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THE ART GALLERIES

Venice

August 29, 1986|COLIN GARDNER

Every summer, L.A. Louver gallery presents a two-part exhibition of American and European painting, drawing and sculpture that attempts to articulate a dialogue between form and content that transcends national boundaries as well as specific media. In an era where overt mannerism and stylistic pluralism have become ingrained dogma, however, such a broad thesis has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leaving us with an uninsightful statement of the obvious.

Despite this flaccid curatorial premise, the shows do allow us to see gallery artists in a broader context, and often turn up rarely seen gems, exemplified in Part I of this year's survey by Australian-based painter, John Walker. Part II focuses more specifically on emerging British artists, as well as American painters outside the gallery's usual fold. The results are largely disappointing, indicating both a dearth of original ideas and a dangerous tendency towards formula academicism.

The British are particularly guilty of the latter. Charlotte Verity's "Glass, Shells" is a Morandi-like still life that boils down to a mere exercise in light and composition, while Therese Oulton's stickily impastoed swirl of kinetic pigment apes the animated "impressionism" of Turner's "Steamship in a Snowstorm." Similarly John Lessore's "The Ageing Process" depicts an anatomy class in such a washed-out, lifeless palette as to seem more concerned with burying art historical precedents than taking the genre into new territories.

Of the gallery artists, Texan James Surls is well represented with an ominous spiraling sculpture of leaves-cum-knife blades that deftly blurs the boundaries between folk traditions and modernism, while William T. Wiley, Peter Shelton and Peter Voulkos produce adequate pieces indicative of their usual concerns. Yet, when the smoke screen of "cross-pollination" and mindless quotation is cleared away, it is Ed Moses who makes the most lasting impression. His familiar plaid-like weave of diagonal grids, layered in a variety of processes, manages to juxtapose formal geometry with expressionistic gesture in a delicate balance of unmitigated flair and pure control. If only the rest of the work had shown the same facility and maturity of purpose. (L.A. Louver, 55 N. Venice Blvd., and 77 Market St., to Sept. 20)

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