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art ltd letters review

Corita Kent

"Letters from Los Angeles: Parts I & II"
at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts
A good thematic group show doesn’t tell you what you don’t know so much as it tells you that you’ve been seeing something out there without paying sufficient attention. Such a show clears away the noise that prevents you from making connections between seemingly disparate artworks, and shows you that themes have sub-themes and sub-themes have possibilities galore, but something ties them all together. In "Letters from Los Angeles," that something is words. The artwork in "Letters" was all produced in Southern California since the 1950s, as neo-Dada, Pop, and conceptual impulses allowed, and then elevated the inclusion and even sole presentation of text as visual art. The plethora of work in the richly selected "Letters"—an exhibition presented in two-and-a-half parts (two at the gallery, and half as a featured exhibition at the 2013 LA Art Show)—inferred a particular taste for such visualized verbality on the part of LA-area artists. So did the plethora of usual suspects—Kienholz, Ruscha, Nauman, Baldessari, Burden, Ruppersberg, Wallace Berman, George Herms, Alexis Smith, Raymond Pettibon, and of course Corita Kent—and more than a few unusual suspects—Hans Burkhardt, Dennis Hopper, Ken Price, Ed Moses, Tom Wudl, Masami Teraoka, Lita Albuquerque, Michael C McMillen, Lari Pittman—whose artistic reasoning was made to seem highly conducive to language even when not dependent on it.

In all its iterations, "Letters" also featured lesser known but veteran local talents, artists like Jud Fine, Doug Edge, Bruce Richards and Scott Grieger who are as active as ever but somewhat eclipsed at the moment, and those like Richard Shelton and Paulin Paris who have never quite escaped the shadows. All these artists were represented by images and objects of intellectual gravity, or at least resonant wit, not to mention purely visual force. Indeed, "Letters" argued, among other things, that these particular artists do not deserve their obscurity and stand their own amongst their more prominent peers. A few "emerging" artists, as noted as Alexandra Grant and Mark Steven Greenfield and as still-emerging as Huguette Caland and Iva Hladis, also advanced the argument that word-working remains crucial to artistic discourse in the Southland. Thematic group shows always invite "where is" second-guessing, but with this rich an array, "Letters" made it hard to fault its roster. The shows included no pure photography, and could have found even more wordishness among pre-1970s artwork. But if the show only laid the groundwork for a vast museum investigation or even a book, that groundwork was solid indeed.