Art Review:

Sculptures still fresh

August 29, 2009|By Jess Minckley

It’s not every day that most of us visit a deceased loved one, but the fact that Forest Lawn Glendale has created a destination around that experience is quite intriguing. Equipped with replica statue of David, a labyrinth, America’s largest painting and many more “attractions,” it is what I’ve always considered the Disneyland of Death, so it is fitting that Michael Jackson will be buried in this Forest Lawn on Thursday.

Forest Lawn, as a cultural artifact, has an interesting history; of a visionary man seeing his wildest dream come to life. Reuben Nakian’s contemporary art show in the museum is worth seeing in relation to that idea.

Up the winding road from the cemetery, is a small, cool room in the museum where you can find refuge from the sweltering heat, and take in a show of bronze sculptures and works on paper by the artist.


Nakian’s artworks, though decades old, encapsulate a fresh and bold investigation of human and sculptural form. The compositions of bronze figurines are based on historical painting.

His figures are made from squished lumps of clay — their faces and bodies are abstract. These blotchy bodies are combined with curiously pristine limbs made of smooth rolls of clay, that are carefully placed into the composition. The marriage of the wild and fleshy elements with orderly, methodical limbs is worth attention. This style continues to be popular in Contemporary art — a blend of unlikely characteristics.

There are two bust sculptures, rendered in the same unrestrained way, you can see evidence of the artist’s hand as he sculpted a cheek or jaw with his fingers. This is a traditional style of figure rendering, but the finished pieces are less like Rodin and more like Franz West. Nakian leaves the messiness of the process exposed. Its marks generate the texture — a head like a tumbleweed — a dynamic blob.

Nearby, there are large images on display of large, public sculptures Nakian made about 1982, near the end of his life. These huge blocks of plaster are carved but not figurative, and the recurring cylindrical forms, at this scale, look like giant pool floaties.

These self-assured noodles meld together with the choppy, Modern obelisks in a way that is rather serious.

On an adjacent, dark wall, hang classically mismatched, framed works lent from the Estate and private collections. Nakian’s figures of robust women, birds, mythical creatures and flowers are strikingly similar to Matisse’s line drawings.

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