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Art Review : Boosters Crow In Pasadena Exhibit

July 04, 1986|COLIN GARDNER

When is the Southern California art establishment going to actually start curating instead of appeasing local collectors and potential trustees? Not anytime soon, if "Pasadena Collects: The Art of Our Time" is any indication. This unfocused, dreadfully installed group exhibit is a perfect example of Los Angeles' predilection for regional self-promotion as an antidote to its neurotic inferiority complex vis-a-vis New York.

The thinking behind the exhibition is obvious. Pasadena is celebrating its centennial this year, and its collectors have always been supportive of the local art scene. Why not put together an exhibition of contemporary art that showcases these collections and promotes Pasadena as a city of both taste and creative vision? This might have produced, at the very least, a vague insight into Southland collecting practices if curators Melinda Wortz and Stephen Nowlin had decided upon a specific point of view. Instead they opted to promote a broad eclecticism that throws together painting, sculpture and photography from every imaginable postwar school and -ism. Even such a disparate melange of styles might have worked if the show had even a modicum of organization. Instead, works are crowded together in an arbitrary fashion so that subtler Minimalist and conceptual works become engulfed in a sea of Neo-Expressionist excess and decorative design fodder. Thus Gregory Mahoney's muted, hard-edge "Horizon Study" is wedged uncomfortably between the electric colors of Joe Fay and Don Sorenson, while Roger Herman's conceptual "Woman With a Vacuum Cleaner" is passed off as recycled Expressionism by virtue of its context: Suzanne Caporael and Lee Krasner.

When the exhibit attempts some sort of thematic overview, the results are either completely misguided or stylistically disruptive. Small paintings and drawings by Peter Lodato, Martha Alf, Richard Diebenkorn and Mark Lere, for example, are grouped together by mere virtue of some vague formal and geometrical content, while such conceptually oriented artists as John Baldessari, Jonathan Borofsky, Vernon Fisher and Allen Ruppersberg simply cancel each other out--an unfortunate case of overkill.

The show does contain several works of considerable merit, specifically William Wegman's brilliant "Dusted" and Baldessari's wry "Corrected Stonehenge," but many of the pieces by accomplished artists could hardly be called blue-chip selections. Ed Ruscha's "Currency" has little of the linguistic wit we have come to expect;Nancy Graves, Mark di Suvero, Gregory Amenoff and Philip Guston have all done much better work. In short, the whole package is a great disappointment that does little justice to either the artists or the 23 collections represented.

Co-sponsored by Pasadena Art Alliance, the exhibit continues at the Art Center College of Design main gallery through July 19.

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