Michiel Daniel's watercolors evoke a world on the verge of chaos, yet somehow reined in by man's natural tendency toward order and control. Working in a horizontal format, Daniel superimposes meticulously rendered still lifes of human detritus (model airplanes, fishing hooks, glass beads, stencils, a water pistol) on landscape backgrounds. The latter are often fragmented into three or four different planes, so that the apparent jumble of objects provides a surface cohesiveness belied by their actual arbitrariness.
This is essentially conservative representational realism to salve man's dislocated, post-industrial condition. Unfortunately, its stance is far too passive and benignly aesthetic to generate any social or political teeth beyond the safe confines of attractive picture-making.
In contrast, Carolyn Cardenas's tiny egg tempera paintings set out to be deliberately didactic. Mining the historical precedents of Bosch and Bruegel, as well as the luminescent painterly techniques of the Flemish masters, Cardenas updates the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Cardinal Virtues into modern contexts. Thus "Hope" becomes a lonely telephone plugged into an answering machine, while "Temperance" features a business-suited Yuppie walking doggedly through a swingers' party. Although the work exudes a skillful sense of condensed narrative, Cardenas's technique is far too illustrative to create any real dramatic resonance, while her smug pontifications on good and evil smell far too readily of the church pulpit. (Simard & Halm Gallery, 665 N. La Cienega Blvd., to June 20.)