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THE ART GALLERIES

The Valley

March 13, 1987|COLIN GARDNER

In the past, Barbara Berk's wood sculptures have explored both the industrial nature of materials (constructions of boards and planks) and trompe l'oeil , illusory effects suggesting transparency and distortion. Her latest work is more distinctly formal, employing painted post-and-lintel and T-shaped structures to create quirky totems with anthropomorphic allusions.

Isolated or grouped in clusters, Berk's willowy, sinuous forms evoke images of long-horned cattle, dancing whirlybirds and angular military men. While she shows a characteristic flair for drawing simple humor from the most banal of imagery, she is once again betrayed by her structural shortcomings, failing to inject any sort of tension into what remain slightly amusing trifles.

In contrast, Ruth Bavetta's figurative paintings are built around enigmatic scenarios that are largely dictated by what is happening "off-screen." Thus in "The Fall of Icarus," three men stare up toward the sky at some unseen event, while "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" focuses on a group of curious rubberneckers and a cop at the scene of what appears to be a highway accident. In more painterly dramatic hands, such frozen, almost photographic fragments might have been imbued with reverberant psychological overtones, but Bavetta's awkward attempts at homespun realism simply draw attention to stilted technique and contrived narrative setup. (Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd., to March 27.).

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