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The Galleries

Santa Monica

January 29, 1988|MARLENA DONOHUE

For decades Karl Benjamin's name has been a calling card for California geometric abstraction. Though he's been tagged a constructivist, new paintings on view have a light, facile air. There's a softness and play in the works that could put off purists who want geometry mean and lean. Benjamin paints closely massed vertical shapes in an array of grayed pastel shades. Like elongated diamonds or rectangles, distorted by some gravitational force, these shapes push and pull across canvases and over small-scale, free-standing columns.

Concurrently Carl Reed shows surprisingly winsome sculptures of steel and rough-hewn wood. If you look quickly you might mistake the environmental scale pieces for some old and finely tooled farming contraption. The works have that queer, clean directness of functional objects fashioned in simpler times, before the compartmentalization of form, function and art.

"Broach" is a metal sphere balanced on two roughly wrought appendages. In other pieces a metal cylinder gingerly holds carefully bundled wood shafts or a succession of delicate wood shards--held together by a clumsy metal bolt--fan across the gallery wall. Reed cleverly plays texture against texture, arbitrary form against the look of utilitarian primness to get the unlikely hybrid we might call avant-garde Amish. (Ruth Bachofner Gallery, 926 Colorado Blvd., to Feb. 27.)

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