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ART : THE CROSS-FIRE OF IDEAS : George Stone's Complex Installation Is Shot Through With Harmonious and Warring Notions

July 05, 1990|CATHY CURTIS | TIMES ORANGE COUNTY ART CRITIC

Who's double-crossed by "DOUBLE CROSS," George Stone's installation at the Laguna Art Museum's South Coast Plaza satellite? It's hard to say, exactly. But the piece--much more complex than it may appear at first sight--is riddled with the cross-fire of harmonious and warring ideas.

In the first room of the installation -- the full name of which is "DOUBLE CROSS: 1 (picture) 1,000 (words)" -- a cruciform plexiglass case holds rows of blank books, their pages blown by a phalanx of small, whirring fans. There also is a large color photograph of a flame.

The second room, partitioned into a cross shape, is dark except for a set of moving spotlights that pause on one or more of the words inscribed on the walls in neat floor-to-ceiling rows.

Stone, a Los Angeles artist, has supplied himself with some heavyweight symbolic devices--the cross shape, the flame, the light in the darkness and the books. Clearly he expects a lot of them.

One thought that comes to mind: The Middle Ages once were known as the Dark Ages, when the church kept the "flame" of knowledge alight in monasteries.

But the image of the flame also suggests the mass torching of books by zealous censors during periods of conservative backlash. In the United States today, the impetus for censorship comes largely from the religious right.

The actions of preserving and destroying the written word--God's or not--can both be related to Christianity; thus, the relevance of the double symbol of the cross in the installation.

But, unless the cliched title phrase is simply a ruse to throw us off, Stone also seems to be saying that we've come to value the word too much and the image too little. This argument seems to be relevant primarily to contemporary art, in which texts have assumed a starring role formerly claimed only by images, and critical commentary has become a necessary guide to understanding the work. Possibly Stone views this state of affairs as "double-crossing" the viewer.

If that's so, it's ironic that his own art relies so heavily on the role of interpretation--and on the display of words almost as objects in their own right. An overload of heavily charged symbolism gives the piece a certain intellectual fuzziness. Still, Stone's piece is nothing if not teasingly provocative. And it certainly is refreshing to accuse an artist of packing his work with too many ideas. Too often, the problem is the opposite.

What: "DOUBLE CROSS: 1 (picture) 1,000 (words)," an installation by George Stone.

When: Sundays through Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays till 9 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 to 5, through Sept. 2.

Where: The Laguna Art Museum's South Coast Plaza satellite, 3333 Bristol St., Suite 1000, Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: Take the Bristol Street entrance from the San Diego Freeway. The gallery is near the mall's Carousel Court.

Wherewithall: Admission is free.

Where to call: (714) 662-3366.

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