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ART REVIEWS : Joseph Kosuth: He Spells Everything Out for Us

September 28, 1990|WILLIAM WILSON | TIMES ART CRITIC

Pioneer New York conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth is still getting the word out. In this group of works he seems philosophically preoccupied, as usual, with the difference between the physical sensation of seeing something and what we think about what we saw. In the distant past, the artist deemed it sufficient to letter quotations from thesauri and suchlike on canvas. Nowadays he evidently recognizes that art cannot live by verbiage alone. He is writing his mind-benders large in neon, etching them in metal or emblazoning mottoes on glass. This gives the work sculptural presence and allows an agreeable byplay between the visual and the mental.

In "No Number 2" he causes neon to spell out, "The agreement of thought and reality consists of this: If I say falsely that something is red, then, for all that, it isn't red." That appears straightforward enough. What you see is what you get. The mind can't change reality.

"No Number 3," is one of several works done, "after Augustine's confessions." It dithers more, wondering, "Do I see something different each time or do I only interpret what I see in different ways? I am inclined to the former. But why? -- To interpret is to think, to do something; seeing is a state."

Kosuth adds his own paradox to all this by lettering the text thrice on separate panes of glass.

Anybody is free to find this art as pretentious as some self-involved sophomore covering up an identity crisis with Great Thoughts. It is. It is also consistently subversive and funny about intellectual posturing as when Kosuth memorializes lines from the notebooks of Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Wittgenstein showing they have crossed out mistakes.

Margo Leavin Gallery, 812 N. Robertson Blvd., to Oct. 13

True to His Roots: For a writer, William Burroughs is quite an artist. The legendary former druggie and author of such books as the loopy, fascinating "Naked Lunch" debuts here as a painter with a couple of dozen works, mainly on paper. True to his roots in the upper echelon of the Beat Generation, his style is grounded in Abstract Expressionism.

"Blue Rain Blue Sky Boats" is an azure-and-paperwhite abstraction worthy of Sam Francis or Yves Klein. Its background grid could have been stamped from paint-soaked wire mesh but its lyrical smears are pure spontaneity. Burroughs works with a childlike freedom that budding abstract painters take years to attain--relaxed, loose and elegantly controled at once. His sense of color never falters as in the fuchsia and green of "The Red Shark" or the urbane tans and greens of his jokey chair-and-paint-can assemblage.

Thank goodness he makes a few gaffes to save the pros from utter humiliation. He's susceptible to the easy effects of stencils or finger painting techniques as in "Picasso Goes Gay." A couple of awful punk-style Neo-Expressionist things have been made on scrap wood by blasting spray cans with a shotgun. They prove even virtuosos have their limits.

Earl McGrath Gallery, 454 N. Robertson Blvd., to Oct. 6

Bluhm Is Back: Second-generation Abstract Expressionist Norman Bluhm makes a rare West Coast appearance in a selection of works spanning 1954-60. Most have the look of splattered ostrich feathers but that airy quality is grounded by arrangement and a palette that suggests cave paintings that have visited Times Square. The strongest performance in this mode is "Silent Ixtaccihuata," where black strokes attack from upper left to be tensely harmonized by opposing white and red.

A couple of more liquid compositions dimly suggest Monet. At a glance all of it seems dry or garbled. Gradually it appears in its own terms and it looks OK.

Manny Silverman Gallery, 800 N. La Cienega Blvd., to Oct. 20.

Arends Whispers: L.A. artist Stuart Arends shows just eight small rectangular boxes made of combinations of painted wood, fiberboard and aluminum. Hung at about eye-level, they look a bit like shy Donald Judd's. Sculptural effects are minimal even for Minimalism. A couple appear embedded in walls like truncated beams. The only clue to the intent of this whispering show is its title, "Celadon." The rare and delicate pale green Oriental ceramic glaze has long been associated with extreme refinement and romance. Arends uses the color along with the ambiguous surface of aluminum to broadcast an almost inaudible sense of delicate longing.

Asher/Faure Gallery, 612 N. Almont Drive, to Oct. 6.

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