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THE GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

March 15, 1985|WILLIAM WILSON

John Chamberlain is long since established as the maestro sculptor of crushed auto-body parts. When he first emerged in the late '50s, along with the likes of Rauschenberg and Johns, his crumpled fenders seemed to have sociological import as comments on throwaway culture. A current and praiseworthy update shows changes both in the work and in our perceptions, making his art appear as a function of Abstract Expressionism and the grand tradition of Western sculpture.

The most imposing pieces in this museum-quality presentation are a series of free-standing uprights with titles such as "Gangster in Love" and "Etruscan Romance." Made of rumpled and bunched vertical members, they call up associations with everything from eroded Egyptian monoliths to wrecked rockets still sitting on their launch pads. At best, they achieve such strong visual thrust that they seem on the brink of liftoff. On the down side, only "Cafe Macedonia" escapes visual garbling. Numerous colors and components neither completely fuse nor maintain separateness. It's the kind of shortcoming that might become irrelevant on greater familiarity.

There is still plenty to see. An uncharacteristic horizontal "Gondola Jack Kerouac" has some of the inexplicable tragic aura found in the Parthenon's "Three Fates." Among a group of small works, those in a series called "Tonk" feel miniaturized like maquettes for bigger things. But "Samurai Soo" combines the definition of armor with the flow of drapery. Who would have thought that a kid from the body shop would turn into a classical artist? (Margo Leavin Gallery, 817 N. Hilldale Ave., to March 30.)

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