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Art Review : Furniture Waiting For Layer Of Life

June 21, 1986|ROBERT McDONALD

SAN DIEGO — The Quint Gallery (664 9th Ave.), for its second show in a row, is exhibiting outrageous furniture.

This month it's the furniture of Roy McMakin, a part-time resident of San Diego. At the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art's "A San Diego Exhibition" last year, he created a much-praised installation that resembled a California craftsman-style dining room.

Last month Quint Gallery exhibited furniture by Kim MacConnel, who alters, assembles and paints mass-produced furniture, creating eccentrically exuberant works of art out of banal throwaways.

McMakin's furniture works are ostensibly more nearly traditional than MacConnel's, but equally, if not more, subversive, despite their lack of flamboyance.

The main space of the Quint Gallery looks like a conventional furniture store with small tables arranged in an orderly display. But wait. There's something the matter with them. They're all the same size, but their tops are different. They don't even seem to fit the table.

Examine the even dozen tables (briskly selling, so they must appeal to someone). They all have the same standardized base (34 by 34 by 17 inches), either mahogany or painted maple. The tops are something else: a big L off to one side, an oval too small to cover the rectangular support, a cross off center, a ziggurat, a quadrant of a circle, a top that appears to be the correct size but is turned on its axis at a right angle to the base. And it has a square hole in it besides. These and more are all simple geometric forms, but not the customary rectangular table tops resting on four legs and a skirt.

They are not tables that would fit into corners or even comfortably against walls. For all the traditional passivity of the form--something on which to place objects--they are aggressive structures that surprise and frustrate our expectations. They command space as sculptures do, and yet they also function in their traditional manner, and it is McMakin's desire that they do so.

"They're not completed until they're in someone's house and used for a vase of flowers, to collect mail or to rest keys," the artist has said. "I always want everyday life 'to layer' on top of what I do."

McMakin has taken a pure archetypal form, laden with cultural meanings from banal to ceremonial, and modified it in such a way as to require viewers to reconsider it freshly. He seeks in these works to create, he has said, "a variety of confrontational experiences, between formal and personal ideas, between the shapes and their functions, between everyday life and the purity of the shape and between the crisp geometry of the form and the imperfections of the finish."

He does not make his tables himself. In the tradition of minimalist sculptors such as Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd he conceptualizes the shape, develops the specifications for it and makes working drawings. A carpenter makes the tables under his supervision and an assistant paints them. They are not finished in an immaculate minimalist fashion, however. Brush marks are apparent in the nauseous colors, and edges seem to have been carelessly overlooked.

Again, this appearance is McMakin's intention. "They're not anonymous. They're obviously handmade," he said.

McMakin expresses the same aesthetic in a group of two dozen color photographs in Quint's smaller gallery. All are banal images such as "Water Softener by the Front Porch of the Seventh Avenue House," "Flowers by the Mission Valley YMCA" and "Side of Building in Hillcrest." He alters them by painting and incising geometric forms on them, changing them from something ordinary into something artistic and forcing viewers to confront what the two images are.

"I just stand around making shots of where I live," he said.

McMakin is an artist with a formidable, albeit eccentric, vision.

In the South Gallery there are works by Michael Dvortcsak, Italo Scanga, Manny Farber, Kenneth Capps and the reclusive, brilliant painter David Baze.

The exhibition continues through July 5.

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