Despite earthly temblors and financial tumblers, L.A. galleries keep opening like there was no tomorrow--or rather like there will be a tomorrow. Margo Leavin's gallery is hardly new; it is rather among the bulwarks of the local establishment, but she is expanding her Robertson Boulevard operation in such a dramatic way that it amounts to a fresh start. She acquired the adjacent barnlike studio of Tony Duquette when the decorative artist moved to San Francisco, and workmen are still finishing office and storage spaces so commodious that one almost wonders why they're not going to be the public galleries. As to those, they presently house a baker's dozen of paintings by Ross Bleckner, while a larger satellite gallery on Hilldale Avenue shows new works by the veteran conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth.
Since the '70s Kosuth has puzzled and provoked his audience with word-game works that were often nothing more than dictionary entries blown up and juxtaposed so as to either orbit the mind into blissful intellectual realms or cause it to plop into a hard landing in the wastelands of boredom.
The present group consists of large enlargements of printed or scribbled pronouncements by Sigmund Freud, juxtaposed with photographs or spelled out in neon. One big triptych called "Legitimation 6" shows us Belle Vue, the house where Freud formulated his dream theory, along with pages from his account books, photos of his curio cabinet, himself and an application from somebody who wanted to study with him.
Kosuth is maddeningly enigmatic, oracular and intellectual, often seeming to offer pure enticement with no insight at the end. What is one to make of these incantations mumbled over the shade of Freud? Well, most works seem to concentrate on the master's pronouncements on wit and humor.
According to Freud, there is no such thing as "Just Kidding"; nobody ever joshes or makes a slip of the tongue psychologically. Sounds like Kosuth is telling us that he himself is not kidding, he is serious.
Serious about what? Well, maybe about changing the meaning of language. That is what Freud was doing, suggesting that a joke is not a joke. That sounds perverse but it got our attention. Why was it better than "Many a truth is spoken in jest"?
Kosuth is trying to reframe language to bring out fresh meanings. So far he is real short on Gestalts. One does notice that this show is about a revolutionary who became an academic icon. The former radical Kosuth is suddenly steeped in conventional European intellectualism and looks pretty academic himself, juggling arcane jargon and never getting to the open meadow of clarity.
New Yorker Ross Bleckner was included in this year's Whitney Biennial, that unstable firmament of shooting stars and flashing pans. His pictures play with the language of painting in current fashion. At first they don't make sense, lurching from fields of vertical stripes to sweet images of hummingbirds suckling seductive blossoms.
At least Bleckner's art has a binding sensibility. It emerges on that old border where Victorian rigor and sweetness meet the fetid charms of the Decadents. His hummingbird paintings cannily use the style of parking-lot art to evoke tainted sincerity. One fuzzy stripe painting is on a scalloped format and reveals the lettered motto, "REMEMBER THEM"--some Poe-etic memento mori. A sumptuous still life is painted as if the chandelier and vase of flowers were ghosts. In these hours when the epoch of luxurious yuppiedom seems at its Waterloo, Bleckner's evocations of perfumed corruption appear at least timely. (Margo Leavin Gallery, 812 N. Robertson Blvd., to Nov. 14; 817 N. Hilldale Ave., to Nov. 28.)