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THE GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

March 01, 1985|WILLIAM WILSON

One of the great symbols of the good life in Los Angeles is the room with the view. One of the great symbols of Los Angeles' lingering egalitarianism is that you can still have a magnificent vista without being a millionaire. One of the most surprising things about all of that is that this important aspect of our way of life has received so little artistic attention.

Well, L.A. painter Larry Cohen makes it right in about 15 large paintings of our wonderful panoramas. There are views of the reservoir from Durand Drive, views of the bay from the Pacific Palisades and just plain views from Taft and Franklin. Obviously there is variety. Cohen even includes the changing windows or balconies from which he is looking, but basically these are all that one prototypal, unchanging L.A. view.

Everybody knows it. In the near distance there is a boxy stucco bungalow with a tile-edged roof, a couple of shabby palm trees and fences overgrown with jasmine that will suffuse the town in sexy cheap perfume come nightfall.

But quaint details almost immediately give way to vistas of anonymous breadth. Pastel houses are but three daubs of paint, and high-rise buildings are pale lavender silhouettes in the smog. There is so much undefined space it is almost mystical and looking at it makes one feel detached, godlike.

Cohen seems to have put his finger--or rather his brush--on a spatial formula that accounts for the stereotype of L.A. people as at once idiosyncratic and spacey, fascinated with human personality and in love with privacy.

The artist builds the stuff of his message into a laid back, modest, unassertive style that is nearly unidentifiably traditional, not quite tight enough to be representational, not loose enough to be true Impressionism. Cohen is so understated that he may never be recognized as capturing Los Angeles in the '80s in as pertinent a way as Ed Ruscha did in the '60s, but at least this once that is what he has done. (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, 812 N. La Cienega Blvd., to March 23.)

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