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THE ART GALLERIES

Venice

June 20, 1986|COLIN GARDNER

Like most of the post-war generation of German painters, Bernd Koberling employs a gestural, "expressionistic" style as both a distancing device for more conceptual concerns and a means of exploring the language of painting itself.

Born in Berlin in 1938, Koberling studied under Max Kaus, a second-generation Expressionist and pupil of Heckel. Like Georg Baselitz, however, Koberling's use of paint has little to do with emotional Angst or historical neurosis, but rather a personal exploration of composition, the relationship of figure to ground and the essence of the painterly act as an exercise in mark making.

Koberling works in tightly integrated series using a broad palette reminiscent of Emil Nolde, often imposing the moody lyricism of northern landscapes or simple humanistic themes upon a simple vertical/horizontal structure. Workers are a favorite Koberling subject, whether walking along the beach or carrying wood on their shoulders. Their down-to-earth unpretentiousness might be mitigated by sudden flights of fancy (spreading out their arms like wings)or interrupted by unlikely visions (a huge whale leaping in the air). These structural metaphors are reinforced by Koberling's loosely impastoed style, as if the fleeting transience of nature has to be captured in great haste before it slips through the artist's hands into dark oblivion. Koberling has been accused of perpetuating unresolved and/or derivative visual language, but in many ways these apparent shortcomings perfectly complement his conceptual premise. This is work about elusiveness and self-effacement, not egotistical bombast.

George Herms has always been a completely original artistic voice and his latest exhibit, an unsentimental homage to his mentor, the assemblagist/poet Wallace Berman, is as fresh and idiosyncratic as ever. The space is dominated by a huge agglomeration of found bric-a-brac that includes a turned-over desk, shelves, drawers, rusted oil drum, lamp, shoes, art catalogues and poetry. Like the object poems of Andre Breton, Herms' work exploits the powerful combination of language, strict formalism and apparent randomness, where images are simultaneously self-contained entities yet part of a wider whole that defies logic. (L.A. Louver, 77 Market St. (Koberling) and 55 N. Venice Blvd. (Herms), to July 12.)

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