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La Cienega Area

April 19, 1985|WILLIAM WILSON

Lawrence Dreiband is rapidly approaching the status of a veteran without having solved his art's basic problem. For years he has demonstrated a nearly miraculous command of realistic technique and an utter absence of evident conviction about what to do with it.

The list of artists he has emulated reaches halfway around the world. Recent works only make it longer in both time and space. Here are about 20 drawings--some with the heroic proportions of big paintings--in charcoal, oil stick and some paint thematically linked under the awful pun, "Statuary Gape."

As usual, the rendering is drop-dead virtuoso. Dreiband moves charcoal effortlessly from meaty flesh-rendering to sooty, dense shadows and powdery atmospheres. Alas, this angelic, masterful talent has been put in the service of some of the silliest ham-handed art jokes in human memory.

"Walking and Talking Schtick for Joseph Beuys" combines an image of Rodin's "Walking Man" with Beuys' trademark dead hare. In "Shelf Life," one of Donald Judd's geometric metal sculptures is used as a pedestal for sculptural heads by Matisse.

One can only hope that the petty, revisionist nastiness that seeps from these pieces is unintentional. A couple of Neo-Pop essays are better. Dreiband puts the face of the Lone Ranger on a classical equestrian sculpture and pokes fun at the recent crop of Nike brand athletic shoe billboards by making the runner the Nike of Samothrace. Mildly funny and almost harmless.

Harmless, that is, to everybody but Dreiband. What is most disturbing here is the way a particular sort of talent seems to willfully misunderstand itself.

Lawrence Dreiband's skill is the visual equivalent of a great operatic voice, resonant and dignified. Such a voice doesn't have to sing the classic repertoire all the time, but when it tries to encompass cutting little bitchy ditties it trivializes itself in a way too embarrassing to contemplate. (Janus Gallery, 8000 Melrose Ave., to May 11.)

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