David Ligare's Neo-Classical paintings are symptomatic of an alarmingly retrogressive revivalism becoming increasingly prevalent as painting attempts to reinstate its position as a medium of social relevance. Ligare in particular harks back to past idealistic moral tenets as a reaction to what he sees as the "gratuitous confrontation" of modern industrial society. This has nothing to do with the Post-Modernist tactic of appropriation and historical quotation. In fact, it has more in common with the 19th-Century Gothic revival of the Pre-Raphaelites--a simplistic yearning for pre-industrial innocence, when morality was a simple Platonic question of virtue through beauty, and unspoiled nature a catalyst for transcendent thoughts.
Formalist critics have denigrated this position. The idea of artist-moralizer has been discredited, and we have come to realize that ideas of truth and the sublime are arbitrary. Viewing Ligare's Mediterranean landscapes, with their mythological subjects taken from Virgil's "Aeneid" and Homer's "Iliad," one sees them less as the heroic allegories for future Nirvana that he obviously intends, than moribund style.
Ligare readily admits his debt to the thematic and compositional precedents of Claude and Poussin, but they quickly become two small links in a chain reaction of "neo-" cause and effect. David drew upon the antique, Poussin from Raphael, and the Renaissance masters revamped Roman and Greek models. Yet each great artist remade classicism in the image of his own time and place, so that the established vocabulary of myth becomes a selling point for stylistic innovation and relevant social comment. Ligare simply tries to hawk the painting of myths (not to mention the myth of painting), without examining its ideological motivation. The results are little more than ersatz nostalgia masquerading as rational vision. (Koplin Gallery, 8225 1/2 Santa Monica Blvd., to Dec. 13.)