Pop Culture: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Arts Foundation at Cal State LA

Pop Culture, Ronald H. Silverman Fine Arts Gallery; Photo credit Kristine Schomaker

Ronald H. Silverman Fine Arts Gallery Pops with Art

Ronald H. Silverman Fine Arts Gallery, California State University, Los Angeles
through August 2

Written by Genie Davis
To say Cal State LA’s recently renamed Ronald H. Silverman Fine Arts Gallery is a beacon of pop art this summer is an understatement. Exhibiting the stellar Pop Culture: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Arts Foundation, curated by Billie Milam Weisman, gallery director Mika Cho has a spacious, museum-quality show that dazzles with illustrious art names and provocative layout.

According to Cho, the pairing of Weisman’s awe-inspiring contemporary collection with the CSULA space came about through an alumni gathering, when alumni Richard Cordova, CSULA president’s council member at the university, and chair of the Cal State LA campaign “We Are LA,” offered to introduce Cho to Weisman.“ Janet Dial, the vice president for University Advancement, Richard, and I had a meeting with Billie at her house. She was so friendly, and she took me to a private area in her house, and said she wanted to have an exhibition at Cal State LA. She said her collection is known to a certain group of people, and she really wanted to reach out to other, to the students who might not have access to this kind of art.” Cho showed her the gallery and was delighted that Weisman was “impressed with how we operate the gallery. I’d told her I only have a few students that I work with, not a full staff, and it was not a problem. Her response was to invite the students and myself to have lunch.” From that lunch, the decision was made to proceed with the exhibition, which opened June 1st and runs through August 2nd.

Many works are by recognizably famous art figures, from Andy Warhol to Claes Oldenburg. Warhol’s images include one of Weisman’s husband, collector Frederick R. Weisman, who had a long-term professional and personal relationship with the artist. Located in the gallery’s lobby, it’s a fitting introduction to multiple rooms of art that celebrate, elevate, and subvert pop icons, products, and frequently, America’s psyche.

“The works were chosen by Billie, and she curated it, but I gave her certain suggestions during the three days of installation for the show, and on the third day, she let me continue the installation on my own,” Cho explains. “It was a big compliment, and she said we could do more together.”

The result is a strong show in which the artworks speak to each other, both through spectacular placement and the strength of the works themselves.

Chilean artist Giancarlo Pazzanese gives us “Pinocchio Boy,” a hybrid of sculpture and painting that combines the mascot of the Big Boy restaurant chain with the idea of human emotions contained inside an inanimate figure. In some ways, such an image evokes the sterilization of emotions, of culture, of food itself. But it also reminds the viewer of the power of imagination to interject the idea of human feeling in something devoid of it.

Joel Morrison’s shiny bronze “Victor (rat trap)” gives us a hand caught and swollen in a trap; the image provides an immediate ability to connect with the idea of the “traps” laid by modern life. At first glance, it could be an object from outer space, with the alien-ness of its form, which is literally both a trap and an expanded rubber glove. Elsewhere in the exhibition, his “Alligator Shoes” are his own easily recognizable, well-worn Vans sneakers.

Two other American artists, Phillip Maberry and Scott Walker, are behind brilliantly colored ceramic sculptures in the center of the first main gallery. They are joyous, whimsical, and strange; also alien, yet playful. The sculptural works communicate well with a large oil on canvas work from Charles Bell, “Marbles XII.” The photorealist work is from a series depicting marbles; the artist has several separate series based on iconic toys. Here again, however, there is a sense of something otherworldly in the work. When initially viewed, the work could be depicting uncharted, colorful planets suspended in space.

Playfulness takes a darker turn with very-much-of-this-planet acrylic and India ink work from American artist Mark Dean Veca, “Pennybags,” and “Uncle Scrooge.” Both are pointed but humorous commentary on the relentless and perhaps pointless pursuit of greed and its intrinsic component in the American Dream. Adjoining these works is Todd Pavlisko’s “Untitled ($ Black).” Shaped from plastic retail tags, his commentary on the veneration – and illusion – of money is even more pertinent today than it was 14 years ago when the work was created.

Money is also the subject of sorts in Skylar Fein’s “Banque des Citroyens de la Louisiane,” an exact recreation of a sign lost during Hurricane Katina, and once a cultural landmark in the city. Placed below it is “Value,” from New Orleans-based, Croatian-born artist Srdjan Loncar, which lends significance and literal heft to the idea of the American dollar as not just currency, but like the lost-sign depicted by Fein, a cultural icon.

What’s as American as money? Guns, as in Paul Rusconi’s deliberately blurry “Standard Issue” handgun; and the rifle in the hands of the visceral, motion-filled massive fiberglass sculpture “Toy Soldier No. 3 (Crawling Soldier)” from Yoram Wolberger. That work is fittingly positioned beneath Kathleen Loe’s “Peter Pan’s Shadow V and VI,” silhouettes of a Black Hawk helicopter created with an ephemeral grace from inset screening and map pins.

Several mixed media works are also standouts in the show including Aman’s “Football Shoes,” addressing conspicuous and wasteful consumer consumption; and the mass-produced metal wreckage of automobile parts in John Chamberlain’s large-scale sculptural “Magnet Eyes,” placed next to Richard Sigmund’s cautionary acrylic on canvas, “Stop.” Perhaps both literally and figuratively, the warning has come perilously late. The grey and white image of “Stop” reflects in the silkscreen on mirrored steel of “Gray Hitchhiker,” from Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, forming a three-work road trip like no other.

Each of the works in this extensive exhibition is laid out so that the dialog between them is astonishingly “right,” including Michael Speaker’s wood sculpture, “Team Xerox,” and the seminal Naim June Paik’s “Michelin Man Laser Robot,” fusing video into 13 monitors in the form of a robot, and watchfully overlooking the gallery space.

“Billie created the narrative for each room of the gallery,” Cho explains. “There was kind of a ‘hangout theme’ in the first room; the back room is politics, war, and guns. She always had that idea in her mind to create these certain spaces.” Cho admires Weisman and respects her, calling her “an amazing person. A lot of people from the art community separate people – professors, students, artists – but she had no discrimination for anyone. She totally trusted our students, and went with that. It was very impressive.”

Cho describes the current Pop Culture exhibition as a first-of-its-kind for the gallery, but she has overseen many original exhibitions throughout her tenure at the gallery. “Seven years ago, I became a department chair, and one of the strategies we used to make the art department more effective was introducing our gallery to the community, to let them know who we were. With that as a focus, we had shows focusing on Hispanic, Latino, and Chicano artists such as master printer Richard Durado, and the work of Frank Romero. Romero’s work was also on exhibit at the Museum of Latin American Art, so it was almost a collaborative series of exhibits. What I was trying to do at the time was engage the community, but at the same time offer educational experiences for the students.”

After four years, Cho was made gallery director, an appointment which coincided with the 70th anniversary of California State University Los Angeles. Celebrating that achievement, Cho held an alumni show curated by Mark Steven Greenfield. Cho is excited by the exhibitions the gallery has presented over the years and by those she planned for the future. She cites the support of president William A. Covino and vice president of University Advancement Janet Dial as being integral to her success and that of the gallery as she looks ahead.

“After Pop Culture closes, we’ll have a show curated by Cynthia Penna and Jillith Moniz titled Traveling Campus. It’s a very exciting show, they have ten artists from all over the world in a very unique project that we first began planning three years ago. In January, Artist Kristine Schomaker will be curating Perceive Me, which will be another innovative show for the gallery. There will also be student art shows of course, and then next summer, we’ll be having the work of environmental artist Edgar Honetschlagar, called Gobugsgo, which I will curate with David Woess, an amazing project about eco systems and saving disappearing insects.”

In the meantime, the Weisman collection is a great reason to explore the CSULA gallery. There are so many brilliant works that explore the cultural zeitgeist here – two pieces, both untitled from Keith Haring, including a gorgeous yellow, orange, and black ink on vinyl; two witty, figurative works from Red Grooms; images of classic foods from “Bacon” by James Rosenquist to Carolynn Hayward-Jackson’s “I love you, Chocolate Cake,” and photorealist “Hostess Cupcakes” from Pamela Michelle Johnson. Then there’s the sculptural “Big Eye” from Tony Tasset, a literal giant eye representing the artist’s own, keeping watch over one of the gallery’s rooms. Viewers may find their own eyes growing big – although not that large – when exploring this exhibition. There is so much iconic, ground-breaking art to see, and only so much time to see it: this summer. This pop art is eye-popping.

Closing reception open to the public: July 25, 5-8pm

Ronald H. Silverman Fine Arts Gallery
5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, 90032


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