By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
Collage has attracted the attention of amazingly varied artists over the years, from such '20s pioneers as Juan Gris, Georges Braque, Kurt Schwitters, and George Grosz to later experimenters such as Robert Motherwell, Jasper Johns, and David Hockney. For most artists it's one of many techniques taken up, toyed with, and eventually abandoned.
For the prolific Helander, however, collage has remained central over the long haul (even though the vast majority of the works in this show are from the '90s). The artist's statement for this retrospective of more than 70 collages is revealing: "Collage is an extension of my life. It affects nearly everything that I consider important, not just within the studio, but how I perceive the rest of the world. It affects my living environment, the way I cook, how I dress, and what I collect .
"My pictures come to the viewer by way of an aesthetic curve ball spinning towards home plate, containing every ingredient that I admire: color and texture, line and depth, illusion and contradiction, abstraction, romance and wit."
Not every Helander collage lives up to this last claim. Some of his work-for-hire -- including the posters he has done for the Palm Beach International Film Festival and the limited-edition prints in his Love Letters series, which interpret the alphabet in collage -- strikes me as a little thin and obvious.
But then there are pieces that vividly embody the artist's self-professed aesthetic. Take the small alcove of eight Mona Lisa variations in this show, four in color, four in black and white. Helander has more or less deconstructed the da Vinci painting and then dramatically reassembled the head and face with bits and pieces of other pictures to create an astonishing range of moods and expressions.
These playful pieces are comical but also a bit unnerving at the same time. Not only has Helander pulled off the most brazen tweaking of the Mona Lisa since Marcel Duchamp slapped a mustache and goatee on it for his 1919 piece L.H.O.O.Q., he has also managed to make us do what might have seemed impossible: see -- really see -- one of the most famous paintings in history in a whole new light. Quite an achievement in itself, and only one of Helander's many.
If Helander's collages prove too demanding, you can always take refuge in the adjacent exhibition, "Alexandra Nechita: Sentiments of Art," which sprawls through the museum's large main gallery and several smaller galleries. Nechita, a 14-year-old from Romania, has become a darling in certain corners of the art world because of her precociousness. She reportedly began drawing in pen and ink at age two, then went on to watercolors at five and acrylics and oils at seven. By the ripe old age of eight, she had a solo show in L.A.
Impressive stats, although there's a catch: Nechita's technical proficiency masks a startling lack of originality. She has achieved a facile mastery of her craft, which includes paintings, drawings, etchings, and sculpture. But there's not a single piece on display here that's more than a tired rehash of what Picasso did decades ago.