Jacqueline Draeger has cut and slashed herself a niche among local ranks of Neo-Expressionists, but she has done it with abstraction and with a muscular use of materials. She now makes painted metal-and-wood wall constructions that sit at the juncture of sculpture and painting. The latest batch looks quite mature: richly colored, densely surfaced and so well designed that the work seems a trifle suspect in this age of slapped-together celebrity.
Draeger's leitmotif is a spiky leaf or flame shape, roughly cut of aluminum and attached to shaggy frames or interiors furiously painted and scratched with jagged gestures. Her most prevalent format plays with the concept of framed pictures as illusionistic windows. "Images" framed are only gestural fields--predominantly red, black and silver--that occasionally suggest landscape as they echo surrounding turbulence. One particularly strong piece, "Angel on Alvarado," incorporates a plaster cornice and thus tips its hat to Post-Modernism's infatuation with historical pastiches. When she breaks with the framing device and jagged gestures, her metal and weathered wood work recalls Rauschenberg's early "combines."
I might have said that Draeger's sure sense of design has taken her to the brink of decoration if I hadn't walked across the alley to see a concurrent show of Charles White III's mixed-media wall pieces. These geometric abstractions are so slickly turned out in decorator lavender and turquoise that they have no place in a serious gallery. Scaled way down and stripped of their pretensions, they would probably make terrific jewelry. Twenty years ago, these gleaming, perfectly machined products might have been justified as an unorthodox ode to technology. Today, they are just overdesigned baubles, too big to ignore and too vacuous to remember. (Karl Bornstein Gallery, 1662 12th St., to March 22.)