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THE GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

March 01, 1985|WILLIAM WILSON

A new conservativism abroad in the land may not play equally well everywhere, but it has some agreeable artistic results. Keith Sonnier is a New York artist best known for oddly compelling abstract wall works made of neon, sparsely festooned with bits of chiffon and other ephemera.

Last year he was in Japan and decided to concoct works from indigenous materials. The results are half a dozen wood sculptures and as many works on paper thematically titled "Tokobashiro." The word, I'm told, refers to the central support in traditional Japanese houses. It not only holds up the roof but is made of some particularly venerable wooden member valued for its own sake.

Sonnier has extrapolated this idea into sculpture typically made up of a couple of logs and a broken board joined by slotting or with pegs in emulation of Japanese building practice. He also fuses the Japanese respect for nature and craft by combining a generally rustic look with a high degree of finish. In "Kintoi," for example, two upright logs are elegantly polished. In other works rude boards are finished with paint or incised calligraphy.

Several examples have phallic overtones that are both humorous and allusive to certain traditional Japanese ceremonials.

For all this Orientalization, however, one also finds Sonnier backtracking into recent American modernism. The generally funky look of the works traces to, say, the Bay Area of the '60s, an art once scorned as excessively provincial.

Works on paper are so clearly Neo-Expressionist in spirit that the whole thing feels like an elaborate sideways maneuver to join the new mainstream. Never mind. The work is good. Mostly it recalls the days when American jazz rejuvenated itself with infusions of Latin rhythm or rock got rolling again with reggae. Such combinations not uncommonly result in hybrid vigor, but they are also often symptoms of a style in its twilight. (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 669 N. La Cienega Blvd. to March 23.)

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