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ART REVIEW : Tumlir, Otsea Mix Absurd, Intellectual


Collaborators Jan Tumlir and Erik Otsea have inaugurated a tradition that can only be called "screwball conceptualism." This is characterized by a mix of intellectual sophistication--a systems aesthetic adhered to with the utmost rigor--and a good-natured taste for absurdity: equal parts John Baldessari and Preston Sturges.

Since May, 1988, the artists have been working on a single medium-sized painting that they pass back and forth to one another, modifying every time it seems to be "finished." Sometimes the modification is dramatic; sometimes it is subtle. The only constant here is inconstancy; the only aesthetic one of sheer indeterminacy.

At Sue Spaid Gallery, a series of color photographs documents the painting at various moments in its hyper-accelerated history. The painting is pleasantly Picasso-esque, lying on a table in the middle of a gallery opening, ignored by a crowd of gossiping attendees. It looks incongruously like a Chanel scarf hidden among the cast-offs in a local thrift shop; it is vaguely Op Art-ish, mounted on a wall in the artists' studio in front of six painters (day laborers picked up by the artists at a downtown paint store) who copy it on smaller canvases with great intensity of purpose.

The six copies, each surprisingly idiosyncratic, are on view at an ancillary exhibition at the nearby Art Store Gallery.

Putting aside the somewhat disturbing politics of this latter mode of production, this project is immensely interesting. The fetishism of the art object reaches ridiculously epic proportions--yet, where and in what is the art object constituted?

Is the painting the object in question, and are the photographs and copies merely documents relating to its continuous transformations? Or is the painting in some sense incidental, merely a machine that generates a variety of art objects?

Tumlir and Otsea don't answer these questions--and you don't necessarily want them to. It's more fun watching them work to keep them up in the air, like juggling pins.

* Sue Spaid Gallery, 7454 Beverly Blvd., (213) 935-6153, through July 31. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays; Art Store Gallery, 7301 Beverly Blvd., (213) 933-9284, runs indefinitely. Closed Sundays.

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