The tabletop used to be a place where painters explored their ability to get a grip on the physical world. In the privacy of their studios, they set up still lifes, manipulated compositions and created convincing illusions of three-dimensional things. Food and drink, books and flowers, playing cards and musical instruments commonly grounded their modest hands-on studies of the overlaps between artifice and reality.
"Tables: Selections From the Lannan Foundation Collection" updates this impulse to connect art to daily life. Its six table-like sculptures transfer still-life painting's focus from domestic intimacy to public places.
Tasteless salesrooms of Formica and furniture, bargain counters at discount bookstores, second-hand craft sales, high school science fairs, snobby billiard clubs, temporary disaster shelters and friendly church bazaars are only some of the places evoked.
The terror underlying suburban routine becomes paralyzingly clear in Charles Ray's dysfunctional tables. In one, steel bars clamp a mug, Thermos and flower pot over the void where a tabletop should be. In another, a plate, bowl and tumbler appear to be sitting on an ordinary wooden table until it becomes apparent that each is rotating with barely perceptible motion. The creepy feeling that time is standing still suddenly gives way to the suspicion that you're trapped and life is passing you by.
Mike Kelly's 114 handcrafted stuffed animals and rag dolls are laid out on 33 folding tables in provisional groups such as "sock monkeys," "calico fowl," "frilly mutts" and "green creatures." Surrounded by 60 black-and-white photographs of individual specimens, they have the presence of a temporary make-believe morgue, as if some fantastic disaster has befallen an entire neighborhood's surrogate siblings.
Allen Ruppersberg's neat piles of books resemble a remainder table in an outdated bookstore, but these are not ordinary books. Instead of text, he's filled them with old stills from educational films, so that flipping through their pages allows you to create your own fragmented, incoherent and repetitive silent movie. A propaganda-style story about LSD is printed sequentially on the books' dust covers, and a quote from Mallarme attests to the difficulty of distinguishing between fact and fiction.
Richard Artschwager's Formica-covered box, decorated as if it were a wood table covered by a pink tablecloth, does double duty as a minimalist block and a 3-D abstract painting. It's a goofy, useless prop that perfectly inhabits the ambiguous territory between pictures and things.
Sherri Levine's elegant billiard table, elaborately crafted after a 1938 painting by Man Ray, pushes the show's study of the differences between reality and artifice toward a game of skill and chance. "Tables" smartly shows that ideas with roots in modern still-life painting have spilled into three dimensions, where illusions are still about the vicissitudes of perception and representation, expectation and belief.
\o7 * Lannan Foundation, 5401 McConnell Ave., (310) 306-1004, through Jan. 9. Closed Mondays.\f7
Poster Power: In February, 1949, French artist Jacques Villegle ripped down hundreds of posters that had been glued over one another over so many years that they had formed a thick layer of urban wallpaper. With the help of Raymond Hains, he trimmed the edges of his nearly nine-foot-longb souvenir collage and hung it in his studio.
In an instant, it seemed, Villegle had created a new art movement. His found, pre-fabricated collage was also a ready-made abstract work. At the time, when the rhetoric of authenticity fueled existentialism and abstraction, his deck-clearing gesture delivered in-the-street immediacy. Over the next 20 years, various versions of "New Realism" spun out of this radically democratic impulse.
At Stephen Cohen Gallery, 20 of Villegle's \o7 "lacere anonyme"\f7 (anonymous rips) from the past two decades are featured along with a sprawling 28-artist exhibition of photographs of billboards. Villegle's small collages steal the show. Vital and graceful, they're still fresh and fun. If they attack pretense and ostentation, they make plenty of room for beauty and are at once playful and stylish, reckless and lyrical.
Part of the power of Villegle's images lies in their abstractness. The 67-year-old artist intercepts messages from enticing advertisements, turning their clarity, attraction and significance into a mesmerizing babble. In this cacophony of nonsense, pleasure is the only goal, and the viewer is invited to play an active and open-ended role.
\o7 * Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7466 Beverly Blvd., (213) 937-5525, through Nov. 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays.\f7
Razor-Sharp Abstractions: Callum Innes is a 31-year-old Scottish painter who makes razor-sharp abstractions out of hair-splitting distinctions. His intentionally thin images eke tenuous traces of energy out of moribund oppositions between figure and ground, canvas and paint, surface and space.