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THE ART GALLERIES

Santa Monica

June 12, 1987|COLIN GARDNER

Bruce Robbins' appeal is both easy and difficult to fathom. Easy because his hybrid sculpture/painting/relief format celebrates decoration for its own sake, creating a seductive concoction of process, elegantly wrought materials and slick surfaces that combines the formal properties of early Stella and Diebenkorn with more elusive architectonic concerns. Difficult because Robbins' objects ultimately lack both real structural teeth and resonance.

This is particularly apparent in two simultaneous exhibits that collectively trace Robbins' evolution from a post-Minimalist sculptor to a painter with both feet firmly planted in process. At Turske & Whitney Gallery, a pair of ladder and pilaster works from the late '70s explore Robbins' early concerns with architectural space and function. Composed of painted aluminum, wire mesh, plaster and wood, the ladders are completely unsuitable for climbing. Instead, they merely lean against the wall, creating a bridge between wall painting and floor sculpture, autonomous object and metaphor. Similarly, the pilasters have no architectural function beyond that of decorative relief. Instead of supporting the gallery wall, they are in fact supported by it, reinforcing their status as superfluous objects.

While these early works generate at least some conceptual tensions, the recent paintings at BlumHelman simply recycle Robbins' habitual sandwiching of materials through a series of formalist gyrations that add little or nothing to an already well-worn vocabulary. Striped geometric planes of aluminum, plaster and wood tilt and totter on unstable tripod legs as Robbins attempts to create some form of retinal kinesis through soft pastel and hard primary color contrasts. Unfortunately, he only succeeds in creating benign indulgences, more notable for their craftsmanship than for innate formal innovation. (Turske & Whitney Gallery, 962 N. La Brea Ave, to July 4; BlumHelman, 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, to July 3.)

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