In a group of recent pieces called "Parables: Rings/Spheres," Los Angeles sculptor Michael Davis offers imagery associated with astronomy. Most are wall pieces in which small metal circular elements are poised on arcs and circles fitted into a large ring shape. Pleasing arrangements of formal elements, they are crafted from domesticated industrial materials (copper, steel, cement), plus gold-leaf. Sometimes, Davis slides into a tidiness that seems too decoratively ingratiating. But the larger problem is that his obvious love of materials and craft tends to trivialize the symbolic qualities he claims for these pieces. How, one wonders, could such a pretty face have anything to say?
The most ambitious work on view is a three-part installation, "Parables." One part consists of a black globe suspended in a large vat of rusty liquid. Chalked on the globe--and revised daily--are headlines from the morning paper. Another portion is a big copper arc curving around a corner at chin level and balancing variously sized metal and glass balls spaced at intervals, like planets. The third element is a gold sphere placed at the center of a huge steel ring hanging on the wall. A light source on the opposite wall makes the sphere appear to cast a bright crescent of light on the cloudy darkness of the wall.
This piece seems to embody references to pollution (the water) and other earthly screw-ups that have consequences for the biosphere and beyond. Perhaps some of the glass planet-spheres have rolled out of their proper alignment. But we are straining to find particles of meaning here. A disproportionate amount of content is coming from the newspaper headlines, and not enough from the work's formal elements.
Several models and drawings showing Davis's conceptions for large public projects--among them, "Grand Promenade" for Grand Street adjacent to the Museum of Contemporary Art and again demonstrate his finesse in coming up with elegant conjunctions of silhouettes and materials. But the metaphorical content, when it exists, generally sounds flat and unconvincing. (Karl Bornstein Gallery, 1658 1/2 10th St., to July 1.)