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'Extended Images' Stirs the Emotions With Its Perplexing Pictures

October 30, 1987|HILLIARD HARPER | San Diego County Arts Writer

SAN DIEGO — If beautiful photographs are your cup of cappuccino, don't plan on going near the Museum of Photographic Art until its current exhibition is over.

On the other hand, if you like art that tricks, intrigues, perplexes or sets the brain and emotions in gear, "introductions: EXTENDED IMAGES," is a must-see exhibit.

Executive Director Arthur Ollman has curated a dense, intense, demanding show that surveys four diverse bodies of works from six artists.

"Extended Images" refers to extending the uses of photography even to artists who are not photographers. On its own terms, the resulting show succeeds. The exhibition is thick with ideas and perhaps too many prints, all 16-by-20-inches or larger. The art, however, sometimes seems more interesting as a curiosity, such as Gwen Akin and Allan Ludwig's perplexing photographs of death.

They use the old-fashioned platinum palladium process of printing, which produces beautiful, warm, black-and-white tones. The effect is heightened by the use of lovely cream-colored paper. Their ghoulish subject matter stands in shocking contrast.

"Skeleton No. 3: Fred and Ginger" is a fetal skeleton of Siamese twins joined at the neck with only one skull. The seductive quality of the large print attracts the viewer even as the gruesome skeleton repels.

This curious approach-avoidance effect seems to work for a variety of subjects including dead birds, deer and a rabbit. But the pieces intrigue more than engage.

By far the most gripping--and least photographic--artworks in the exhibit are New Mexico artist Holly Roberts' lush oil paintings made on large silver gelatin prints. While she reveals a torso here and eyes there from the original photos, more often Roberts covers the entire print with painted figures that evoke an almost Indian mysticism.

Roberts' strong images of humans, birds, dogs and snakes may look like a child's stick figures but the paintings, which deal with role-playing and the differences between humans and animals, pack the wallop of a mature artist.

In "Asking for Money," Roberts shows a vague figure with strange cobalt blue stick-figure arms extended. She has replaced the man's head with that of an animal--a fox, wolf or dog.

In "Woman With Bird," Roberts has painted a huge bird with wings folded and a naked woman reaching out for it. But the woman's head looks oddly like a male's, and the eye slits are on the side of the head, creating an unsettling effect.

The anti-nuclear photographs of Patrick Nagatani and Andree Tracey, two Los Angeles artists, are fascinating. Most of the images made by Nagatani with a large 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera reveal people illuminated in the red glare of an atomic blast.

The artists create their surrealistic art from scratch, using cutouts, often of humans, hung by visible fish line before a backdrop painted by Tracey. While bizarrely eye catching, the photographs such as "Bikini Test"--five young women sunning on beach chairs in a warm atomic glow--are more preachy than involving.

An exception is "Rastplatz." Members of a Japanese family stand nonchalantly eating sushi, wearing dark glasses to protect their eyes from a nuclear blast. The incongruity of a peaceful family at dinner--it could be mine or yours--and the violent blast produces a powerful emotional connection.

While Nagatani and Tracey look at contemporary society's potential for self-destruction, Faiya Fredman focuses on a tiny Greek village, destroyed in a violent volcanic eruption about 3,500 years ago. She has enhanced her 7-by-9-foot blowups made of an archeological dig at the village by painting them and adding papier-mache, wood, sand and screens of chicken wire. The result mirrors the mysterious hold and allure that past civilizations have on the living.

"Extended Images" is an exhibition that demands attention. See this show now so you will have time for a return visit. "Extended Images" continues through Nov. 22.

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