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ART REVIEWS : David Lynch Loses His 'Velvet' Touch

March 05, 1993|WILLIAM WILSON | TIMES ART CRITIC

David Lynch's film "Blue Velvet" is now a cult classic. Art types liked it because its slightly satirical manipulation of movie cliches seemed a very hip adaptation of the kinds of plays on signs and symbols that have preoccupied gallery artists for some time. Lynch actually gave that bunch a run for its money in an artwork film the more palatable because its dark sophistication was mixed with a sense of romance, nostalgia and decency.

With a track record like that, anybody would be curious to see what Lynch himself would come up with for an art gallery show. A chance to find out comes in some 35 still photographs and a gaggle of drawings and paintings.

Unfortunately, most of the pictures on view find him wallowing in the romance of failure. A lot of murky photographs show Rust Belt-style industrial scenes ruminating on once-potent machinery now fallen into disuse and decay. They look like student ruminations on icons of the genre by masters like Paul Strand.

A group of nudes concentrates on women characterized as the sort of steamy, half-mad sexpot that Isabella Rossellini played in the film. Enough to make a fellow take vows of abstinence.

Lynch does manage to jerk a few shots near the bull's-eye. An image of a puff of smoke hovering over a couch is authentically surreal. An oblique look at a burned-out light bulb makes your skin crawl. He manages to make a couple of live models look as kinky as Hans Bellmer's famous jointed doll.

Lynch is indisputably talented. The problems here have to do with a lack of self-critical rigor and a willingness to settle for technical laziness he'd never allow in one of his films. A black painting called "Sleepwalk" is authentically eerie, but it falls apart when you're close enough to see how poorly the paint is laid on.

\o7 James Corcoran Gallery, 1327 5th St., Santa Monica (310) 451-4666, through Sunday.\f7

Variations on a Theme: Despite endemic grumbling about overnight success and flash-in-the-pan artists, a career as a painter or sculptor is still a long-haul proposition. Proof proffers itself in an exhibition of about 10 large canvases by New Yorker Michael Goldberg .

He emerged in the '50s among the so-called "Second Generation" of Abstract Expressionists, which included people such as Alfred Leslie, Grace Hartigan and Joan Mitchell. At the time everybody kvetched that this aesthetic progeny was too slick and lacked originality. Everybody was a little sick of action painting. Nobody realized that at a certain point in time the thrust of modernism would bog to a halt, leaving its various prototype styles to be mined as traditional forms, endlessly varied and reinvented.

Now, almost a half-century later AE, like be-bop, lives on vibrantly in the work of much younger artists. The "Physical Abstractionists" around the ACE Gallery offer just one local example.

Goldberg himself, now 68, has never done better work. He is as much an exploded Cubist as an action painter. Compositions consist of informal triangles, rectangles and aerobic star shapes all working out in colorful striped outfits with enough texture to keep things lively.

He's absorbed the lessons of modernism so thoroughly he can speak all the interconnected dialects at once in a kind of patois. There are hip titles like "He May Be Your Man but He Comes to See Me Sometimes" that sound like the beginnings of Bessie Smith blues numbers. He's as fond of primary colors as was Mondrian but he entertains the others too. He knows all about Hans Hofmann's push-and-pull but he's not averse to shove, nudge, trip or dive either.

The paintings are abstract so they don't really look like anything else, but they do put you in mind of certain things. They look a little like interiors where a raucous party is being given by a bunch of Italian road signs. Goldberg lives part time in Tuscany so it's no surprise that kind of ebullience would get into the work or classicized titles like "Antelope Surprised by Jove."

There's an American cheek and swagger to paintings like "Walking the Dog." Stuart Davis is in there somewhere, as is Marsden Hartley's classic "Portrait of a German Officer." Speaking of German, Goldberg has some of Max Beckmann's sense of heavy volume and gravity. It lends density to work that might otherwise get giddy. It casts a whiff of the sinister over the celebration, a touch of those ominous undertones that we party to forget but never quite do.

The show looks particularly well in the Manny Silverman Gallery's new digs on Almont Drive, a commodious space that in previous incarnations housed the Regan, Weinberg and Gagosian galleries.

\o7 Manny Silverman Gallery, 916 N. Almont Drive, (310) 659-8256, through Sunday. \f7

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