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THE ART GALLERIES

Venice

September 04, 1987|MARLENA DONOHUE

A first one-person Los Angeles show for well-known British sculptor David Nash supplements his inclusion in the larger-scale "British Sculpture Since 1965" exhibition, currently at the Newport Harbor Art Museum.

Reacting to austere British works of the '60s, Nash and his generation seized on organic, non-art settings (much of Nash's work is environmental) and on non-art materials, in this case untreated, rough-hewn or charred wood.

Nash lives and works in a rural slate-mining town in northern Wales and a bucolic English romance with landscape seeps out of these charming, boyish works. Using fallen trees, Nash saws and carves tree parts, exposing wood hunks to air, water and fire to get pared-down quasi-referential objects that are as much deadpan humor as they are conceptual mazes.

A tall vertical piece of wood is carved in repeating discs from bottom to top, then left to crack and warp. The result looks like a teetering stack of pancakes or a strange Sierra Club take on the process work of Donald Judd or Eva Hess. Clumsy boxes deformed by time and weather are doweled or arranged by Nash with a calculated nonchalance aimed at confusing nature and artifice.

Nash loves the land but he also uses it to point out how environment (in the generic sense) is a bigger context where meaning accrues. The work gives a fresh voice to that still germane question about whether artists' choice and thought qualify an object as art. In Nash's case, the answer is a resounding yes. (L.A. Louver Gallery, 77 Market St., to Sept. 12.)

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