The 10-year-old "Annual Downtown Artists Show" sponsored by Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions has become the slicked-up, citywide, Italianate "LACE Annuale." It says here in a press release that "inasmuch as the New, Improved LACE serves the entire Los Angeles community, the new 'LACE Annuale' will include professional artists who live and work anywhere within Los Angeles County."
Well, the "New, Improved LACE" on Industrial Street is a lot more appealing than the shabby old one on Broadway, but it's hard to tell whether the competitive show itself is better than in the past or whether it just looks sharper because of its setting. The wider scope of geography definitely has increased the percentage of established artists and brought a more professional demeanor.
As for the Italian affectation, that's show business.
But some things never change. "LACE Annuale" is still a theme-less group show with all the inherent problems of the genre. Contributing to the necessary filtering process that brings new art to public attention doesn't assure a cohesive exhibition. More often we get showcases for a collection of individuals or shopping lists of current styles.
As usual, LACE has enlisted a first-rate curator to review slides and make selections for the exhibition. This year Ned Rifkin, curator of contemporary art for the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, narrowed 270 applicants to 24. After visiting their studios, he selected 14 artists, including one collaborative team and three video artists.
Rifkin characterizes himself as "an eclectic purveyor of contemporary art, perhaps with a mild penchant for the conceptual thrust." Not surprisingly, he has selected an eclectic assortment of art that leans toward conceptualism.
Among the idea-oriented artists, photographer John Divola explores the emotional charge of painterly color and animal imagery. Diane Buckler shows her best work to date--disconnected, dreamlike images sandblasted onto granite.
Connie Fitzsimons and Bruce Meisner pack the show's strongest punch in a big wall piece. It has a gold-framed, illuminated transparency of Jacques-Louis David's Neo-Classical painting "The Oath of the Horatii" gleaming brightly in the center of a dark panel. Photographic images of an arched gateway and a camper appear in alternate corners of the panel, along with blocks of text repeating the sentence "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country."
Everything doesn't add up in this work. The vehicle and the architecture seem to go off on their own tangent as they contrast architectural grandeur with mundane middle-class transportation. But the piece--as consciously overproduced as Madison Avenue packaging--still comes off as an anti-war statement and a wry commentary on the uses of an artwork.
In "The Oath," the painter of the French Revolution has created a masterpiece that also can be seen as a monster. The painting has been diluted by endless reproductions and scholarly dissections, but it remains a stirring battle cry.
Keith Downey also works with large-scale transparencies (boxed and illuminated from the rear) but in artworks so muddled that they look like flashy experimentation.
Elizabeth Bryant has a more exacting touch in a series of six photograms, called "Target Series." In each, she fills a man's dark silhouette with an array of images that suggest such themes as love and marriage, military aggression, elementary education or science and technology. They can be interpreted as X-rays or actual targets. Collectively, the photograms suggest a parade of options.
A couple of other artists make products that take us back to the '60s or earlier. Kay Koopman's working telephones housed in a radio, women's purses and a hair dryer are as tired as their thrift-shop settings. Carolyn Krause's wearable clothing, of woven film leader and footage, is the sort of thing we used to see when we revered odd materials: a cute idea, elegantly rendered.
The painters are an able but cryptic lot: Roy Dowell, with bold abstractions constructed of patterned shapes; Kady Hoffman, whose translucent white canvases harbor outlines of letters and numbers, and Marc Pally, who packs everything from tight, little mazes to stringy passages and chunky figures into paintings that resolutely avoid easy interpretation.
That's it for the gallery, but the video viewing room offers works by three more artists. Again it's a goulash that's occasionally tasty. Max Almy's "Lost in the Pictures" effectively spoofs naive fascination with the tube and other electronic boxes. Laura Hayes tries too hard to be serious and significant in an amateurish piece on violence and media manipulation called "Keep Walking."
"John," Art Nomura's examination of attitudes toward a common name, runs on too long, but it has a nice, light touch. Among other things, he exposes the absurdity of trying to reach a consensus on such a subject.
And is there a consensus to be found in "LACE Annuale"? How about something nice and vague, like "Life goes on in Los Angeles' art community"?