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BANK BOOTY : Security Pacific's Collection of Prints by Modern Masters Is Worth Seeing

February 28, 1991|CATHY CURTIS | Cathy Curtis covers art for The Times Orange County Edition.

Exhibits of "the collection of so-and-so" usually do a fine job of showing off some well-heeled collector's booty but often don't bother to explain why the stuff is worth looking at in the first place. "The Security Pacific Collection, Twenty Years 1970-1990: Prints," at the Security Pacific Gallery, is no different in that respect.

But in Orange County--which has no permanently-on-display collection of work by important contemporary artists--we can't afford to turn up our noses at any exhibit offering good work by big names, even if it offers no scholarship and no curatorial point of view.

The lure of the show is the opportunity to see work by Frank Stella, Jasper Johns, Richard Serra, Susan Rothenberg, Jim Dine, David Hockney, John Baldessari and others whose names are synonymous with the development of contemporary art in the United States.

Virtually all of the artists in the show came to prominence as painters or sculptors rather than printmakers. Beginning in the 1960s, however, a new group of print workshops and fine art publishers sprang up to help artists translate their vision into one or more of the various print media--engraving, drypoint, etching, aquatint, woodcut, lithography and serigraphy (screen printing).

As a result, the rather ingrown world of dyed-in-the-wool printmakers has seen an infusion of experimental sizes, methods and materials. And collectors--including the corporate variety--have reaped the benefits of a more affordable way of owning work by big-ticket artists.

The prints on view represent a sampler of the 3,000 that were collected by Security Pacific to decorate the corridors and offices of its regional offices. (The bank also owns some 9,000 works of art in other media.)

Elegant or bizarre, detailed or generalized, cool or Angst- filled, representational or abstract--there is something here for virtually every taste. A free handout briefly explains the various processes, though no information is supplied on the artists or their work. But the main virtue of the show is its Cook's tour of Best-Known Styles of Contemporary Artists.

Artists represented here who became names to reckon with during the 1950s include Sam Francis, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell and Jasper Johns, inheritors of Abstract Expressionism who reacted to its dominating presence in different ways.

Known for his low-key, deliberately ambiguous juxtaposition of words and imagery, and his emphasis on the act of seeing, Johns remained true to form in "Viola," a lithograph from 1972. The title, stenciled below the tilted image of an open, empty cupboard, is an ironic inversion of the French word voila ("there it is").

The 1960s--a decade percolating with the diverse approaches of Pop and Minimal art, Photo-Realism, Color Field painting, Earthworks and Happenings--brought such artists as Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Andy Warhol, Bruce Nauman, Michael Heizer, Sol Lewitt and Ed Ruscha to art-world prominence.

Dine's 1975 lithograph and screen print "Plant Becomes a Fan Nos. 1-5" is a fanciful series of images that accomplish the transformation of one object into another in a way reminiscent of the game in which players turn one word into another by changing one letter at a time.

Ruscha's 1978 color screen print "I've Never Seen Two People Look Healthier," shows a vast expanse of sky above a silhouetted landscape. The two individuals referred to in the title are microscopic creatures standing in a luminous orange layer of smog.

During the wildly disparate 1970s--marked by the rise of Neo-Expressionism, Pattern and New Image painting, the flowering of video and Conceptual art and a renewed interest in sculpture with a handcrafted or non-Western look--David Hockney, Nancy Graves, Susan Rothenberg, Dorothea Rockburne, Roger Herman, Malcolm Morley, Gary Stephan and Robert Longo all began to flicker in larger or smaller ways on the art star map.

Hockney's 1973 lithograph/silk-screen "Wind" is an upbeat, L.A.-style view of weather conditions (snow, sun, rain, mist) as wispy images on sheets of paper that blow lightly in a "wind" conjured up with a few wavy blue lines.

Longo's 1985 lithograph "Edmund," is part of a series of life-size images of well-dressed young men and women in extreme postures that look--as someone once said--as though the subjects are either dancing or dying.

Lari Pittman, Donald Sultan and the late Keith Haring are among the artists in the show who swaggered onto the art scene during the 1980s.

Pittman, a Los Angeles artist, is known for his dazzling and ironic juxtapositions of different graphic styles. In his 1979 lithograph and silk-screen "This Landscape, beloved and despised, continues regardless," 18th-Century-style silhouettes of men and women are shown in coffin-shaped spaces amid scattered images of mountains and ships.

Garnished with pastel '60s-style flowers and starbursts, zooming arrows and an image of an artist, the work might be about artists' persistence in keeping mythic images of landscape alive.

What: "The Security Pacific Collection, Twenty Years 1970-1990: Prints.'

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, through March 23.

Where: Security Pacific Gallery, 555 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway to Bristol Street exit. Anton is off Bristol between the freeway and Sunflower Avenue.

Wherewithal: Admission is free.

Where to call: (714) 433-6000.

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