated to the city in 1925, is a marvel of Moorish architecture, Tiffany glass and lush landscaping. Make an afternoon of visiting this exhibit to appreciate the vital generosity of a publicly sponsored civic asset.
MELONIE MAGRUDER is a journalist whose background in art appreciation was shaped by way too much free time with season passes to museums all over Europe.