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The Galleries

Santa Monica

February 19, 1988|MARLENA DONOHUE

Eric Orr is technically infallible in a show of recent paintings and a few impressive sculptural fountains that rival the best optical and color field art all rolled in one. It deals with the bread and butter of modernism: surface. In superficially slick and abbreviated works Orr seems to ask what surface really is: Does it qualify as mass, how deep does surface go, is it instead light, or energy, is it an optical artifact of other properties like color, or is it a perceptual habit, something the brain fills in and therefore never really seriously considers?

Orr gets at these issues by pitting hard edges in magentas, deep rich blues or gold leaf against oscillating fields built from incremental, precise modulations of color. In "Green Void," for instance, deep green moves through forest green, into turquoise, ending finally in the center with a phosphorescent mint that looks like something spilled out of a cathode ray tube.

Orr wields an old idea and gets startling results. Since his fields move and shimmer you cannot pinpoint their exact location in space or gauge your position relative to them. Similar perceptual somersaults are achieved in Minimal metal and wood fountains so carfully serrated and engineered that careening water looks like a vibrating film. In both media Orr takes on properties like time, space, mass, light that art bandies around a lot but never really takes apart. For those who don't like their art quite this surgical, this happens to also be just plain gorgeous stuff. (Corcoran Gallery, 1327 Fifth St., to March 1.)

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