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The Galleries

La Cienega

February 26, 1988|SUZANNE MUCHNIC

The point of "British Art: The Literate Link," a group show organized for the current UK/LA festival, is not that contemporary art made in England is permanently hitched to literature but that you, the viewer, must be literate to understand it. The same can be said of much art made in America, as essayist Lynne Cooke acknowledges, but she and curator Brian Butler press this provocative notion in the context of British art history.

Steven Campbell's narrative painting "Young Camper Discovering a Grotto in the Ground" and Simon Edmondson's expressionistic depiction of a fight at a dinner table come closest to supporting the cliche that British art tends to illustrate stories, but the "literate" viewer will see that Campbell's work is a knowing compendium of spatial ambiguity, graphic devices and popular literary characters, while Edmondson paints himself, musing on the theme of human aggression amid a scene of physical well-being.

Most of the other artists display a strong conceptual bent, treating art as a language or a vehicle for expressing ideas. In "Index: Incident in a Museum XXIII," the team Art & Language offers a boring painting of a gallery (displayed in a larger painting of the same gallery) as an ersatz exhibition in a hall of art consumption. Boyd Webb's large color photograph of a suspended snake with an audio cassette in its mouth is both a streamlined image and a complex visual puzzle. Alison Wilding creates evocative sculptural objects--such as a voluptuously carved walnut wall piece loosely stuffed with Irish linen--that challenge viewers to name them and determine their function. Bill Culbert's "Jug Pouring Glass" substitutes a broken sheet of glass for water, shifting a liquid to a solid.

The show takes on more than can be proved in one or two examples by eight artists, so it can only introduce an idea. Ultimately, though, the idea itself is so international that geographical boundaries seem arbitrary. (Asher/Faure, 612 N. Almont Drive, to March 19.)

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