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ART REVIEWS : Adam Fuss' Photograms Fracture the Moment

October 15, 1992|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Ultra Wallflower" features seven pulsating audio speakers spread against the wall, as if their shy hearts were madly aflutter. "Couple" features two cathode ray tubes, one featuring the image of a man, the other a woman, conversing easily across a heap of electronic and computer equipment. What these works do is make technology benign. They break down its mysteries by baring its devices. They demystify those devices by likening them to the body. But the thing about technology is that it's not always your friend--and if it isn't necessarily your enemy, it's quite likely to be your enemy's friend. This work encourages us to let down our guard. This critic prefers to remain vigilant.

* Dorothy Goldeen Gallery, 1547 9th St., Santa Monica, (310) 395-0222. through Nov. 14. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Naughty, but Nice: A trio of cherubs, dimpled arms spread to catch the wind, soars high above the green trees, houses and winding roads of the ordinary world. These angels, however, are not powered by God's ineffable energy; their engines are the white clouds of gas discharging from their adorably pink posteriors.

Stopping short of comparing artist Megan Williams to a flatulent seraph, it is true that "Boys Farting" is probably the most telling drawing in this show of drawings and sculpture. For the salient characteristic of Williams' work has long been the artist's delight in her own, often quite remarkable powers. Indeed, this is Williams' great strength--and her great weakness.

When things are working as they should be, Williams offers pastel drawings that are literally roiling, swirling and churning with manic energy, crossing the slap-happy cadence of vintage cartoons with the muscular rhythms of Baroque painting.

When they are not, Williams offers these wonderful drawings plus everything else she can do (and she seems quite able to do it all): sculptures, installations, conceptual tropes, optical illusions, feminist ripostes, etc.

In this exhibition at Roy Boyd Gallery, we get lecterns balancing dictionaries whose covers and pages have been adroitly cut to mimic topographical maps, hillside lots, tunnels and lakes. These sculptural pieces are skilled; but they are uncomfortably sterile. They are witty; but dryly so, with no need to direct themselves outward because they are so self-contained and so self-satisfied.

By contrast, the drawings strike a delicate balance between knowing cynicism and contagious naughtiness. The best are those that deal with the body--a wide-eyed little girl staring at a massive, wriggling worm in a textbook Freudian moment; a luscious strawberry sundae whose mounds of cream turn out to be pairs of plump buttocks and arms; a man whose body is made up of intestines, tossing pencil and paper about as only a blocked writer can. Williams shows us what an artist who is unblocked can do, especially when she is in full command of her technique. All she needs now, it seems, is a bit more self-control.

* Roy Boyd Gallery, 1547 10th St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-1210, through Nov. 7. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Three for the Show: Dispensing with the overkill logic of too many group shows (as much as possible by as many as possible), "Theatre-Verite," an exhibition of work by Christopher Williams, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Albert Oehlen at Margo Leavin Gallery, is unusual for its economy, wit and style.

The work of each of these artists has certainly been seen to better advantage elsewhere--but that is not the point here. Neither is it to forge some complex, but half-baked connections between Gonzalez-Torres' politicized Minimalism, Williams' deadpan conceptualism and Oehlen's lush abstractions. Instead, the show seizes upon one, two or maybe three points of juncture (formal tropes and visual puns) and arranges the art to play them up--for no reason other than the sheer pleasure of it.

The main gallery is the most arresting--a massive room containing a large canvas, a small photograph and a garland of 15 watt light bulbs dangling from the ceiling. Here, the multicolored flowers in Williams' archival photograph find their biomorphic equivalents in Oehlen's purple, red and yellow painting, while Gonzalez-Torres' bouquet of incandescent bulbs suggests the poverty of beauty these days, following the wholesale collapse of nature into culture. Throwing out tantalizing clues while insisting there is no mystery to be solved, this exhibition is a model of less is more.

* Margo Leavin Gallery, 812 N. Robertson, (310) 273-0603, through Nov. 7. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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