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Art Review : Small But Choice La Jolla Exhibit

September 05, 1986|ROBERT McDONALD

LA JOLLA — The current offerings at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art are a small, but choice, exhibit of works by British sculptor Tony Cragg; a "pocket exhibit" by Reesey Shaw, and many works from the museum's permanent collection.

Cragg, like Bill Woodrow, another British sculptor who had a major exhibit at the museum some months ago, uses the detritus of our urban civilization to construct his works. Cragg, however, does not, like Woodrow, substantially alter the objects he discovers. He uses them unchanged in inventive relationships, creating artistic wholes. His works are also less political in content than Woodrow's but equally humanistic. They are evocative, metaphorical statements about man in his physical and societal environments.

"Some Kind of a Group" (1983), a wall sculpture, or relief, represents 10 human figures--five in a group, four separate but nearby and one isolated--made of gaudy plastic shards, many of which are identifiable as Bic lighters, combs, soap dishes, lids, pillboxes, Jello molds, cassette covers, bottles and toys. In a full, expressive palette of colors, the figures, when viewed close up, dissolve into their parts, like daubs of pointillist color. But viewed from a distance they assume individualistic stances and seem even to express character. Viewers may also wish to discover a narrative content implied in the work.

"Pegs: Three Stages" (1986), a new, more subtle work, consists of three vertical conical forms, varying from 15 to 78 inches in height, made of stacked cylinders--tires, gears, cake tins, sanding wheels, whatever. Representing a variety of colors, but mostly earth tones, the layers suggest geological strata. The works are strong and handsome, minimal industrial forms whose components are enriched by their history of use.

The final work, and least successful, "Isoprene Landscape" (1978), is made from a huge truck tire combined with a Masonite open structure. In its resemblance to a model for geology study, it looks contrived and conveys no substantial presence.

If nothing else, Cragg proves the point, if it still needs proving, that real artists can make art out of anything, including trash.

Reesey Shaw's untitled work (1986) inaugurates what the museum calls its Alcove series of exhibits. Made of encaustic (or colored wax) on wood, it is either a painted sculpture or a sculptural painting. The largest of its components, a wall relief divided vertically into three passages of deep grays, is characteristically handsome. But the two gray "childlike" forms standing nearby appear gratuitous. A weak work by one of the strongest artists residing in the area, it is a disappointing first Alcove show.

There are a lot of works from the museum's permanent collection to look at in the West, Fayman, Meyer and Parker galleries. The collection is more diversified than it was previously, a richer, more satisfying and truer record of man's creativity in the visual arts during the last few decades. The exhibit includes more works that belong to the museum and far fewer works on loan.

Among the especially beautiful old favorites are Craig Kauffman's pink cast-resin bubble, which defies its materiality, and Billy Al Bengston's early sprayed-lacquer "chevron" painting, "Buster" (1962). A newer important acquisition is John Duff's Fiberglas "Copper and Blue Wall Piece" (1983), which combines minimal geometric form with "accidents" from its fabrication and seductive earth tones.

Works by California reductive artist John McCraken, who is especially well-represented among the museum's holdings, fill half of the West Gallery. They include four wood "planks," two polished resin-on-plywood planks, a blue pyramid and a black painting in a handsome and instructive installation. It never ceases to amaze that such "dumb" objects convey such presence.

The Fayman Gallery presents a knockout group of works that are as instructive as they are beautiful. Assembled by Chief Curator Ronald Onorato and Registrar Bolton Colburn, they demonstrate the compatibility of East and West Coast aesthetics (Robert Irwin with Agnes Martin and Max Cole) and the continuity of the California aesthetic (John Altoon, Emerson Woelffer and Peter Alexander, among others).

Two Altoon abstract expressionistic paintings dating from 1958 and 1959, gifts of Murray and Ruth Gribin of Beverly Hills, are especially important acquisitions for the museum, not only because they deepen its Altoon holdings, but also because they are so dazzlingly seductive. They will provide viewers with an inexhaustible source of visual nourishment.

The Meyer Gallery is filled with significant gifts from RSM Co., whose enlightened collecting philosophy includes taking risks and supporting institutions that take risks. A few of the works it has given to the museum are photographs by Jerry Burchfield, sculptural furniture by Scott Burton and paintings by Deborah Kass and Frank Dixon.

Such gifts, which are important additions to San Diego's visual arts heritage, are evidence of the widespread support the museum has garnered and the respect with which it is regarded.

The exhibits continue through Sept. 21.

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