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THE ART GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

May 17, 1985|WILLIAM WILSON

Leland Rice shows a dozen remarkable photographs of graffiti on the notorious Berlin Wall. In some ways, they are less independent works than a form of found imagery. Rice operates as a documentarian, translator and archeologist photographically salvaging wonderful bits that might otherwise go unnoticed in the garbled informality of the spray-scrawled barrier.

The color, texture and content of the original work is captured so that it retains its character as painting rather than taking on photography's usual bogus nature as copied reality. There is a terrific directness in imagery that ranges from political propaganda ("Freiheit fur Alle") to pictographs as elegant as Adolph Gottlieb's and wry art-and-society jokes. One fragment depicts a row of primal figures and the motto "I like Beuys." Some prankster has replaced "Beuys" with "Boys."

Through sensitive, simple acts of choice, Rice produces an authentic, believable form of Neo-Expressionism. When most street-style art enters the commercial gallery as painting, it feels gentrified and compromised, losing the jeering spontaneity and rebelliousness that are at the core of the style. New York's superb subway "writers" have been plagued with the problem. On the cars, the stuff really is a bit obscene. Indoors, it goes fey and stands around like a cheap hooker at an Uptown cocktail party.

Rice manages to bring the spray- can beast back alive and dramatize its meaning like a great anthropologist. (The stuff is very like primitive cave and rock painting.) Street art has the quality of a visual tantrum that sometimes makes us wonder what's eating these guys. Work from that odd, imprisoned city creates resonances that hum across politics and sociology to empathy for all the "writers" who lash out to mark a world that seems to thwart the energetic spirit and grind out the spark of self. (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 669 N. La Cienega Blvd., to June 1.)

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