Peace Press: The Art of Its Cooks (Arena One Gallery)

Monday, June 5, 2017

For 20 years, Peace Press functioned as a collective of political and social dissidents, and their steadfast devotion to the ideals of the Bill of Rights assisted thousands of people devoted to radical alternatives in the American economy. Stalked by the FBI in its early years, and no doubt subject to continued monitoring once Reagan became President, Peace Press is fondly remembered by many who protested inequity in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

As a tribute to all those who took the risk of working for causes that were not popular then, and are still not popular, Arena One Gallery in Santa Monica is sponsoring an exhibit of artists who worked in one capacity or another for Peace Press. Working in a print shop involves tasks that require more physical effort than one might expect, and certainly working on your feet can itself build up an appetite by mid-day. If an army marches on its belly, so do those opposed to that militarism. Since artists needed jobs after they graduated from places such as California Institute of the Arts, they found a ready-made job in Peace Press’s kitchen. I confess that the title of this exhibit confused me slightly at first. I didn’t realize that I was supposed to take it literally. One normally associates cooks with restaurants, but in this case the restaurant was the noon-time, in-house menu that was provided by a series of artists whose day job was cooking for the workers at the press.

There is a catalogue that reproduces several pieces of work on exhibit by each of the artists, along with a short statement by the artists, who include Nancy Youdelman, Jan Martin, Maud Simmons, Henry Kline, Carol Kaufman, Christina Schlesinger, Anni Siegel, Linda Shelp, and Steve Volpin. My four favorite pieces in the show were Anni Siegel’s “Evening Caryatids,” Linda Shlep’s “Golden Eyes,” Maud Simmons’s “Dreaming in Color 2,” and Carol Kaufman’s “Untitled” pieces. I especially regret that I didn’t get to spend enough time on my first visit to this galley with Kaufman’s work, which intrigued me for the way her pieces seemed to echo Agnes Martin. Nancy Youdelman’s pieces were also more complex than my first glance remitted. Her dresses had a sculptural quality, in that they seemed sufficiently “embroidered” with a cobblestone collage of buttons and other tiny mounds of shiny convections such that there was a hint of the effect of a bas-relief. I would be remiss in finishing this brief commentary if I did not emphasize how much Anni Siegel’s work impressed me. “Evening Caryatids” has a tone of dignified exuberance to its composition, both in color and in the undertones of the colors, that made the centered angle dividing one side of an ancient temple from another balance the gravitational pull of the centuries encased in the stone. The passage of time, in all its organic momentum, revealed itself in the deceptively inorganic pulse of the mineral world out of which the caryatids surfaced.

There will be a poetry reading with Michael C. Ford, Dinah Berland, and Julia Stein on Saturday, June 17th, at 2:00 p.m., and I look forward to a more extended visit.

THE ART OF THE COOKS OF PEACE PRESS
June 3 – July 1, 2017
Area one Gallery
3026 Airport Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90405
www.santamonicaartstudios.com