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THE ART GALLERIES

Venice

March 07, 1986|WILLIAM WILSON

Two artists share simultaneous shows and a certain obscurity but otherwise have little in common. John Mason is a celebrated veteran L.A. ceramic artist little seen hereabouts in recent years. He came to note in the '60s, making impossibly huge hollow glazed ceramic cubes that were a puzzling combination of surface effusion and Minimalist rectitude. Then in 1973 he took to building environments of firebrick rather like a fancier Carl Andre.

Now he is back to clay in some 30 recent works that might earn him the accusation of having caved in to Post-Mod stylishness. They are about equally divided between free-standing sculptural objects, such as open squares or triangles, and others in more conventional forms, such as urns and platters. All are glazed in subdued earth hues enlivened by blues and grays and all bear variations on check and zigzag patterns that would sustain the sobriquet Navaho-Deco. Mason's colleagues, Ken Price and Peter Volkous, swim into mind.

The sculptural objects look silly because the patterns on them are but pointless ornament. The quasi-utilitarian objects, by contrast, seem to have inspired Mason to release a heretofore hidden delight in the stylish and the decorative. He jerks rectilinear forms into twisted rhomboids and patterns them so the addition dramatizes form. His least pretentious conception resulted in the most bracing and richly integrated work of his career.

Pictures by David Bomberg are another matter. He was an obscure and dedicated British painter whose career bracketed both world wars and, from what one can gather, never came to much. Now his rather glum art is revived in California, where it never had any life to begin with and so floats about fretfully without a context to put it together. One wonders why the gallery is telling us about this pathetic man.

His small paintings and drawings belong to a familiar genre of second-generation avant-garde art that tended to be liberal in ideology and conservative in conception. Basically, Bomberg's landscapes and portraits were wafted this way and that by the winds of Cubism, Futurism, British Vorticism and a worried humanism so familiar to art, from Soutine to Max Weber, that one wonders if there isn't a place in the modernist lexicon for a subcategory called Jewish Expressionism.

Bomberg was a pretty good painter, occasionally turning out a landscape in collapsing strokes of surprising power. Perhaps in a British context he might be seen as a forerunner of contemporary British humanists like Frank Auerbach or Leon Kossoff. Out here there is a momentary notion that he was a Neo-Expressionist precursor. Nope, too sincere. (L.A. Louver Gallery, 55 N. Venice Blvd. and 77 Market St., to March 29.)

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