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THE ART GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

October 03, 1986|KRISTINE McKENNA

Having relocated to an elegant new gallery and undergone a slight change of management, the former Simard Halm Gallery declares its intentions with "Painterly Abstraction: Eight New York Artists," a conservative inaugural exhibition. A catalogue essay by co-curators Will Halm and Charles Kessler informs us that abstraction has been in the shadow of figurative painting for the last decade but is about to return to the fore as the public has had its fill of Neo-Ex figurative imagery. Makes sense so far, but are these new abstractionists good enough to support the premise? Yes and no.

Attempting to resurrect the original values that fueled this style of "pure painting," these artists conduct clinical inquiries into ideas concerning color, shape and light, and many of their pictures make overt references to nature. Alan Cote executes broad passages of muted color in mooshy, rather listless paintings that are upstaged by the work of Joan Snyder that hangs on a facing wall. Snyder's "The Field in June" is the most resolved painting in the show; incorporating a thick, blobby surface, intensely saturated color and composition evocative of Monet's water lillies, it's simultaneously knowledgeable and irreverent.

Works by Christopher Lucas resemble primitive totems or shields and have a vaguely kitschy flavor, as do Thomas Nozkowski's small, emblematic pictures. Suzanne Joelson works on round canvases that seem contrived and do her intriguing imagery a disservice, while Gary Stephens' seriously dull work is built around unattractive colors that are slathered onto large canvases fashioned out of modular pieces that are fitted together. Will Mentor's small, subtly surreal images resonate with Jungian mystery and manage to invest abstract painting with a system of belief other than that connoted by the idea of pure painting.

All told, this is a rather ponderous and constipated show, but it does raise an interesting point. Distilled to its essence, abstract painting is an act of supreme faith. It's hard to recall a time when the art world was more poisoned with an attitude of cynical careerism. It would be encouraging to encounter a new young artist capable of the spirituality--and the technical chops--this style requires. (Simard Halm and Shee Gallery, 665 N. La Cienega Blvd., to Oct. 25.)

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