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ART REVIEW : Works of Painter and Photographer on Exhibit at UCLA

December 05, 1987|MARLENA DONOHUE

There is an interesting byplay in the collaborations of L.A. photographer Patrick Nagatani and L.A. painter Andree Tracey. In 1983, the two funneled their interests and came up with a compelling breed of tableaux vivants plus performance plus art plus photography.

Works by the pair spanning the last five years are on view at UCLA's Wight Gallery through Dec. 13, including their first joint venture, "Atomic Cafe." The artists built a life-size scene around Tracey's painting of the landmark downtown watering hole. A weird man sits near a cafe window that looks out onto a cartoonish Alameda Street traffic jam. He is served real French fries and real utensils in the form of objects hanging chaotically in front of the painting. A live female recruited to play the waitress holds a tray with props suspended to look as if they've just been toppled.

The carefully orchestrated spectacle was photographed using a rare, large-scale Polaroid camera. The resulting one-of-a-kind photos turn the diorama into conceptual art at its best. The actual objects, painted flat red, take on the look of affixed magazine reproductions. Because of the very limited depth of field of the large Polaroid format, the "real" waitress looks like a compressed paper doll. With intentional irony, the only sense of dimensionality comes from Tracey's very artificial cartoony rendition of the cafe space and the city beyond.

Most pieces here use careening props and a reddish tinge to refer to life in the nuclear age. An almost voyeuristic fascination with our destructive instincts makes apocalyptic content a standard departure point. In "Bikini Test," bathing-suited beauties lounge in a painted desert test site while a looming figure (Nagatani in a radioactive safety suit) thrusts a phallic Geiger counter their way. In "Indian Summer, Nuclear Winter" we're taken through exotic painted gardens inhabited by soft-focus nudes. Lush innocence is disrupted by the image of a menacing bird of prey and mealy-mouthed captains of industry. The final photo is of a sad old man who scatters photos of grisly Hiroshima scenes.

The artists' painstaking inventiveness produces audacious, adroit work.

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