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The Galleries

Wilshire Center

June 17, 1988|SUZANNE MUCHNIC

Herb Elsky's cast resin sculpture is so audaciously pretty that some purists can't stand to look at it. His baroque work is dynamically composed and solidly constructed to expose a changing array of visual interest in three dimensions, but its overriding quality is the conventional gorgeousness that makes people go bonkers over glass art and other translucent wonders.

Elsky's current show is the usual beauty pageant--starring pale pink ruffled forms and a slab of blue that resembles water--but he rises above some past problems by working so large that the work has an undeniable sculptural presence. Instead of presenting themselves as coffee table baubles, these pieces suggest organic, underwater formations of rock and vegetation. "The Magatama Stone," a 20-foot-long tableau composed of various separate sculptures, ventures in the territory of mythic landscape with admirable ambition but slight success. Instead of working as a unit, it reads as an arbitrary arrangement of independent components.

A concurrent show of Lee Kaplan's paintings, called "Rights of Reproduction," provides a stimulating change from material more-or-less for its own sake. At worst, Kaplan's work is one more deconstructivist challenge to the modernist notion of originality and authorship. At best, his paintings provide a new slant on the experience of art through reproductions.

In each of five solid black canvases, Kaplan has painted the word defer in big block letters and filled each word with a passage that appears to have been lifted from a famous contemporary artwork in the Museum of Modern Art's collection. The gleanings come from Roy Lichtenstein's "Drowning Girl," Andy Warhol's "Gold Marilyn," Piet Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie Woogie," Jasper Johns' "Map," one of Yves Klein's blue canvases and a striped, "shaped" painting by Frank Stella.

What are we to make of this? Well, defer indicates a lack of engagement, a willingness to accept someone else's judgment or a secondary sort of experience, while the painted letters are stand-ins for artworks so thoroughly assimilated that they can be grasped by mere fragments. This is art for the fast lane, and Kaplan sums it up succinctly. (Jan Baum Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., to July 2.)

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