Nine toothy, ravishing pieces from the late '70s and early '80s by Robert Rauschenberg and strong works by a clutch of younger artists are good reasons for roaming the vast square-footage of Ace Contemporary Exhibitions.
Several of Rauschenberg's massive works include broad swatches of fabric, often juxtaposed with monolithic gray passages of newspaper want ads or stock tables. The thin fabric, with its disciplined designs or loosely woven, almost painterly wash of color, offers a low-pitched visual hum, setting off the familiar barrage of images borrowed from diverse printed sources. In other pieces, reflective metal surfaces add the viewer's image into the piece and present a colder, post-industrial-age veneer.
In general, the works seem to be about the new coldness of the urban '80s and its contrast with the values of other times and places. But there is really no such notion as "in general" in this work, which persistently toys with allusive--some would say elusive--visual rhymes.
In "The Lurid Attack of the Monsters from the Postal News Aug 1875," a freestanding piece from 1981, four antique sharp-toothed metal cutting tools form hoops over a wood incline upholstered in all manner of patterns: geometric, dotted, striped, moire, freeform, flocked and a tapestry-like scene. The photographic images include stock tables and men who seem to be performing some kind of physical test, people in gas masks, a skeleton and an owl.
Who could say with certainty how the rhymes shake out here? Somehow the whole thing has a brash, insistent and oddly lyrical presence that resists decoding, but lures the viewer to bask in its sensory richness.
The younger artists, glimpsed in mini-shows, are quietly provocative in cooler ways. Ross Rudel's very small wall sculpture alludes to body parts and rather unsettling physical states. The center of a square plaster piece looks as though it's being sucked inward. A black wood square oozes into an ever-so-slightly veined testicular droop. A fabric-textured plaster piece is suggestively rubbed soft in one area.
David Amico continues to invent vivid conjunctions of form and engulfing space. In his painting, "Presenting," a crenellated dark shape repeats--with constant variations in shape and brushwork--in orderly rows washed by a multicolored soft ground. In "A Sliver of Light Shining Bright," a trio of gray forms that look like rope tricks are cast adrift in a violet-white atmosphere cut by a crescent of white light.
Roger Hermann's new paintings vibrate with a teeming curved wrought iron motif that devours decorativeness in the search for a new kind of energy. When Robert Zoell isn't doing deadpan, dumb paintings of big dots on solid, bright surfaces, he is playing slyly reductive perceptual games in a sky-blue painting in which the thinnest imaginable relief and intaglio lines form a ghostly octagon.
Pauline Stella Sanchez's work has an impregnable, sullen aura. Real syringes inject each of a set of dull-green square paintings with troubled surfaces that erupt in various homely configurations of bumps. John Millei's small, wispy paintings on paper are hard to figure. Maybe they're about the process of siting forms in space or attempting to read forms that stray from the high road of geometry. (Ace Contemporary Exhibitions, 5514 Wilshire Blvd., to July 5.)