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ART : Photo Exhibit Has Some Negatives

July 11, 1991|CATHY CURTIS | Cathy Curtis covers art for The Times Orange County Edition.

Photographs that move, come in three dimensions, sport decorations ranging from glitter to pen knife blades, or can be seen only by peering through a paper bag are some of the oddities in "Picture Plane to Object: Photographic Reality to Photographic Experience," an exhibit (through Aug. 9) of work by 15 American artists at the Brea Civic and Cultural Center Gallery.

It's great to see the usually staid and crowd-pleasing Brea gallery showing more adventurous art. But there are several problems with the show, guest-curated by Darryl Curran, professor of visual arts at Cal State Fullerton. The exhibit embraces work of varying quality--too much of it disappointingly bland or likely to stress technique over wit and personal expression. There is also a crying need for more information about what's on view.

Dates for the works are not provided in the wall labels, which means it's hard to know just how experimental some of it is. (Twenty-five years ago, for example, attaching ambiguous images of parts of a woman's body to a cube was pretty cool; the same gesture today seems dated and derivative. It certainly helps to know that Robert Heinecken made his "Figure Cube" back in the '60s, a fact Curran does mention in his otherwise overly general brochure essay.)

Also missing in a big way is background-- the historical, technical, cultural and personal information that the average community art center visitor can't be presumed to know or be able to puzzle out, but desperately needs to make sense of the works.

When was the zootrope--a spinning image-viewing device revived in a piece by Robert Wedemayer--popular, and why did Wedemayer see fit to revive it? Why did Connie Hatch place a photo blowup of an old print--showing an artist drawing a nude--behind a wood plank "bed" holding two real pillows and a glass prism? The show would have made a lot more sense if it included brief discussions of the works (wall texts or audio components) by each artist.

Heinecken is by far the most well-known artist of the group, although several others (Sheila Pinkel, Hatch, Peggy Ann Jones, Elizabeth Bryant) will be familiar to those who frequent college and alternative galleries.

Among the more successful pieces in the show is James Utter's "Historical Anomalies" series, a group of phony biographies of failed dead photographers, accompanied by small photographs to be seen with attached stereo viewers. While the photos (mostly of old cameras said to be used by the subjects) are on the dull side (deliberately?), the bios are a hoot. For example, one Walter Renfree, who made documentary photographs from 1941 to 1944, when he was a newsboy, "would have gained wider popularity if he hadn't decided to use drugstore processing."

Other engaging work in the show includes Pinkel's "Goethe's Garden," an installation about environmental awareness and the transformative power of the human mind. On the floor below a row of white-painted leafy branches leaning against the wall, letters spell out, "Everything that lives strives for color," a quote from the great German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. When a visitor looks through the prism that is also part of the piece, the branches glow with rainbow-like color.

One of Mark Alice Durant's mixed-media pieces, "From a History of Manners III," has a slightly unsettling, retro-style appeal. The piece includes three photographs: a formal image of a man in a stiff collar and pince-nez whose mouth is almost obliterated by a stain on the print surface; a pocket handkerchief printed with the sort of stilted simple sentences that were used a century ago to teach grammar to children; and a cord-bound set of snapshots (the top one, blurred with a waxy substance, shows a man on a horse). The piece speaks of an embalmed, vanished age of stiff gentility, when individual expression was muzzled by social rules and public life was rigidly distinguished from private time.

And what was all that about glitter, pen knives and paper bags? Well, Michael Peven gussies up his color photographs with various objects (glitter spangles "Granada," a view of an old-fashioned movie house; small knife blades dangle from "Sharp Fence") and Jerry McMillan once thought it clever to insert photographs of landscapes, domestic architecture or a kissing couple into artfully torn paper bags.

What: "Picture Plane to Object: Photographic Reality to Photographic Experience."

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Thursday; through Aug. 9.

Where: Brea Civic and Cultural Center Gallery.

Whereabouts: Orange (57) Freeway to Imperial Highway; north on State College to Birch Street; Civic Center is in Northwest corner of Brea Mall area, near intersection of Birch and Randolph Avenue.

Wherewithal: Admission is free.

Where to Call: (714) 990-7730.

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