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ART REVIEWS : Paul Kos: Manipulation by Participation

May 25, 1990|SUVAN GEER

Paul Kos has consistently used his art to bait the viewer. In the past, we've gotten hooked into a 12-minute vigil watching light dissolve a stained glass window's imagery or into marching to the drill of the clicking of a typewriter. All that leads to a realization that both manipulation and participation are fundamental to art.

Lately, Kos has applied that same insight to politics and the social order. Somehow manipulation-by-participation seems more relevant aimed at the systems we acknowledge as ruling the world.

Pieces installed at Dorothy Goldeen Gallery are clever twists on the notion of the game of revolution. Titles are used like conceptual cross hairs to target political meaning. A good example is "Revolution/Counter Revolution," a wall-sized, red metal circle-and-bar symbol known to mean no the world over. Affixed to the rim of the circle, large exposed audio speakers cycle a metallic ticking noise around the circumference. Periodically the sound reverses or is broken up by wild cheering or military music.

Directly across from this auditory protest march, a heavy steel handcart makes a chilling paean to human freedom. A silent liberty bell and a book in a glass case rest on the cart. The book cover is pale yellow and hard to read until your shadow is cast over the words. Then phosphorescent letters glow to reveal that "Memory Survives Silenced Tongues." It's a potent evocation of recent bids for freedom all the way from the gallery to Tien An Men Square, Nicaragua and Watts.

In the next gallery, Janis Provisor's newest paintings sound a more reserved note. Organic abstractions on iridescent metallic grounds reach to nature but firmly avoid falling completely into it. Beautiful but rough, the thin, linear imagery has a delicate strength that backs it mercifully away from decoration and schmaltz. Most intriguing are the multi-panel paintings that flip colored light around adding dimensions of age and change to the painting's ambiguity. As battered copper leads to bleeding silver, rivers seem to change into stamen or roots and strata becomes bleached bones. It's those hints at multiple existence and change that make the allure more than cosmetic.

Dorothy Goldeen Gallery, 1547 9th St., Santa Monica, to June 23.

Mural Merges Haves, Have Nots: Chilean-born, New York artist Alfredo Jaar has made a career out of wiping away the anesthetizing film of foggy indifference that hides the lives of the "have nots" from the eyes of the "haves." His photo mural light boxes with their Madison Avenue glitz and objectifying mirrors present hard-to-ignore images of people from the Third World and in doing so give economic desperation a face that bridges the numbing gap of geography. Two installations here explore that theme.

The most compelling is "Ocean," a long blue photographic line of choppy sea swells mounted on five square light boxes that light the darkened gallery with a wonderfully rolling sense of liquid motion. Directly behind the boxes and forming a low horizon on the wall are 25 small square mirror panels. As the viewer approaches the "sea," faces appear in the mirrors, reflected from the reverse side of the light boxes. Only by peering purposefully into the mirrors or poking around behind the light-box oceans do the faces become intelligible as those of refugee boat people. The ocean here is as much barrier to visibility as it is in real life.

Connecting minimalism's coolness to advertising's pursuit of persuasive imagery, Jaar is the ideal artist for the contemporary postmodern scene. The kicker, though, is that in place of product or empty art-about-art phrases, Jaar makes work with conscience. And pointedly, the viewer moving around the pieces comes to realize the moral dilemmas Jaar points up.

Meyers/Bloom, 2112 Broadway, Santa Monica, to June 16.

Horrors of War Unearthed: Hans Burkhardt's latest darkly ominous paintings and drawings continue to unearth the horror and the waste of war. For the most part, these painted dying fields have slipped off their thick murk of clotted paint to become spare scraped and tarred surfaces of blackness patched with raw burlap. The unfettered loathing and Angst that ignited the earlier Expressionist paintings with their protruding pieces of skull and sharpened spikes are here generally abstracted down to near silent cries of personal anguish. Emotional darkness has been compressed into a red stabbed slab of perfect geometry so it remains manageable. Death reduced in scope to something that can be lived with.

Only in the charcoal drawings does the weight of death emerge again as a near living thing. Here it is presented as a massive block of slithering black line that gapes like an open grave or presses down with incredible weight on a pile of exposed skulls. Part solidifying howl of the unburied, part weeping pool of darkened blood on the doorway pleading for safety, the power of this form is undeniable and stirring.

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