Ace Gallery launches an impressive new exhibition space with an inauspicious show called "Kings of Spray." The space is 13,000 square feet of warehouse with 25-foot ceilings in a cul-de-sac at 5917 Burchard St. near Venice and La Cienega boulevards.
Called the "Ace Museum," the space is intended for the kind of large non-commercial projects the gallery has done in the past with such artists as Michael Heizer and Richard Serra. A gallery spokesman describes rather grandiose plans to turn the place into a nonprofit institution and develop a sculpture garden in an adjacent outdoor space beneath the freeway.
Well, good luck. For the moment it is christened with a wobbly show that continues at the gallery's location on Melrose Avenue. The exhibition at least gives the Southland a firsthand introduction to several legendary graffiti artists from Manhattan's East Village circuit.
The principal virtue of this how-de-do is to confirm a conviction that spray-can "writers" may lend a certain gritty virtuosity and daring to vandalizing a subway car, but brought in from the cold they are revealed as raw, immature talents whose admirable energy finally fails to compensate for poverty of substance.
At the "museum" the cavernous space gobbles up graffiti murals like Pac-Man swallowing bubbles. The artist known as Futura (Leonard McGurr) has a cheerful sense of color but his circle-abstraction doesn't budge the scale of a huge wall. Ero (Dominque Philbert) has a natural grasp of composition and his amoebic shapes send his mural off on a roll, but it fizzles out in narcissistic stylization. Three other works are just hopeless. Fred Braithwaite, Lee Quinones and A-One (Anthony Clark) show images that are nothing more than scribbled cartoons adapted from Marvel Comics and the '60s underground press.
Back in high school, we all knew kids who could do graphics with athletic ease and grace. They could instantly draw a sexy broad or letters made of glass disappearing into infinity. It's a style that's natural to a particular period in adolescence. Normally it either just goes away or becomes the basis for the serious study of art. These graffiti writers are getting to be old guys in their 20s. Their art typifies a generation determined to be the first to have pubescent senility. (Flow Ace Gallery, 8373 Melrose Ave, and Ace Museum, 5917 Burchard St., to Dec. 14.)