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March 02, 1990|CATHY CURTIS

A Retooled 'Crocodile Tears': Yes, Douglas Huebler's "Crocodile Tears" is art about art, but it's also art about attitudes and states of mind in the broader realm of human existence.

Huebler, one of the founding fathers of Conceptualism, has been retooling this series since 1978. In its present incarnation, its separate works each contain narrative cartoon panels, a sentence about the beliefs or actions of someone in a candid photograph of "ordinary" people, and a painting that simulates a famous style. Distortions of meaning through time, the distance between the public and the art object, art-as-commodity and other such timely topics are the grist for Huebler's mix of styles and imagery drawn from "high" and "low" culture.

In "Lloyd IX," for example, a comic strip in which a self-righteous woman accuses an older man of killing squirrels with "Zen" rocks is positioned above a photograph of a crowd milling around at a populist outdoor art event. The photo caption reads, "Represented above is at least one person who doesn't know where time goes." Accompanying these images is a "Cubist" painting that looks like early Braque, peculiarly labeled--in multicolored lettering, a la museum blockbuster poster--"The Peaceable Kingdom."

Ideas in this piece ricochet back and forth. The world of the quarreling man and woman is decidedly not a peaceable kingdom in the sense of the 19th-Century Edward Hicks painting of that name, which illustrates the prophecy from the Book of Isaiah about the lion lying down with the lamb. A century later, the art crowd rediscovered the itinerant painter as a quaint and stylized forerunner of Henri Rousseau. Today, the art Establishment is busy repackaging the masters to lure the masses (folks like the gray-haired fellow in center of the photograph, who might utter that cliche about not knowing where time goes). The masses are hostile toward most new art. And artists continue to barricade themselves behind arcane pronouncements. A peaceable kingdom it's not. (Richard Kuhlenschmidt Gallery, 1634 17th St., to March 24.)

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