Looking at LA and Mexico: Two Group Shows, One City

Summertime in the gallery art scene often means a variety of group shows full of both new and established artists.  Culver City this month is no exception.  As I wandered from gallery to gallery, two shows that are just doors apart on South La Cienega really struck me, especially given their immediate juxtaposition and proximity to one another.

Alejandro Cartagena | Untitled Lost River #24, 2008, Suburbia Mexicana Project, Archival Inkjet Print. Courtesy of Kopeikin Gallery.

The George Billis Gallery LA is currently showing a second annual rendition of Los Angeles city scenes in “The Cityscape Show II: Images of Land and City.”  And about a block away, the Kopeikin Gallery is showing “Looking at Mexico” alongside images by Alejandro Cartagena, who also curated the companion show. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

“The Cityscape Show” is a large group show, featuring a variety of artists and mediums, with each artist exploring his/her own interpretation and changing snapshot of the city in its many manifestations.

As a viewer, you move through the multiplicity of perceptions—from immersing oneself in traditional California landscapes, to viewing freeway underpasses through your imagined car windshield, to hovering above the glimmering city with a high-rise aerial shot.

Adam Normandin | Through The Cracks, 2012, acrylic on panel, 22 x 38 inches. Courtesy of George Billis Gallery LA.

Some of my favorites included Adam Normandin’s Through the Cracks, a photorealistic look at the gritty freeway scenes Angelenos are often surrounded by during rush hour throughout the city. Although the very subject – a freeway underpass and traffic – might not be the most picturesque in theory, his tender scene instead captures a realness that made me nostalgic for my city. Placed just next to a totally traditional and large California landscape of Rice Canyon by Bruce Everett, the juxtaposition felt fitting as both depict the varied scenes you might see out your car window all in a day’s commute.

James David Thomas | Basin Nocturne, mixed media on garnet paper. 8.5 x 32 inches. Courtesy of George Billis Gallery LA.

Gavin Bunner | Skyline, 2012, gouache on paper, 43 x 29 inches. Courtesy of George Billis Gallery LA.

James Davis Thomas’ Basin Nocturne is made of mixed media on garnet paper and construes the truest twinkly nature of an LA night sky. Both of Jay Brockman’s cityscape acrylics capture the wonder one sees everyday on the streets of LA.  Gavin Bunner’s (NAP #65 and 97) Skyline was the only figurative translation of the city, in his traditional cartoon style and with his unique humor and google-image-fed-process.  Bunner’s was also one of few pieces to leave a majority of his paper canvas blank, an aspect I particularly liked amidst feeling like I was in a tightly packed city space.

Just down the street at the Kopeikin Gallery, “Looking at Mexico” and Alejandro Cartagena’s photographs from his “Suburbia Mexicana” series were a welcome comparison and shift.

Eunice Adorno | Bible, 2010, Archival Inkjet Print, Edition of 3, 18” x 25” Courtesy of Kopeikin Gallery.

Cartagena curated the group photography show “Looking at Mexico” and in this gallery space, the artists portray a variety of images and portraits. Eunice Adorno’s photographic still life of a bible resting on a table is compositionally simple and restrained, composed of cool and inviting colors.  Melba Arellano shows equally compelling portraits and interior spaces in pieces such as Marina Apace.

David Corona | Limite, 2010, Archival Pigment Print, 24” x 35” Courtesy Kopeikin Gallery

David Corona’s photographs of lone people amidst empty, dark, and looming urban cityscapes reminded me of complicated and classic horror films like that of Hitchcock or Kubrick. I am never sure if I liked or fully understood these movies, but yet I keep thinking about them.  And when a work lingers, it is doing something powerful.  Corona’s images left me with this same feeling – I wasn’t sure exactly what is going on in these photographs, but their heavy feeling stayed with me and troubled me.

Alinka Echeverria | Untitled from the SeriesThe Road to Tepeyac, 2010, Archival Pigment Prints, Edition of 7, 32" x 24" Each. Courtesy of Kopeikin Gallery.

Alinka Echeverria’s photograph collection features portraits people on pilgrimages to Tepeyac Hill in Mexico.  These images are taken from behind in order to showcase the extreme and extraordinary images, sculptures, paintings, and honorary items of Virgen de Guadalupe worn by pilgrims.  The portraits are striking and are definitely one of the show’s highlights.  They capture the true physicality of religious pilgrimage and the treacherous burden of the weight these devotees carry.  These devotional images and relics are literal albatrosses around the pilgrims’ necks, backs, and arms as they travel, and these colorful photographs pitched on stark white backgrounds are beautiful, compelling, compassionate, and stunning.

Alejandro Cartagena | Untitled Lost River #10, 2008, Suburbia Mexicana Project, Archival Inkjet Print. Courtesy of Kopeikin Gallery.

Alejandro Cartagena | Untitled Lost River #6, 2008, Suburbia Mexicana Project, Archival Inkjet Print.

Alejandro Cartagena’s photographs from his project Suburbia Mexicana: Fragmented Cities frame the gallery entry, leading into the main room.  Lush landscape photographs are paired with images of dried up rivers and ruins amidst the jungles in pieces such as Untitled Lost River #6 and #10.

The bright colors highlight the residential photographs in the pieces by the gallery entrance, also capturing a stereotypical American view of the colors in Mexico.  But Cartagena pairs them with a truer and starker reality of as in Fragmented Cities, Escobedo.

Alejandro Cartagena | Fragmented Cities, Apodaca, 2006, Suburbia Mexicana Project, Archival Inkjet Print.

Alejandro Cartagena | Fragmented Cities, Escobedo, 2008, Suburbia Mexicana Project, Archival Inkjet Print. Courtesy of Kopeikin Gallery.

Cartagena’s photographs are a striking comparison and even companion to George Billis’ Cityscapes show.  Coming from the LA show to Cartagena’s Mexico was a stark and apt comparison for living in LA – which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Mexico.  Although not exactly a border town in physicality, Los Angeles is a border town in terms of the amount of people living here or there who cross over in either and both directions regularly for work, school, and family.  While the parallels between both cities are often greater than the divide, the divide is often emphasized more than the parallels are.  In comparing these gallery shows, it was easy to see Los Angeles as it is often portrayed: as Mexico’s shiny, newer, neighbor. In both shows however, I found that the beauty lied in the darker and more complex pieces – in both the beasts and burdens depicted in the works.

Jay Brockman | Sunset on Lincoln Blvd #1, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 24 inches. Courtesy of George Billis Gallery LA.

Something about the two shows rang true as a metaphor or even paradox of the two cities and I appreciated seeing them in conjunction with one another.  And Cartagena’s photographs and curatorial efforts are truly a must see.


Looking at Mexico” and Alejandro Cartagena’s photographs are up at the Kopeikin Gallery through August 25th and “The Cityscape Show II: Images of Land and City” at the George Billis Gallery LA runs through September 1st.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.