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The Art Galleries

Wilshire Center

September 18, 1987|SUZANNE MUCHNIC

Jan Baum's building has been the flagship of the La Brea Avenue art scene. Now her gallery has taken over the entire ground floor of that building, extending into space formerly occupied by Roy Boyd (relocated in Santa Monica). The inaugural show features three Southern Californians whose reputations stretch across the country and beyond. All working in distinctly individual spheres, their strongest shared suit is a challenge to the notion of art as the expression of cultured reserve.

Terry Allen, a native of Texas and resident of Fresno, shows "Them ol' love songs just keep comin' on & on & on," a cagelike room from an exhibition called "Honky Tonk Visions." It's a visually noisy, aurally silent installation that cries out for the accompaniment of the West Texas tunes that are scrawled across a plastered wood bed. A stuffed prairie dog plunks away on a miniature piano in one corner of the screened enclosure, reinforcing our yen for real, lusty music, but an angel statue on the wall above admonishes, "No." We have to be satisfied with a blanket of lyrics, spread across the violently tilted bed and speared by knives, hatchets and machetes. The sense of deprivation intensifies the frustrated passion that throbs in this genre of music and in Allen's art.

Italo Scanga of La Jolla has made his mark with an expressionistic update of Cubist sculpture. Painting contradictory forms on wooden assemblages, he suggests human heads and figures while doing everything possible to subvert their structure. Current works make us realize how tenaciously we hang on to reading human content into masses of carpenters' castoffs, musical instruments, wooden shoes, rope and saws. The net effect is of art that's stuck in tradition while yearning to move ahead--and of the human condition as mired in an equally uncomfortable place.

Kim MacConnel, who also lives in La Jolla, is known as a pattern painter who emerged in the '70s amid a Matisse-influenced investigation of art's decorative impulse. At his best in environments that revel in '50s-flavored kitsch, he now offers relatively ordinary abstract paintings. Working in primary colors plus black and white, he cuts loose wavy lines, polka dots and ragged-edged, irregular shapes that bump up against each other good-naturedly--rather like patches of fabric from a child's bedspread. The paintings are better than that, but not enough to squelch the worry that MacConnel has stopped exploring the decorative concept and started creating decorative objects. (Jan Baum Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., to Oct. 2.)

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