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Art Review : Laica Sculpture: Unfocused Talent

March 19, 1986|KRISTINE McKENNA

It's readily apparent that the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art's current exhibition of sculpture (to April 5) was curated by committee.

The final installment in a two-part survey, "Sculpture Part II" includes solid work by six promising young artists but lacks a central unifying idea and has no curatorial point of view. Program notes describe the show as "a response to the continual flow of slide documentation submitted by local artists."

This is grounds for an exhibition? If the answer is yes, then surely that flow of slides yielded an idea or two worthy of exploration.

Program notes go on to explain that "each artist has been allotted space in which to construct a site-specific installation or exhibit studio work previously produced. The projects tend to fully utilize or alter the existing spatial parameters of the gallery." I beg to differ. It's next to impossible to significantly alter "the parameters of this gallery" or any gallery because an art gallery is one of the most rigid environments yet cooked up by the human mind.

What you'll actually find at LAICA is six artists, each in his own private orbit, housed under the same roof. Having been allotted a room of their own, this is how six artists decorated them:

Components of Chu-Hsien Chang's installation seem like disturbing remnants from a long-dead culture. Snaking through a narrow rectangular room is a long, low brick planter filled with hunks of human hair. Nearby is a big wooden cabinet that gurgles with the sound of running water; open the door and you'll find a bone-dry sink--nary a drop of water. Leaning against a wall is a pair of large gray stones shaped like commas; they face each other as if engaged in conversation. Two industrial, erector-set type structures built of rusted poles and light bulbs loom in an adjacent corner. Titled "Shreds," the piece has chilly "Blade Runner" vibes.

In a similar mood is a work by Dale Newkirk involving a room with dramatically low lighting and a large metal cage. Suspended from the ceiling inside the cage floats a long yellow wedge of metal. Perched atop the wedge are five randomly arranged lumpy beige mounds that look as though they're made of clay. On the floor below the wedge is a shallow reflecting pond. The piece has an inexplicably diabolic personality.

Things brighten considerably in Darcy Huebler's room, which features five geometric wall sculptures of wood or cardboard, painted in cheerful carnival colors. The pieces are vaguely reminiscent of musical notes and, in turn, the be-bopping art of Stuart Davis.

Three works in clay by Ali Acerol seem fairly benign as well; the largest, "Zephyr," resembles a beige tornado. Concentric circles in a downward spiral, "Zephyr" is constructed of clay coils that adhere to one another with no assistance other than gravity and balance. The word zephyr refers to the west wind--a soft, beneficial wind--and Acerol intends that his piece function as an invitation for the mind to wander.

An installation by Guatemalan artist Alvaro Asturias takes the form of an altar. Titled "San Miguel Arcangel," the piece marks off its turf with red-and-white paper drapery and a floor covering of pine needles. Fruit, an aquarium, votive candles and flowers surround a painting and a Guatemalan folk-art carpet made of sawdust that's been stained in bright colors, then arranged in a pattern with the aid of a stencil. Sawdust paintings of this sort are traditionally done on Guatemalan streets on the Thursday before Easter, then are destroyed on Easter Sunday when religious processions pass over them.

The central image in Asturias' tableau is a female warrior slaying an evil creature with bat wings. That image, and the piece as a whole, refer to the political strife in Central America that is destroying both the country and its folk-art traditions.

Peter Levinson has named his piece, which loosely resembles a massive powder-blue baby bassinet, "Coign of Vantage," a term that describes an advantageous position for observation or action. In a statement, Levinson explains that "the work presents a heraldry of emotion, but doesn't have a lot to do with self-expression or self-confession." This towering structure, which defies metaphorical description, is as cryptic as Levinson's comment, which suggests that the piece is in conflict with itself.

As is this exhibition. If "Sculpture Part II" can be interpreted as an accurate reading of the waters, it would seem that avant-garde sculpture has completed its travels through the microcosm of conceptualism and the macrocosm of massive earthworks. At this point it seems an art form in search of a manifesto, and until it finds one, it appears to feel confident that it can be respectably difficult while of accessibly human size.

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