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ART REVIEWS : Prina Show an Urbane Archival Exercise

September 17, 1993|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The four-part exhibition by Stephen Prina at the Margo Leavin Gallery is an urbane, arcane art game. It's an extravagant, elaborate and exquisite archival exercise in which strict limits are set up so that an astounding amount of intellectual energy might be unleashed.

In Prina's well-researched art, self-reflexive cross-references commingle, logic spirals back upon itself, and nuances quiver with potential. Depending upon your willingness (and ability) to follow rules and catch references, the results are dryly uninspired or giddily scintillating.

The main gallery contains a single work whose 66 gorgeously framed ink-washes on paper constitute an expanded and ghostly echo of an installation Prina completed four years ago at the Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park.

That work, in turn, referred to 14 famous monochrome paintings by artists such as Malevich and Manzoni, Rodchenko and Ryman, Ellsworth Kelly and Yves Klein. Prina used the dimensions of their works to determine the sizes of his 14 deep-green monochromes. His project relied equally upon its wall labels, catalogue and paintings. It gave chilling physical form to the fact that official art history obliterates whatever differentiates individual works.

Likewise, Prina's current installation. Each element of the previous show is perversely preserved as a blank, white-washed piece of paper whose dimensions exactly match those of its absent referent.

Prina drives home the point that when an object enters institutional art history it becomes unnecessary (and impossible) to see its specific details. Art becomes, for better or worse, an entity whose identity is no longer bound to its material presence. It belongs to the slippery space of collective memory.

Despite the fastidious, sometimes suffocating control Prina holds over his acutely intelligent undertaking, his oeuvre is frequently misinterpreted.

His systematic work could not share less with art concerned to offer some kind of institutional critique. Only Prina's selfish pleasures determine the terms of his works.

By transforming monumental abstractions into blank surfaces, he intimates that our attachments to objects are not intrinsic to their properties but dependent upon the energy and interest we bring to them. Prina disperses the pleasures we take in masterpieces to the otherwise incidental accouterments that supplement their presence. His is a radically democratic art in which substitutes and surrogates carry the same force as originals.

* Margo Leavin Gallery, 812 N. Robertson Blvd., (310) 273-0603, through Oct. 16. Closed Sundays and Mondays. The gee-whiz excitement of a kid in a candy shop takes fresh shape in David Kremers' extraordinary installation at Thomas Solomon's Garage. Titled "Virtually Reality," his intriguing, ambitious and open-ended show treats recent developments in computer technology, molecular biology and cybernetic theory as rich raw materials capable of stimulating us to think about the nature of reality and our place in it.

Kremers suggests that the distortions that make human memory interesting are intensified, rather than eliminated, by high-tech devices. "Memory of Memory of Oceania" juxtaposes our misty recollections of Matisse's idealized painting of a garden paradise with the downloaded memory of two used copper tapes from inkjet cartridges.

The border between reality and illusion, imagination and fact is porous and flexible in his provocative exhibition. Thirteen dormant plants, scattered around the gallery, blossom in thin air, without soil or moisture. Three audiotapes are available to take visitors on walking tours of various sites in Los Angeles. The entire exhibition is being transferred to CD-ROM disks that will contain all the information necessary to re-create it in digital virtual reality.

The most fascinating components of the show are two "paintings" Kremers grew from genetically engineered bacteria. Sealed under a coat of synthetic resin on planes of glass, these colorful enzymes and proteins duplicate the embryonic structures common to all mammals. Up to 10,000 years from now, their state of suspended animation can be interrupted: When air and water are added, they will continue to grow.

Made with the very stuff of life, these bizarre abstractions don't depict or represent life as much as take part in its cycles. Art and biology fuse in Kremers' engaging exploration of the slippery relations between culture and science, where artificial nature isn't so different from the real thing.

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