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Santa Monica

January 15, 1988|WILLIAM WILSON

Art is in such dreary straits it's not surprising to find true believers pining for the good old days. In Robert Arneson's work, this nostalgia takes the form of a whole show of ceramic sculpture in homage to Jackson Pollock--probably the only American contemporary artist with the mythic dimensions of a James Dean or Humphrey Bogart.

Arneson is renowned and reviled for ceramics that can be as moving as his monument to assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone or as embarrassing as his jokey, masochistic self-portraits. This time the chemistry is just right. Arneson's high-school-comic-strip-virtuoso style is perfect for hero worship. We get Pollock zipping merrily along to his 1956 death in his acid green Olds convertible, smiling beside two pretty ladies. The next minute, the car is his charred coffin. Arneson shows his balding, wrinkled forehead and boozy good looks in portrait heads with the proportions of the colossus of Memnon. His drip-painted boots are clearly too big for anyone to fill. In "The Last Buffalo Hunter," his head is one end of a Picasso bull.

This gesture of respect towards a pioneer abstractionist by a master figurative artist trapped by his own skill is genuinely touching. Arneson's humbleness casts some of Pollock's heroism back on him. It makes his talent work. The project is a live ember in a rubble of burned-out art that somehow compares our own culture to that of mighty artistically impotent Rome sighing back to Greece. (Dorothy Goldeen Gallery, 1547 9th St., to Feb. 13.)

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