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ART REVIEWS : A Populist Work That's Commissioned by an S&L

June 01, 1990|WILLIAM WILSON | TIMES ART CRITIC

These days it is almost quaint to fuss at art for lacking originality. Rather than striving for that elusive goal artists appear more interested in making work that comments on social issues.

Take Steve Rogers. The centerpiece of his current show is a 20-foot long glazed terra-cotta relief called "Day Begins." It depicts a campesino driving his ox and plow out to work past a lovely tree and a flinty century plant. A mission-style church looms chalky in the background. The work is part of a commission given Rogers by Home Savings and Loan for two sculpture to go above the portals of a new office it is building in the San Fernando Valley.

Art has become so fashionable that corporate commissions are going to artists once thought too radical for such Establishment attention. Rogers, you'll recall, started out making funky little reliefs of prize-fight fans at the Olympic auditorium. When such artists get such commissions they usually have to reign in their horns a bit. Smaller reliefs on view find Rogers much more concerned with violence and the mystique of the bull-fight than in the big, pastoral commission.

Even more interesting, however, is the style of the relief. It is actually less modern than the Millard Sheets murals that traditionally decoratored Home Savings offices. Rogers' style here harks straight back to the days of WPA murals with their left-populist heroics and celebration of the working class. It doesn't take a great stretch of imagination to link Rogers' work to that of Thomas Hart Benton currently at the County Museum of Art. "Day Begins" may not look radical but it is an act of courage for a thrift to put up a work that evokes the Great Depression while the industry is presently in the midst of the multibillion dollar S&L bailout.

Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 669 N. La Cienega Blvd .; to June 23.

A Woman's Answer: New York artist Rona Pondick is another artist who puts sociology high on her expressive list along with psychology. Her local debut solo, titled "Mamamamama", is perfectly content to craft it's imagery by jiggering together a dollop of Claes Oldenburg's soft-core humor, Bruce Connor's obsessive assemblage and Louise Bourgeois' surreal sexuality all united in a kind of nursery-clean minimalism. Well, why not? Pondick is clearly not about formal innovation. Her largest work--called "Double Bed"--is a long canvas pillow covered with a lattice of nylon rope. There are baby's bottles tied at every corner. Dozens of them.

If we resist getting the point there are a couple of works where toddler's shoes have legs made of nippled feeders and a couple more where women's high-heeled shoes are affixed to weary varicose legs or tangled in wads of newspaper.

We get it. Being a mother these days appears so complex and scary any woman in her right mind must have the right to say--as Pondick does in one title--"NO".

Asher/Faure Gallery, 612 N. Almont Drive; to June 23.

In Need of Seasoning: Fantasies aside it can't be easy to inherit a name associated with immense wealth. Aileen Getty did. She's the granddaughter of J. Paul Getty and thus stuck with an image that also includes a myth of artistic magnificence. Thus it's perfectly natural that when the young woman has her debut art show it should make a stir in the press.

As it turns out she'd have been better off with a few years of benign indifference. Not only is the show tiny, amateurish and in an obscure gallery, it's not even the main-stage attraction.

One gaggle of work is behind a plastic length of "Police Line Do Not Cross" ribbon. It consists of upright planks collaged with photos of graffiti and slogans like "The Blood" and "Death Row." Another little bunch are variations on Jasper Johns' flags with superimposed texts and silhouettes of handguns. The work hints more of shy lyricism than real anger.

Obvious associations between wealth and radicalism link Getty with Patty Hearst. Getty is at least better off acting out her rebellious impulse through art than through the real specter of some neo-SLA.

Robert Taub's paintings actually take up the main gallery in this tandem show. He hails from Philadelphia and has painted a big mural out of a patchwork of smaller canvases. Titled "Relief in Black, Sienna and White," it depicts a montage of riots from Detroit to Newark, from the Attica to the South Bronx.

Taub shows some influence from Siqueros and Francis Bacon but it's pretty superficial. He draws about as well as an underground comix radical but his painting lacks density and--despite intensity--is compositionally garbled.

Zero One Gallery, 7025 Melrose Ave.; to June 15.

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