I grabbed a list of Chinatown galleries culled from ArtForum’s Picks and Flavorpill’s “Back-to-School Gallery Opening Guide” and hoofed it up to LA today, after first dropping Bella off at school, my brother-in-law at his friend’s house, and my sister-in-law’s suitcase off at her workplace. Whew.

I fortified myself with a strong cup of Earl Grey and headed into the north end of Hill Street, right up where cars are shooting off the 110 like mindless balls ricocheting in a pinball machine. Boy, it was worth it. I walked straight into two sweet little new galleries that have sprouted up over the summer: Sam Lee Gallery and David Salow Gallery. Lee and Salow may be brand new gallery owners, but they are not new to the game – they are both savvy insiders who have long worked as gallerists in San Fransisco and are now making their timely nearly joint debut (Sam Lee has had three shows – DSL is on its first) and both bring a (small) stable of experienced and well-hooved artists to the area.

I spent some time gazing at Pipo Nguyen-duy’s medium-large (ranging 30×40 to 45×60) photographs first. It was not immediately apparent to me whether the photos where staged, but I was struck by how Nguyen-duy had caught the glorious mid-morning light shining through star-like clusters of pine needles just over the creeping snipers’ heads. It struck me then, that this – the quiet creeping through a beautiful forest, was part of what hunters craved and enjoyed about their sport. I tripped up against the word “hunter,” realizing that “sniper” meant “hunter of people,” and took pause. The best of Nguyen-duy’s photos worked in this way: luscious natural beauty serving as a backdrop to a human-imposed uneasiness.

Ring Around (2004) foregrounds damp mounds of overgrown grass, slumps of glistening damp richness with purple thistle, just barely hiding the prone bodies of small children under a heavy clouded sky. Although I cannot make out the children clearly, I see enough to know that they are not dead, but lying quietly – just waiting. Strange. It is a combination of a sensation of surreal bated breath and intricate photographic detail that holds my attention for much longer than I expect. At this point, I’ve realized that these photos must be posed; however, I find I prefer the ones that don’t jolt me out of my dreamy staring with their obviousness. Through Oct. 20 (Sam Lee Gallery, 990 N. Hill Street #190, 323-227-0275.)

Marc Trujillo’s large realistic oil paintings over at DSG held my attention for nearly as long as Nguyen-duy’s photos, but with more chuckles. I sputtered and laughed quietly to myself as I recognized 1052 West Burbank Blvd (2006) as a Costco Food Court. I delighted in knowing that 7868 Van Nuys Blvd (2006) was definitely a Souplantation, then I stopped. And I was aghast and embarrassed at the same time. At what point in my life had I become so deeply trained to instantaneously recognize so many random branded corporate spaces?

The hilarity behind naming each painting for the address of its location faded into something more sinister and telling. The address might locate a singular point on googlemaps, but that painted space – that Costco food court exists in untold multiples across the country and has absolutely no singular identity. But no matter the specific locating title or the meticulous detail Trujillo lavishes on his paintings, these corporate spaces retreat from individual identification. A Costco food court is only a Costco food court, it doesn’t matter if it’s in Burbank or Fort Worth – and as such, Trujillo’s depictions become very much reflections of our very branded consumerism times.

And what becomes of the people who inhabit these spaces? Trujillo places only the barest minimum of shoppers/consumers in each painting, leaving these mega-spaces designed for mega-crowds, rather empty and lonely in a Hopper-esque way. Despite the Dutch Mannerist-inspired realism of each shopper or movie viewer, we can never quite get a full view of anybody’s face; each person is as impersonal, but as recognizably branded as the space itself. Through Oct. 27 (David Salow Gallery, 977 Hill Street, 213-620-0240.)

Images courtesy of Sam Lee Gallery. Forgot to ask DSG for images…

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