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SIGHTS : 'Barrier' Between Commerce and Art Broadens Perspectives : Sue Ricards' installation work, disguised as a curtain of separation, is a celebration of the Everyday.

September 16, 1993|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Artists working with site-specific installations have some basic, inherent obstacles--barriers--to contend with.

For starters, installation artists often ask uninitiated viewers to step outside of their customary relationship to art, to consider issues transcending painting-on-a-wall aesthetics. Very often, the walls themselves become center stage.

Also, on a pragmatic front, the generally non-salable nature of the art usually requires that the work be supported by the sort of outside patronage that private galleries can't supply.

But there, in all its peculiar, funky glory, is Sue Ricards' "Barriers" at the John Nichols Gallery. The Santa Paula artist and teacher, who has been venturing into three dimensions of late, has provided Nichols with his first foray into installation work.

With Ricards' sly work, a huge floor-to-ceiling curtain of junk and everyday material separates the bookstore from the gallery space in Nichols' dual-purpose location. It is a literal divider of commerce from art.

In considering her piece, a shift of viewer expectation occurs, a mental leap that is part of the art's function. Approaching the "barrier," we pass through strips into what we naturally expect to be the exhibit, in the official gallery art space.

Instead, what we find there is a dark, empty space with white walls, a vacuum. Focus turns back to the barrier itself, as an artwork worth observing more closely.

Suddenly, the gallery itself serves as an odd kind of conceptual resonating cavity for the "barrier." The very act of emptying out the gallery is an important subplot in Ricards' overall scheme.

In the curtain-like construction, commonplace objects are elaborately woven, but its design is not nearly as willy-nilly a collage object as first impression might suggest. A fairly neat, deliberate organization of elements add up to a melange of domestic references.

In this tapestry of stuff-around-the-house, Ricards presents a celebration of the Everyday, disguised as a makeshift art element. Call it a portrait of an artist as a family woman.

Long rows of Zip-lock bags contain pieces of lint, presented like scientific specimens. Ropes made of colorful rags, pantyhose and bubble wrap dangle amid leafy stretches of plastic plants and plastic containers.

On more personal notes, waxed paper bags contain family snapshots, and rows of prize-winning ribbons from the Ventura County Fair introduce a whimsical, homey art connection.

In the Nichols Gallery's front window, Ricards intersperses yellow police CAUTION ribbons with rows of her business cards. She shows no particular caution in her art antics.

On the whole, "Barriers" is anything but confrontational, or even as grim as the title implies. Rather, it's a gently subversive gesture that throws art gallery practice into delightful disarray.

With Ricards' modest but entertaining work, the theme has to do with the advancement of pure awareness, awareness of site as much as the art itself. While not something you want to buy to put on your living room wall, it contains ideas worth taking home with you.

OXNARD ARTISTS TAKE TO CITY HALL: A group of artists connected with the Oxnard Art Assn. is holding forth in the exhibition spaces of the Ventura County government building. The work ranges from forgettable pleasantries to livelier fare, but, as always, the art here provides a nice, benign excuse to visit the governmental edifice.

The Hall of Justice houses sculpture, including David Smith's sinewy marble torso studies.

Two-dimensional art graces the walls surrounding the Administration Building atrium. Show organizer Aimee French shows painted silk giving the impression of psychedelic, seeping washes of color. Despite the dumb pun of a title, Eve Riser-Roberts' "They're Not Coy" is a lively, iridescent composition, with koi fish as a subject.

The works attracting the most immediate attention are Kazuko Knowles' bold, almost hyperbolic floral paintings. Although a Georgia O'Keefe influence is evident, Knowles' work pushes her imagery forward. Pink blossoms gain intensity from flat-planed directness and exaggerated point of focus.

These paintings take a rewarding detour around the usual cliches.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Sue Ricards, "Barriers," through Sept. 30 at the John Nichols Gallery, 910 E. Main St., Santa Paula. For information, call 525-7804. Oxnard Art Assn. members, through Oct. 6, at the County Government building, 800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura. Call 654-3964.

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