CRITIC'S PICK: Surreal/Unreal at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

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Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1945. Oil on canvas 24 x 26 inches. Photo : Courtesy Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

Jack Rutberg Fine Arts is known for museum-quality exhibitions which place contemporary artworks in an historic context to raise further questions about our usual ways of viewing art. This fascinating exhibition contains over 100 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures by major European historic artists from the surrealist movement : Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, Georgio de Chirico, Joan Miro, Dorothea Tanning, Hans Bellmer, Jacques Herold, Oskar Fischinger, and Frederick Kann. It also includes historic South American surrealists : Rufino Tamayo, Roberto Matta, Jose Luis Cuevas, Wifredo Lam, and Oswaldo Vigas. These works are paired with important American surrealist works by Alexander Calder, Hans Burkhardt, and Claire Falkenstein. The exhibition also contains works from the fantastic realism movement by Erich Brauer and Friedensreich Hundertwasser. But the surprise is the inclusion of contemporary artists seen through the lens of surrealism : Llyn Foulkes, Joel-Peter Witkin, Jerome Witkin, Bruce Richards, George Condo, Ed Rushcha, Raymond Pettibon, Mark Licari, and Stas Orlovski.

Claire Falkenstein, Values. Oil on linen 291/4 x 34 inches. Photo: Courtesy Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

The exhibition demonstrates that surrealist praxis informs contemporary artists who use bizarre juxtapositions to blur the line between the real and the imaginary. The exhibition design reinforces the curatorial vision by pairing art works we would not expect to see together - because they are usually associated with separate historic periods and different styles. The exhibtion design highlights shared lines of interest that cross- over time periods and cannot just be understood chronologically - because they are lateral rather than linear.

Bruce Richards, Before & After, 2013-14 Diptych Oil on canvas with frames carved by the Artist. Photo: Courtesy: Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

What these art works all share is the element of surprise created by unexpected juxtapositions which the installation emphasizes to create more surprises. We do not expect to see a Bruce Richard’s diptych ( Before & After, 2013-4 ) referencing a Maria Abramovic performance that evokes Rene Magritte’s work, based on Aphrodite. Richard’s painting (Saints and Stranger’s, 2014) allows us to see further connections between an Edward Ruscha and Magritte. Seen together, the artworks in this exhibition have a fascination that goes beyond individual pieces which retains our interest by keeping our eyes moving. Viewed from a close focus, or a distant focus, or from the movements of the eye looking around the gallery, we can make visual connections, metaphorical connections, psychological connections and art-historical connections.

The term “surrealist” was first coined by Guillarme Apollinaire in 1903 in a preface to a play and officially consecrated in 1924 in Paris with Andre Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism. The surrealist art movement spread from Europe in the 1930s and 1940s to North and South America. But as this exhibition demonstrates the surrealist impulse did not end with the art historic movement (or Dali’s death) because many techniques and themes identified as trademarks of postmodernism - that re-contextualize the familiar with the unfamiliar - are influenced by surrealism. This exhibition is not an historic survey of surrealism but an exploration of the imaginative impulse.

Dorothea Tanning Bateau Blue (The Grotto) Lithograph 19 1/2 x 13 1/4 inches . Photo: Courtesy of Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a powerful Alexander Calder painting ( Untitled, 1945) which sets a high bar for making visual connections between other works, past and present, which explore poetic unreality. A tiny, whimsical painting by Erich Brauer ( Schlomo, 1960) emotionally charges an entire wall with its other-worldly power. Unnerving, illogical, dream-like, uninhibited sexuality, and free association that embrace idiosyncrasy are central themes which cross historic and geographic lines. Hans Burkhardt’s magnificent painting, Voyage on the Metasola (1936) depicts a visionary escape to an invented planet. Jerome Witkin’s painting 9/11 ( 2001) creates an other-worldly scene that bridges the surreal and unreal. Joel-Peter Witkin’s lovingly hand- crafted photographs, Penitente (1982) and Night in a Small Town ( 2007) create imaginative worlds inhabited by strange characters with so-called “abnormalities” who disrupt conventional ideas of physical normalcy and beauty. George Condo’s lyrical etchings from his series, More Sketches of Spain - for Miles Davis ( 1991) draw upon the influence of jazz improvisation to riff on iconic Picasso images with his own unmistakeable style.

This exhibition is a gem because it invites the viewer to make their own connections between art works which are not usually seen together. The intimacy of the salon-style installation reminds me of viewing a private art collection where the collector’s love of art is infectious. In effect, this exhibition is Rutberg’s large salon filled with works he has lived with for years : from his personal collection, estates and artists he represents. One of the charms of private galleries, in the era of corporate galleries and art fairs is that the human touch of the gallery owner is evident in every detail - supporting the integrity of the art experience.

Erich Brauer, Schlomo ( Solomon) , 1960 Oil on Panel 15 1/2 x 12 inches. Photo: Courtesy Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

Video of the Exhibition by Eric Minh Swenson

Where: Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

357 N. La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Tel(323) 938-5222

When: November 6, 2016 - February 18, 2017