Though two of his photographs were published in Alfred Stieglitz's periodical, Camera Work, in 1908, Italian pictorialist Guido Rey (1861-1935) has been all but ignored by historians of photography. This outstanding selection of vintage platinum and albumen prints at G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, all of which are exhibited for the first time, should help amend that situation.
Like the members of the British "Linked Ring" group and the American Pictorialists headed by Stieglitz, Rey was interested in photography as an aesthetic endeavor, not a technological exercise. He dedicated himself to "beauty," not "truth."
To that end, Rey's photos take the form of elaborately staged artifices: Roman maidens in diaphanous drapery lounging on fur rugs, as cool as the antique statuary and marble fountains surrounding them, or lace-clad women in airless 17th-Century Flemish interiors filled with heavy Baroque furnishings.
These scenes, like Rey's Neoclassical and Japanese reveries, are marred only by the occasional glaringly Victorian necklace or wonderfully impatient expression--a cousin or sister having posed motionless for just too long that particular afternoon. Precise poses were important since the photographs are not fanciful evocations of historical moments, but direct appropriations of specific works of art--including paintings by Jan Vermeer and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema--that are themselves fanciful evocations of the historic past.
The \o7 tableau vivant \f7 was originally conceived as a way to invigorate the frozen masterpieces of art history. In turn, Rey's tableaux are frozen by the camera's dispassionate eye. Yet, however intriguing these works are in terms of the history of the tableau, they are perhaps more intriguing as broader allegories of fin-de-siecle escapism.
Like Alma-Tadema's archeologically accurate (if sensually overheated) recreations of classical scenes, Rey's photographs are about the desire to elude the crassness of a burgeoning industrial economy by falling headlong into a romantic fantasy of the past, where everything is saturated in the hazy light of the Mediterranean.
Now, as we move toward another fin de siecle, Rey's photographs are more interesting--and more important--than ever before. They alert us to our own increasingly desperate nostalgia for a past that never was.
\o7 * G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, 908 Colorado Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 394-5558, through Aug. 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays.\f7
Rubbery Feats: One property of rubberlike materials is unique: when stretched they become warm, and when contracted they become cool; yet when heated, rubber contracts, and when cooled, it elongates. This contradiction is known as the Joule effect.
At Kiyo Higashi Gallery, three accomplished artists demonstrate that abstract painting is, indeed, a rubberlike material: contrary, elastic and predisposed toward amazing feats of self-preservation.
Richard Lodwig offers a trio of large monochrome paintings whose dense, non-crystalline, unmodulated surfaces actually resemble rubber. Rectangles of black, dark maroon and rust, these works materialize oil paint's remarkable ability not to simulate a dazzling variety of effects, but to eschew effects altogether.
If Lodwig is enamored of the prosaic, John Swanger aggressively courts mystery. Similar to the work of Fandra Chang, although less ambitious in scope, Swanger's small paintings involve fabric screens stretched across the surfaces of wooden boards.
One can see through the screens, but just barely. Behind them are patterns painted on the surface--or, perhaps, just the grain of the wood. Some of the boards also feature recessed panels--or, perhaps, just painted illusions. The pleasure of these works is not in distinguishing truths from fictions, but in navigating a course that is somewhere in between.
Joe Mancuso's work is also "in between." Here, concrete is poured into a series of square molds into which pieces of wood have been neatly arranged in geometric patterns. The concrete sets, the molds are fitted together and the whole is hung on the wall. This is sculpture masquerading as painting.
These stripe or grid paintings are clearly not like those generic to Modernism. But, initially they trigger the same set of responses: silence, perceptual awareness and, eventually, respectful boredom.
Mancuso's work is interesting, however, insofar as it generates reactions and meanings beyond the purely formal. The materials are especially resonant, referring to both the literal and institutional frames given to the abstractions the artist apes. The wood refers to the picture frame; the concrete, to the museum. Mancuso's abstract paintings become a frame for a critical mind set.
* \o7 Kiyo Higashi Gallery, 8332 Melrose Ave., (213) 655-2482, through Aug. 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays. \f7