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ART REVIEW : A LOOK AT KIM MacCONNEL 10 YEARS LATER

May 14, 1986|ROBERT McDONALD

SAN DIEGO — It is fully a decade since San Diegans have had an opportunity to see the works of Kim MacConnel in depth. Although his works have appeared in occasional group exhibitions usually devoted to the themes of pattern and decoration, his absence from the local art scene has been a matter of concern--even a scandal--because of his ties to this community.

One of the few artists in this area with an international reputation, MacConnel was educated at San Diego State University and UC San Diego. Although his major dealer, Holly Solomon, is based in New York, he lives in Encinitas. MacConnel made his exhibition debut, as have so many other artists of merit in this area, at the San Diego Jewish Community Center.

MacConnel's last show here was presented in 1976 through the efforts (struggles might be a better word) of innovative curator Richard Armstrong at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art.

Because of its decorativeness, MacConnel's work then was shocking to many who had only recently become accustomed to the stripped-down look of minimalism. They denounced young artists like MacConnel for trifling with sacred canons, for turning back art history.

MacConnel's works of a decade ago lacked the conventional support of canvas on stretcher bars in a rectangular configuration. MacConnel used panels of fabric of varying lengths sewn together, unhemmed, for a painting support, and allowed to hang freely. Such works affronted the clean, white spaces that museums had become. But they gained acceptance as forces such as the women's liberation movement, which had been part of the impetus for a new respect for pattern and decoration, became established. And people liked them.

A selection of MacConnel's recent works now at the Mark Quint Gallery (664 9th Ave.) represents an evolution and a counter-evolution from his earlier work. He still uses brightly colored, bold, referential images in what are apparently narrative sequences, but on canvas stretched on wood supports.

"Sko," for example, is a congeries of seemingly random images: a clock, a man reading, a lamppost and city skyline, an African shield, a hand with a rag washing a window, a fruit bowl, a cat and others.

There are also many smaller paintings in the neo-expressionist idiom in hideous, often elaborate, commercial frames. "Chinoise" is a crudely painted image of a red pagoda and bridge over a blue stream with green mountains in the distance, in a gold-colored (not gilt) frame.

And there is furniture (much from the 1950s) daubed in patterns, coffee tables covered with images and altered to become non-functional sculpture, and lamps constructed out of . . . . You've go it to see it to believe it! Try a damaged home movie screen and a Chinese lantern. It's called a "Guys and Dolls Lamp." And they work, aesthetically as well as functionally.

MacConnel has appropriated cliches and esoterica from all human cultures to make wildly imaginative works in a supreme effort to violate standard definitions of art and good taste. There are references to French, African and paleolithic art. A powerful influence is a love of Oriental splendor and exuberance. The exhibition is colorful and bracing. It compels you to readjust your preconceptions about art and beauty.

Quint is also exhibiting a group of large color photographs by Suda House, another acclaimed artist who lives in the area.

For three years now the photographer has worked on a series entitled "Aqueous Myths." She creates elaborate set-ups using water with her subjects, often either nude or dressed in swimming and snorkeling gear, to suggest stories from antiquity. Her subjects are most often goddesses such as Diana and Astarte. The contemporary props, such as rubber toys and other incongruities, introduce humor in beautifully made, often erotically charged, images. The theme has been a productive one for House, and observers are eager to see how her work will evolve. The exhibits continue through May 24.

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